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Is your workout messing with your hormones?

In this week’s blog post, I chat about how your exercise regime can affect your hormones and why it might be the reason why you’re not losing weight. Read on to discover the best (and worst!) forms of exercise for your body and why doing intense exercise in the weeks leading up to your period might not be such a great idea.

There are many signs to suggest your hormones are out of whack. Whether you’re experiencing fatigue, anxiety, low mood, bloating, PMS or struggling with that ‘muffin’ top that just won’t shift, there can be a number of factors contributing to your hormone imbalance. However, you may have not considered your exercise regime to being your downfall.

The CLEAR benefits of exercise

Exercise has a ton of proven benefits on overall health. It’s a well-known fact that exercise can keep both our body and mind happy, not to mention its benefits on blood sugar control and immunity. Exercise can specifically help issues such as PMS because it reduces stress and inflammation.

However, it is possible to have too much of a good thing and overtraining can be counterproductive to your hormones. Not giving your body enough rest & recovery between sessions can lead to negative changes in your metabolism, not to mention the higher risk of injury associated with too much exercise. It’s also important not to overdo it with long bouts of high intensity exercise as you can actually increase the stress hormone cortisol associated with some forms of extreme workouts.

The Stress Hormone – ‘Cortisol‘

You may have read in my eBook all about the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol is released by your adrenal glands when your brain thinks that you’re in danger. It causes our heart rate to increase and raises our blood pressure to help get us out of that perceived danger, (a.k.a. the fight or flight response) quickly. The longer you exercise - even at moderate intensity, the more cortisol your body releases which can trigger weight gain and cravings. High intensity exercise or endurance exercise (such as marathon training) can also cause your body to release cortisol in response to stress.

How do I know if I’m overtraining?

When your cortisol levels are out of whack, you might be experiencing the below:

  • Sleep problems – you may be sleeping too much or have problems falling asleep

  • Irregular/absent periods

  • Fatigue

  • Weight gain

  • Food cravings

  • Digestive problems

  • You often wake up feeling groggy/hungover, despite having had no alcohol the night before

  • Energy slump in the afternoon but a ‘second wind’ before bed.

  • Excess belly fat or ‘muffin’ top, even if you are lean

Our bodies are designed to experience stress in short bursts. When our fight or flight response is continuously activated over time, this is known as chronic stress. Let me put that in perspective in terms of exercise. A couple of sessions of moderate-high intensity exercise 1-2 times a week is usually fine, but if you’re exercising twice a day and several days a week, your cortisol levels will stay elevated and you will be experiencing chronic stress. Long-term activation of cortisol is far from beneficial and has been linked to a number of serious conditions including breast cancer (as cortisol can alter your levels of oestrogen), stroke, type 2 diabetes and also depression and anxiety.

Workouts for hormone harmony

So, let’s get right down to it. If you do have increased cortisol levels, I’m not saying that you have to stop exercising altogether. Balance is absolutely key here. Adjusting your workouts so that you alternate more restorative exercises like yoga and Pilates with cardio and some strength and conditioning workouts (such as a 30-Minute HIIT session) can help protect your adrenals and help to balance cortisol levels.

Here are some additional tips on how you can maintain healthy cortisol levels when training

  1. Listen to your body! If you are feeling unrested, fatigued and ‘off’ between workouts, it might be worth taking a short break from more intense training. Making sure you’re giving yourself enough time to recover between sessions is key to maintaining healthy cortisol levels.

  2. Adjust your workout to your cycle – adding more restorative exercise such as Yoga and Pilates to help maintain healthy cortisol levels. If you’re having natural periods (and not hormonally induced i.e., not on the pill), then you might want to consider doing these types of exercises during the 2nd half of your cycle (after ovulation) when your energy levels are naturally lower due to the hormonal shift of oestrogen/progesterone levels.

  3. Eat the right foods. Make sure you’re eating the right fuel (& enough of it!) for your body and consume the right post-workout snacks to help decrease cortisol. Sugar & caffeine are classic triggers for cortisol release and should be consumed in moderation. Consuming enough Omega-3 fatty acids found in things like salmon, chia seeds, walnuts and flaxseeds can help with muscle recovery due to their anti-inflammatory effect.

Need more hormone help?

I specialise in providing and analysing functional clinical health tests which can help to assess the underlying causes of any imbalances within your body. If any of the symptoms mentioned in this article sound familiar, it might be worth getting your hormone levels tested (including cortisol) to see how you process and make hormones. Book in for a free 30-minute discovery call and let’s chat about working together.

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