When it comes to hormones, think of them as your body’s main signalling system, directing chemical messengers to activate, regulate, and control the various bodily functions. At times, though a communication breakdown may occur and messages get mixed, affecting everything from your mood, energy levels, metabolism, appetite and sleep. How? Besides stress and poor eating habits (to name a few), turns out the wrong type of exercise can wreak havoc and mess with hormone harmony.
Stress hormone: Cortisol When you’re facing fierce deadlines or dreading that boardroom presentation, your body pumps out cortisol to meet the challenge. It does this by stimulating the sympathetic nervous system. This activation tells your body you are in some form of danger, elevating your blood pressure, heart rate, and dumping glucose (sugar) into the blood so you have the instant fuel to “fight or flee” from the challenge. Generally, hormone levels stabilise after dealing with stress, but can remain relatively high post-stressful event. If chronic levels are left unchecked, can start to mess with other metabolic hormones.
Best exercise: Yoga If a stressful day got the better of you pounding the pavement for a 10 k run or a HIIT class is probably the last thing you need. Undergoing very intense workouts when cortisol levels are elevated above healthy ranges can add more stress to an already stressed system. Research shows that excessive and over-training can weaken your immune system, increase the risk of injuries, increase inflammation, and essentially burn you out. Consider going for a walk in nature or hit the yoga mat. These types of activities stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system to help put the heart rate and blood pressure at ease, clear your mind, while stabilising stress hormones.
Metabolic Hormone: Insulin Whether you eat a few spuds, pasta, fruit or a muffin, all types of carbohydrates, including starchy food and sugars, are broken down into glucose. As blood glucose levels rise, the pancreas pumps out insulin to clear it. Depending on the type of carbs you eat (i.e. sweet vs white potato) and quantities, over time your body can become less sensitive to insulin and sugar levels remain elevated, making fat burning almost impossible.
Best exercise: High intensity workouts While all types of exercise will improve insulin sensitivity, HIIT training scores best for your fitness buck, in less time. How? High-intensity workouts activate fast-twitch muscle fibres to soak up the glucose from the blood for fast fuel. Once glucose is cleared, fat stores are mobilised for energy. However, going overboard isn’t going to do you any good either. Too many HIIT sessions with inadequate recovery days can also increase cortisol (stress hormones) that can worsen insulin sensitivity affecting sugar/fat metabolism. For a balanced training program, aim for 1-2 HIIT sessions per week, mixed with lower intensity workouts.
Sex hormones: Oestrogen Oestrogen is the up-most multitasker when it comes to female sex hormone. Although too much of it (referred to as oestrogen dominance) is not so good. As levels of oestrogen (and progesterone) fluctuate continuously throughout your monthly cycle, it’s important to get to know your flow so you can match your training accordingly.
Best exercise: Strength training During the follicular phase (weeks 1 -2 of your cycle), oestrogen is at its peak, making it the prime time to become acquainted with the weights area. A study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine found that doing more weight-based training in the estrogen-dominant follicular phase led to greater strength gains. The last two weeks of your cycle just before bleeding (luteal phase) is when oestrogen dips and when you’ll probably feel more fatigued. During this phase, your body will rely on more fat for fuel; making it a more suitable time (depending on your PMS symptoms) to focus on cardio-base workouts, such as jogging or cycling.
Bottom line: As you can probably imagine, getting your hormones in sync is a balancing act, so it certainly pays to listen to your body and choose a movement that is right for you. Everyone is different.