Benefits of Exercise on Hormones
One of the most overlooked benefits of exercise is the impact on your hormones and subsequently on your overall vitality. When you exercise, the movement directly impacts a variety of hormones like irisin, testosterone, peptide YY, aldosterone, cortisol and growth hormone. Your hormones play a vital role in your overall health and well-being, and when your body is in balance other areas of your life tend to fall into place as well. Exercise has been a staple in my life for 24 years and it has helped me through many difficult times. From enhancing athletic performance, stimulating endorphins and improving overall mood, physical fitness can achieve results no pill can match. I highly recommend resistance training for individuals who are looking to transform their life and who are physically capable of engaging in such a program.
So why does exercise even matter? In this section we will look at how exercise benefits your hormones. Remember that hormones are chemical messengers and extremely vital to your health and well-being. The first hormone is irisin. Exercise causes the hormone to break off into your bloodstream and circulate throughout your entire body. Irisin has been shown to reprogram fat cells to burn energy instead of storing it. This is important as people are always looking to increase their metabolic rate and increase proper energy expenditure. Increased irisin levels are also starting to be correlated with longer telomere length. Telomeres are the ends of your chromosomes. The analogy is like shoelaces and the caps on the end. The shorter the cap, the shorter the life span. Shorter telomere lengths are linked to all kinds of disease.
The all and mighty testosterone is the next hormone we want to discuss and how exercise affects it. As many of you know, testosterone is responsible for libido, sex drive and bone, hair, and muscle growth. There is typically an increase in testosterone as soon as you finish your workout. This is when your body starts using the circulating testosterone to make muscle gains. It should be noted that testosterone is created primarily during high intensity, heavier lifting anaerobic exercise. This means that the exercises are typically less than two minutes in length with a break in between sets. You are using glucose as your fuel and are not dependent on oxygen as your reserve. Think anaerobic is without oxygen and aerobic is with oxygen. Testosterone will also support production and replication of new red blood cells. This is important because red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body and this has a cascade of benefits for many other chemical reactions in the body. The third benefit of exercise on hormones pertains to Peptide YY. It is a hormone released in your gut that acts on areas of the brain to reduce appetite and increase satiety after a meal. This is produced during the aerobic phase of exercise.
A couple of other hormones I see in my practice are aldosterone which helps your body limit sodium excretion. It’s important for your body to conserve sodium so that it can maintain a good electrolyte balance. My favorite one is cortisol and its job is to maintain stable blood sugar levels during rigorous exercise. The final hormone that is affected from exercise is growth hormone. It is made up of almost 200 amino acids and is responsible for protein synthesis and cell transport. It is excreted in high levels during exercise and hence why working out is great for your hormones and body.
Benefits of Exercise on Sleep
I routinely discuss the benefits of sleep with my patients but I wanted to point out a few facts about the benefits of exercise on sleep. “A nationally representative sample of more than 2,600 men and women, ages 18-85, found that 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a week, which is the national guideline, provided a 65 percent improvement in sleep quality. People also said they felt less sleepy during the day, compared to those with less physical activity.” 1. The question then should be why does this happen? When you exercise, your body goes through a period of exertion and stress as mentioned. Everything in life has an opportunity cost. The more you challenge yourself during the day, the more prolonged periods of exhaustion at night. The old adage goes, if you want to get something done then give it to a busy person. A lazy person will just lay around all day. Getting your circadian rhythm in check by balancing out your day with exertion augmented with rest means your body will get on a better schedule and your mind will rest better at night. Exercise has also been known to lower anxiety and depressive symptoms.
Benefits of Exercise on Heart Health
“As many as 250 000 deaths per year in the United States are attributable to a lack of regular physical activity.” 2 Now how is that for a statistic? Working out keeps your heart strong and vibrant. Working out is excellent at normalizing your insulin and leptin levels. Other beneficial biochemical changes also occur during exercise, including alterations in different metabolites. This is important because these compounds help you burn calories and fat. As I always say to my clients and patients, feeling good physiologically and exercising regularly creates a healthy feedback loop within the body. It sends the proper signals to the receptors on your cells and to your organs to start producing the hormones and proteins. Exercise can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease while also helping you look and feel your best.
Exercise on the Brain
Perhaps the most intriguing and complex organ in the body is the brain. Did you know that the increased blood flow to the brain during exercise promotes the growth of new brain cells? In the hippocampus region of your brain, the new brain cells will help boost memory and learning. Consistent workouts also keep the surge of blood flow to the brain and the brain adapts by turning genes on and off. This is referred to as epigenetics. ” In the science of genetics, epigenetics is the study of cellular and physiological phenotypic trait variations that result from external or environmental factors that switch genes on and off and affect how cells express genes.” 3 This is advantageous in fighting off dementia and other brain related degenerative diseases. We can’t possibly talk about the brain without mentioning neurotransmitters and how exercise affects them. Exercise has a direct impact on a number of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, glutamate, and GABA. As you know, many of these neurotransmitters directly affect your mood and that is why the endorphin rush you feel from working out makes you feel better.
I want to mention Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) in this section. When you are under perceived stress, your brain releases the protein BDNF. This protein helps repair neurons, and also activates brain stem cells to convert into new neurons. Through the exercise process and the release of BDNF, numerous chemicals are released that promote neural health. I see it every day in my practice. Clients have a hard time getting to the gym but once they do, they have this feeling of euphoria and pleasure towards the end. It can be underestimated how important exercise is on the brain.
Mike, FDN, PT
About the author:
After 15 years in Corporate, he graduated from the Functional Diagnostic Nutrition program in California and is now the CEO of Interactive Body Balance where he oversees a vibrant functional medicine health practice. Transitioning from Corporate to the entrepreneurial paradigm has involved seeing patients and clients via the conventional method but also virtually. He has authored the popular self-help book titled “The Transformation From Within”, hosts the highly ranked ITunes Podcast called Interactive Body Balance, is creating multiple online health courses while also presenting to audiences around the world.
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