Using exercise to balance hormones is part of a balancing act, Zellner explains. Exercise is a form of stress because it’s taxing on the body. When you’re sprinting hard, for instance, you’re putting a strain on your muscles, energy systems, and heart. Depending on your current state of well-being, this could be a good or bad thing for you.
“It’s the difference between eustress and distress. Eustress is a positive type of stress—one that creates strength and resilience. Distress, on the other hand, is a negative form of stress and is the one we most commonly associate with the word stress,” she says. “We want to make sure we’re causing enough stress to strengthen you, but not so much that we cause other problems.”
Too much exercise can lead to overtraining syndrome, a condition that causes fatigue, depression, insomnia and irritability, Zellner says. “In addition to exacerbating stress, it can suppress immune function, and cause GI disturbance and injuries due to overtraining and fatigue,” she explains.
According to a September 2019 study in BMC Sports Science, Medicine & Rehabilitation, overtraining syndrome can be triggered by insufficient intake of protein, carbs, and calories. This can cause reduced levels of cortisol and late growth hormone and adrenocorticotropic hormone (aka the hormone that regulates how you respond to stress) responses. The same study also showed that overtraining syndrome reduces testosterone-to-estradiol ratio, which can cause mood swings and affect body composition and metabolism. In women, high levels of estradiol are associated with acne, depression, low sex drive, weight gain and even breast cancer.
But whether the type of exercise you do turns into distress and becomes detrimental to your hormones differs from person to person, Zellner says. Zellner also notes that men and women have different outcomes when using exercise to balance hormones. For example, if you’re looking to balance the sex hormones testosterone and progesterone, men might see better results with explosive movements and weight training, while women respond better to moderate-intensity resistance training.
So how do you know what type of exercise you should be doing to balance your hormones? Should you dial the intensity up or down? At Parsley Health visit, doctors have you complete a robust questionnairebefore your first visit about your health, lifestyle, and family history of disease, including any medications and supplements you’re already taking. Then, your doctor and health coach will go through this questionnaire with you and make exercise recommendations based on your health history, symptoms you’re dealing with, and results of in-depth lab testing.
“Each member will have a unique [exercise] recommendation based on their health goals, health status, and other factors like preference and time constraints,” Zellner says. “Ultimately, at Parsley, we take a multi-faceted approach to healing the body, using diet, supplements, medication when necessary, stress reduction, sleep, and movement.”
That said, it’s good to be aware of the hormones that are affected by your fitness routine. Here, Zellner shares how your workouts could influence these hormones, and the adjustments you can make to help with any hormonal imbalances