Most people begin an exercise regime to lose weight, gain strength and build fitness. But regular exercise can provide a lot more than that.
Exercise positively influences the production and release of hormones. Hormones are one of your body’s main signalling systems. These little messengers are responsible for telling your body what to do. They ferry information about everything from your physiological functions to your behaviour. A small imbalance can impede the way you function and feel, a large imbalance can create havoc with your body and mind.
Your body works best when you keep your circadian rhythm on track, this means going to bed and getting up at regular times. Good sleep habits require a healthy balance of melatonin (the sleep hormone) and cortisol (the stress hormone). Melatonin needs to peak at night for you to wind down and cortisol needs to peak in the morning for you to perk up. Melatonin reduces with age which can make it more difficult to rest. Cortisol increases when you’re under stress, which means it’s harder to get to sleep and to stay asleep. It’s not just the melatonin/cortisol balance that can disrupt your sleep. Many women suffer interrupted sleep as their estrogen declines. Exercise can help with sleep beyond just tiring you out, it supports your body’s efforts to regulate sleep-promoting hormones effectively.
A good night of sleep helps you think better and having your hormones in balance makes your brain even more effective. Exercise stimulates Human Growth Hormone (HGH) which encourages the regeneration of brain cells. HGH reduces with age and this contributes to cognitive decline. But it’s no use being smart and strong if you’re not happy. Exercise stimulates the production of the four happy hormones that impact how you feel – endorphins (the euphoria hormones), serotonin (the security hormones), dopamine (the motivation hormones) and oxytocin (the bonding hormones).
Sleeping well, feeling cognitively sharp and emotionally stable are great things. It’s all even better if you’re in a healthy weight zone as well. Exercise can help you far beyond just burning calories and building lean muscle mass. It helps regulate insulin, the blood sugar hormone. When insulin works effectively it keeps your energy levels stable and encourages your body to burn fat rather than store it. Two other hormones that help with appropriate appetite and fat storage are ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin is the ‘start eating’ hormone and leptin is the ‘stop eating hormone’. You really don’t want those two to be muddled up.
The best exercise plan to optimise hormonal health will be a mix of strength, cardio and flexibility. The exact mix and optimal intensity will depend on your general health and lifestyle. If you’re already under a lot of stress then the best exercise may be a lower intensity type to manage cortisol levels. To maximise hormone function it’s also important to focus on your foundation habits of sleep, hydration, nutrition and stress management
Your body is designed to move about during the day and sleep soundly at night. Appropriate exercise will optimise hormone function and enable you to be your best possible self physically, mentally and emotionally. When you’re feeling healthy and energised you’re more likely to be organised and motivated to exercise, creating an upward spiral of health and wellbeing.