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How Exercise Helps Manage Our Changing Hormones

Aging & Changing Hormones

Meridith Ford was at work when the first hot flash hit.

“What in the world is happening to my body?” she remembers thinking a few years ago.

It was the onset of menopause, which brings lower levels of estrogen and other changes to women’s bodies. Post-menopausal women can have a higher risk of heart disease, weaker bones, and extra tummy fat.

For men at the same stage, testosterone drops off, so it’s harder to feel as vibrant and strong. And what’s often called a “beer belly” can come from having less human growth hormone.

Meridith, now 58, always has worked out consistently with weights and cardio training. She credits that healthy lifestyle with keeping her menopause symptoms mild. But she has experienced joint pain and occasional weight gain.

“We all go through this drop in our hormones,” she says. “I stepped up the exercise and cut back some of my sweets. I don’t run great lengths anymore, and I’m devoted to yoga. I love what it’s done for my muscle tone.”

Science Shows Exercise Can Help

Hormones contribute to all aspects of our wellbeing, and it’s important that our bodies produce the right amounts. Mood swings, loss of strength, and a lower libido – all are common among people over 50 because of hormonal changes.

Aging is one of the factors beyond our control. But exercise can lessen symptoms brought by changing hormones – while also boosting quality of life, lowering aches and pains, and bringing countless physical and mental benefits.

“Hormones are substances produced by your endocrine glands that have a tremendous effect on bodily processes,” says WebMD. “They affect growth and development, mood, sexual function, reproduction, and metabolism.”

The National Society of Sports Medicine focuses on hormones related to weight loss.

“When kept in balance, these hormones have the largest effect on metabolism,” the organization says. “When out of balance, they can prevent you from achieving the fitness results you desire.”

Recent studies have reported an anti-aging effect of exercise on the endocrine system including positive changes in cortisol (also known as the stress hormone), growth hormone and insulin. Here are some other ways exercise can help improve hormone health:

  • Physical activity can affect hormonal health regarding insulin, which lets cells take up protein for energy and muscle. Too much can cause a range of health problems. Aerobic exercise, strength training, and endurance exercise can help.
  • Exercise, especially weightlifting, boosts testosterone, growth hormone and others to add strength and sex drive while slowing some natural effects of aging.
  • Raising your heart rate for 30 minutes every day boosts estrogen to relieve menopause symptoms.
  • Exercise increases dopamine to reduce stress and depression. It’s what causes “runners’ high.”

Other Ideas for Hormone Health

Everyone is different, and your hormone health is complex for men and women alike. Discuss any health questions with your doctor. Also keep in mind:

  • Eat plenty of protein to maintain healthy muscles, bones and skin. Protein also affects hormones that control hunger.
  • Avoid sugar, which can play havoc with insulin and insulin resistance.
  • Manage stress. Cortisol and adrenaline play helpful roles, but too much can contribute to overeating, high blood pressure, and anxiety.
  • Get plenty of fiber, which helps produce hormones that make you feel full.

For healthy living after 50, you’re in the driver’s seat to manage exercise, medical care, diet, stress and more. I have experienced first hand how hormones can throw your body out of whack when my thyroid stopped playing nice when I was running ultramarathon trail races. I am here to help.

Additional sources: Piedmont Healthcare, Healthline, MDPI, The Telegraph

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