We know that our hormones basically run the show when it comes to our health. From how happy we feel–to our digestion and brain health–hormones have a hand in it all. So when it comes to hormones, where does exercise fit into the big picture? Perhaps you’re struggling with your own set of hormone-related woes and you’re wondering how to tailor your workout routine to help you heal and balance your hormones. It turns out, cortisol (the “stress”) hormone is definitely a part of it, but there are many more factors to consider as well. One thing to keep in mind is that this advice is general, so you should always talk to your doctor and health care practitioners to guide you. Hormones are very complex and so your needs are just as complex. However, if you suspect your hormones may be to blame for keeping you feeling your best, you can consider implementing some of these tips next time you’re wondering which type of workout class you want to sign up for or implement into your routine. Since hormones and exercise are such an important topic, I tapped an expert who has tons of experience helping women feel their best and balance their hormones to optimize their health. Maggie Berghoff is a functional medicine nurse practitioner (meaning she is a conventionally trained nurse practitioner who takes a “root cause” approach) and peak performance expert. So if you’re wondering how your workouts can help (or maybe even hinder) your hormone health, keep reading to find out 5 things you can incorporate into your fitness routine to help balance your hormones.
1. Listen to your body
If you suspect your hormones are imbalanced one of the most important things you can do is learn to listen to your body. “Exercise is important in healing and managing hormone imbalances, but it must be the right type of exercise,” Berghoff says. One simple way to tune in and know if your workout may be doing more harm than good? “If a type of workout makes you feel tired and sluggish the rest of the day, it was too much for your body,” Berghoff says. “It takes a lot of stress for the body to workout then repair and re-build muscle.” So if you suspect things are really off, maybe press pause on your intense workouts until you have a chance to get things tested with your doc. (But it doesn’t mean you can’t move at all–walking, yoga, and low-intensity movement not the same as an intense workout program or class).
2. Pause high intensity + strenuous workouts
If you’re familiar at all with how hormones work, chances are you’ve heard about cortisol (aka the stress hormone). We know there’s a connection between this hormone and exercise, but how exactly does it work? “Cortisol is a stress hormone that can lead to weight gain, fatigue, and sleep disturbance if not properly regulated. It’s increased in exercise, which is ok for the healthy, balanced body that can compensate for that spike, and maintain wellness,” Berghoff notes. “However, if a body is not optimized already, and there are thyroid, cortisol, adrenal, or sex hormone imbalances present, the stress of the spiked cortisol will further damage the body.” So the more intense your workout, chances are your body is pumping out more cortisol every time you do that. Depending on your specific if health concerns and how balanced your hormones are, you may want to talk to your doctor about if you need to cut out intense workouts for a period of time, or simply reduce the frequency until you feel better.
3. Find an exercise that makes you feel energized + happy
Since we know that exercise is so important to our health and hormones, then what kinds of workouts may be best if you have hormonal imbalances? According to Berghoff, the type of exercise that doesn’t drain you, but still feels good and keeps you moving. “While women are healing and rebalancing their bodies, I recommend low impact exercise that they really enjoy that makes them feel energized and happy. This can be dancing, yoga, pilates, walking, or bike riding,” Berghoff says.
4. Make sure you’re fueling your workouts properly
It happens to the best of us–you’re rushing to an early workout class and all you have time for is a quick coffee and you push through your workout class even though your stomach was growling the whole time. Not only can this affect your energy levels during the workout, but it can be bad news for your hormones. “Always eat prior to working out if you suffer with hormonal imbalances. You need the fuel or your body will become too easily fatigued and drained, leading to further hormonal imbalances,” Berghoff says. So always reach for a balanced snack before your workout–your body will thank you later.
5. Don’t skimp on sleep to get your workouts in
When you’re busy it can be hard to find time to fit in a workout–between work schedules and social events, sometimes the only time to workout is first thing in the morning. That’s not a bad thing in itself, but if you want to workout in the morning, it’s always a good idea to make sure you’re prioritizing rest and not working out when your body is exhausted. “I do not recommend women with hormonal imbalances to wake up really early and workout. Your body needs as much quality rest as possible while healing, and waking up early and/or before the sun has risen will disrupt hormonal pathways and circadian rhythm even further,” advises Berghoff. So if you love your morning workouts, no need to ditch them. Just adjust your sleep schedule to make sure you’re getting some quality shut-eye before you do.