We are now entering a new era of the fitness industry that appears to be producing ‘fit – looking’ people with unhealthy bodies. The introduction of 24hr gyms, mass group H.I.I.T classes and the boom in unqualified social media influences has resulted in more people suffering from not only structural issues but hormonal imbalances as well.
Achieving optimal health takes more than regular exercise and a healthy diet, we have to address the other hidden stressors and the H in H.I.D.D.E.N stands for, Hormones!
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Functional wellness practitioner, Darren Cox, shares 7 key areas where you can improve your hormone health by changing or assessing your exercise routine.
1. Integrity before intensity
How is your body functioning? Do you have pain, injury, breathing issues, poor posture or any other conditions? If yes, then common sense should tell you that your first step before jumping on any exercise program is to correct and integrate your body. And no, this doesn’t mean going to yoga to hopefully stretch out your stiff body. This means working with a professional practitioner who can assess your fundamental functions. Walking (gait cycle), for example is one of the best ways to assess the integrity of your body. Core function is also the key to a well-integrated body and therefore sustainable, pain free movement for life.
2. Exercising too much or too little
Exercise is crucial for healthy hormones and a healthy life but too much or too little can both have a negative impact on your body. The problem these days is there are too many people at both ends of the spectrum eg. Exercising way too much (duration, frequency and type of exercise) and at the other end of the spectrum people not doing enough or any exercise at all.
Those who are over exercising are not allowing enough recovery / regeneration, which over time slowly depletes their body’s resources and actually ages them faster. Too much of one style of exercise also plays into this – high intensity interval training (H.I.I.T) is very popular at the moment and people are completing this almost daily if not 3 to 4 times a week. The same goes for cardio training, the old-school belief of more cardio equals greater fat loss is still prevalent in today’s ‘fitness’ society but in reality too much cardio results in higher amounts of oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is when your cells oxidize, much like an apple turning brown when you bite into it. This creates high amounts of free radicals leading to hormonal imbalance.
The goal of exercise is to create a positive stress in which the body can adapt to while improving the integrity of your posture and movement. This will then have a positive effect on your hormonal structures.
So if you’re not exercising enough or at all you’re missing out on all this positive hormonal adaptations. At the end of the day little movement is better than no movement. The goal is to move often, move dynamically and move well.
3. Exercising too late at night
One of the biggest stressors for your hormonal system and natural circadian rhythm is exercising too late at night. Remember exercise increases cortisol, which is our stress hormone but this should be at its lowest when the sun goes down. High cortisol at nighttime will suppress Melatonin, which is our sleep and regeneration hormone. Some people use exercise at night to make them sleep better but this over time will create circadian rhythms issues leading to hormonal imbalance and fatigue.
4. Exercise Environment
Not too many people think about how their environment will affect their hormones especially when it comes to exercise. The majority of people exercise indoors underneath blue light and are exposed to high amounts of Electric magnetic fields (EMF) and Wi-Fi.
The further away from Mother Nature you get the harder your body has to work and the more fragile you become. So by taking your exercise outside in the sunlight, on grass and ideally barefoot, you not only escape electric magnetic fields EMF and Wi-Fi but you also ground yourself to the earth and set your hormonal clock by exposing your eyes and skin to the sun.
Morning sunlight has a dramatic effect on your hormonal system as it actually helps set your ‘eye clock’ or circadian rhythm giving you more energy throughout the day and better sleep at night.
5. Calories in versus Calories out
If you think about it, the whole health and fitness industry is based around this equation. Jump on any piece of cardio equipment and you’ll see the ‘Calorie Burner Program’ or start on any diet program and they’ll get you counting calories. You can’t escape it! It’s everywhere and it’s one of the reasons why people have so much trouble losing body fat, keeping it off but more importantly being healthy. It becomes an emotional roller coaster that sucks the living spirit right out of you.
The human body is far too complicated to just be a simple math equation. It is a complex and intelligent system of networks that function to keep us alive. So what do you think will happen if you deprive it of essential fuel? It will turn around and kick you in the butt! You may have already felt the full force of your own body’s ass whipping by means of fatigue, headaches, digestion issues, sugar craving, fluid retention, hormonal imbalance, irregular periods, bad skin, depression and most importantly sickness. It doesn’t care about looking good; it just wants to stay alive! So respect is needed, and becoming in tune with your body is far more effective than tricking it into believing a famine has arrived.
6. Mental / Emotional
It’s fair to say that life these days is more stressful than ever before. More people are carrying spiritual, mental, emotional and physical stresses with them every day particularly when exercising. It’s important to remember that the body sees stress as stress. For example running from a lion has the same stress response as worrying about a financial situation or relationship issue. The body is utilising it’s Sympathetic or ‘fight or flight’ division of the nervous system during this time which relies heavily on Cortisol. Now throw in to the mix exercise, which requires even more Cortisol and you’re left with one stressed out depleted body.
Exercise however can be a great way to boost feel good hormones but it needs to be done correctly and intentionally. Unfortunately most people use exercise to disconnect from their stressful lifestyle/ emotional issues but they also end up disconnecting from their body’s function all together during exercise leading to injury and fatigue. Exercise should be the one important time where you need to focus on connecting with your body as mental stress will deactivate and even over facilitate muscles leading to dysfunction.
Posture is one of the most important elements of health and wellbeing as it helps with pain, breathing, stress, digestion, circulation, athletic performance, flexibility, stable fat levels, energy, libido, and hormonal balance. Therefore it is crucial that your exercise routine works to build an integrated posture and not a dysfunctional one. A dysfunctional posture will stimulate your Sympathetic Nervous system resulting is elevated cortisol and if cortisol is elevated high enough for long periods of time, a hormonal imbalance occurs.
Watch Darren talk about how exercise gives you healthier hormones below.
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