Physical activity – we all need it, about 30% of the world doesn’t get any, and some of us do too much. Exercise is vital for hormone balance, as it has been shown to reduce stress levels and also increase our insulin function.
But there are a lot of myths out there about exercise. Especially for women over 40.
We are constantly told to eat less and move more – calories in, calories out right? Burn baby burn!
For a start, this message is not the right message for us women over 40 who have raging hormones to consider – but we assume that it’s a general message that is the truth for everyone SO we join a gym or start running, or even sign up to the latest ‘push your body to the max’ type programme (it’s called Insanity for a reason!!).
And if we get the right balance, it can work brilliantly. If we get it slightly wrong, it can deplete our energy stores, increase carb and sugar cravings, and actually make our bodies HANG ON TO FAT even more! Ever started a new fitness routine and wondered why you weren’t losing weight?
So what is the right type and amount for hormone balance? Well that depends a lot on your own individual needs, health and circumstances. But I will explain what is likely to disrupt your hormones and some general tips on what activities improve your hormones.
Our modern lives make it difficult NOT to sit all day. According to a recent poll we spend an average of 56 hours a week sitting down – in our cars, at a desk, on the sofa.
Many of us claim to have an active lifestyle. We might make it to the gym a few times a week. But we are still sitting for way too long. Our bodies are not evolved to sit like this for as long as we do. And it’s such a concern to the scientists that they have called it ‘Sedentary Death Syndrome’!
Over-exercising can increase our stress hormones, and increase the risk of muscle loss, increased infections, increased risk of injury, fatigue and poor recovery. You need enough time between exercise sessions to recover properly and reduce the stress response. If you’re a gym bunny or addicted to long cardio, you need to take more rest if you’re hormones are out of whack. And if you feel tired or stressed out already, exercise may help but it might also deplete you even more.
As a very basic rule, if exercise recharges your energy levels, then that’s an indication that it’s doing you good. If you feel depleted afterwards, it may be taxing your adrenals and using up vital energy reserves. Best to do some gentle activity until your reserves are topped up.
Top 5 Activities for Happy Hormones
- Reduce sitting time
Most of us sit for far too long, but it just takes a few habit changes to make it less damaging to our health (and hormones);
- Walk and talk – instead of that coffee shop meet up, arrange a walking meeting
- Mobile walking – when you’re on your mobile phone, get up and walk with it
- Set an alarm – set your phone or computer to ping at you every hour to remind you to get up and take a quick break
- Free gym? – use escalators instead of stairs, park further away from where you need to be, get off the train or bus a stop earlier, do some squats while you are watching TV – any excuse to move more!
I’m a huge fan of walking. It’s easy to do, cheap (no gym membership or equipment involved) and it has huge benefits. Check out this article by Dr John Briffa on the benefits of walking vs running.
AND if you go outside into nature, you get the added benefits of improved mood and feeling calmer.
High intensity interval training (or ‘burst’ training) has been shown to burn fat more effectively than aerobic exercise. As well as strengthening your lungs and heart, it also increases human growth hormone (HGH), the hormone that is abundant when we are young, making us healthy and strong, and declines rapidly as we age. Another huge advantage is that HIIT improves insulin sensitivity, a great result for your waistline and risk of serious disease.
And the best thing about it is that it doesn’t take up much time. No more excuses for not having time to exercise – I use a programme called Metabolic Aftershock – each workout takes 15 minutes and you’re done for the day!
- Resistance & weights
Muscle mass declines as we age (at a rapid rate if you don’t do any strength training!). The more muscle you have the more calories you burn, day and night, reducing your fat stores. High cortisol has a negative effect on muscle mass, so building muscle is really important if you’re over stressed. Your fat:muscle ratio is what we are aiming to improve (note- you may not see weight loss if you are increasing muscle to fat). Strength training also lowers your risk of osteoporosis, which is a risk as we head towards menopause.
This doesn’t mean turning into Arnie in the gym! A set of weights at home will do the trick, or you can go outside and use a park bench if that’s your thing.
- Yoga & Pilates
Yoga and pilates have so many benefits. They improve flexibility, strength, posture, stress and mood. It’s the ultimate anti-ageing exercise!
When I do yoga, I am so focused on the pose I am trying to hold (and remembering to breathe!) that it is impossible for me to think about anything else. This forces me to be present (not lingering on that morning’s stress or what I am planning for dinner tonight). Being mindful or fully present is so difficult in our busy lives, that taking the time to do it, plus strengthening your body at the same time is a great thing to do. There are many different types of yoga, it can be confusing at first. My advice would be to try different classes until you find one you love. It might take a while but persevere. Once you find the one, it will be true love I promise!
I haven’t included endurance-type cardio in this list, not because there’s anything wrong with it (there are lots of benefits to cardio work!), but it just doesn’t make my top 5 for hormone balance after 40. If you run long distances, that’s fine, as long as you have the energy for it, you don’t get regular injuries and you’re not suffering from adrenal fatigue.
I hope you found this useful and if you want to know more about balancing your hormones, check out my FREE Hormone Balancing Guide.