Many things can impact our hormones and things can get a little out of wack if we have a lot of stress, don’t get enough sleep, then drink more caffeine than we need, maybe fighting a cold or flu, and then perhaps some bad food choices because that is easier than cooking and junk food gets rid of stress, right?? Or does eating crap cause stress? Then mood and productivity go out the window and we feel overwhelmed so then we nap and then can’t sleep at night. How do we get it all back on track?
For the most part it boils down to how we are impacting our hormones. Hormones affect how we function and how we feel……how we feel affects our mood and energy, which then affects our lifestyle choices that affect our hormone production. It is all a cycle and we have to choose a place to affect the cycle in a positive way. I think it is the easiest to target hormone production with exercise because it is something we can actively do and control. It can be difficult to make ourselves sleep, or feel happy, but we can do a workout, even if it is just a short one.
Our body likes to have a schedule. It will produce hormones based on anticipating an activity, actually called anticipatory reflexes. So if you can try to schedule exercise, eating and sleeping to be at least close to the same time every day, your body will build a routine and hormone production will become optimal. It doesn’t matter if you workout in the morning or the afternoon, go with how your body feels and workout when you feel the most motivated. Everyone has different circadian rhythms, listen to what works best for your body.
Insulin – This is the hormone that is produced after we eat food that tells our cells to store excess nutrients as fat. If we eat frequently or eat a lot of simple carbohydrates then we make more insulin and this not only leads to increased fat storage but over time this can lead to insulin resistance that leads to type 2 diabetes. Exercise causes muscle cells to produce more glucose transporters on cell membranes that help the muscles use circulating blood sugar to make energy so that less is stored as fat. Regular exercise reduces insulin resistance and increases basal metabolism. So more nutrients are used for energy and less is stored as fat. Keeping blood sugar stable is essential for regulating hunger hormones and mood hormones. Regulating blood sugar and insulin is also key for liver health since the liver has to process all foods we consume. Strength training, high intensity interval training (HIIT), and endurance exercise all increase insulin resistance. If you are craving sugar, the best time to indulge would be within an hour of HIIT exercise when your muscle glucose metabolism is at its peak.
Growth Hormone, DHEA, IGF – These hormones helps us to synthesize proteins that build stronger bones and muscles. Building strength is beneficial because it makes doing normal daily living things like carrying groceries or garbage bins easier and we are less likely to have injuries. These hormones also helps us to break down stored fat and use it for energy. Growth hormone is our anti-aging hormone, it helps our cells regenerate including skin, liver, digestive organs, and bones. Strength training and HIIT training have the biggest impact on these growth-promoting hormones.
Stress hormones (cortisol and adrenalin) – Are reduced with regular exercise and have been shown to reduce anxiety and increase our sense of well-being. Exercise has been shown to be as beneficial as some antidepressant medications. During exercise, cortisol is involved in breaking down muscles, which is important for stimulating the rebuilding of muscle and bone after exercise. The temporary increase in stress hormones during exercise is beneficial for bone and muscle growth. It is important to know that stress hormones decrease after physical activity. All forms of exercise help to regulate stress hormones.
Leptin – Leptin makes us feel full. Leptin is produced by fat cells after eating a meal. If we produce too much leptin then we can cause leptin resistance (similar to insulin resistance) where cells stop responding to the hormone and then we don’t feel satiated. Leptin sensitivity (and therefore properly regulated hunger) increases if we exercise. It is also important to have a meal that makes you feel full and satisfied sometime within about 2 hours after exercise. It is important to make sure your brain does not feel like there is a nutrient shortage. If you do not fully refuel after exercise then your brain will try to store more fat as a defense mechanism and it will increase hunger and cravings. Intermittent fasting also helps to increase leptin sensitivity but we can’t be in a calorie deficit all the time. Low leptin and therefore increased hunger is the primary reason for obesity. If we feel satiated then we don’t over eat. Reducing leptin resistance/ increasing leptin sensitivity, is the whole key to weight loss. So workout and then refuel with a good healthy, high protein meal about 1-2 hours after exercise. I would also suggest having your biggest carbohydrate meal after exercise and lower carbs at other meals if you are trying to lose weight.
Dopamine – This hormone is key for motivation, cognitive functions, and feeling reward and pleasure. Low dopamine leads to cravings and addictive behaviours. If we can produce dopamine from exercise then we will feel alert, motivated, and good without craving unhealthy things. Exercise gives us a “runners high” kind of rewarding feeling that makes our brain feel focused and alert and boosts cognitive abilities including memory. Do you have a lot of thinking or studying to do? If you have attention deficit issues, nothing makes a better study break than a 5 minute workout.
Serotonin – This is our calm and content but still alert feeling hormone. We produce serotonin when we eat and after exercise. Combining those 2 things, a good healthy meal after a good hard workout will cause a huge increase in serotonin, which boosts our mood, reduces anxiety and stress hormones and helps our brain function. Serotonin is also the precursor for the production of melatonin, which is the hormone we need to sleep! This is why regular exercise promotes better more restful sleep. Better sleep means more energy, better mood, less cravings, more energy for another great workout, then healthy food and so and so on…..
Exercise and Insulin Sensitivity: A review
Interval training effects on growth factors and inflammatory mediators
Effects of Exercise on Anxiety
Effects of Exercise on Clinical Depression – a Meta-Analysis
Hormonal adaptations to exercise
Effect of long-term changes in diet and exercise on plasma leptin concentrations