We often think about our muscles’ straining and our breathing when exercising. But what we don’t usually consider is how our bodies’ underlying mechanisms assist us. While we can’t see it, our bodies support us by firing innumerable chemical reactions, including hormones. Even though they aren’t as visible as muscles, one’s ability to exercise can be significantly impacted when these hormones are affected. This is especially true for women, who often undergo hormone fluctuations as a part of their bodies’ natural functions.
What Are Hormones?
Hormones are chemical messengers created by the endocrine glands that are carried within the blood. Examples of hormones include thyroxine, cortisol, estrogen and testosterone. Your brain uses these hormones to send messages to your brain, telling it to perform various functions. You can imagine the hormones in the body a bit like a letter that gets sent in the mail. When the brain wants the body to perform a function, it sends a letter in the form of hormones to the proper mailbox or receptor within the body. The body then reads that message and knows what chemical function it needs to perform.
How Hormones Affect Exercise
These chemical messages can significantly affect your exercise by helping your body build muscle or improve endurance. However, hormone fluctuations can negatively impact your exercise and weight loss efforts unless you carefully account for them.
Such fluctuations naturally occur during a woman’s natural cycle over their life, making it imperative that women adjust to such changes to continue exercising in a healthy manner.
During menstruation, estrogen and progesterone levels are lower than expected, leading to greater fatigue and reducing the amount of exercise one can perform. Such changes are most dramatic during pregnancy, when the changing hormones will make the body require more oxygen. The additional oxygen requirement can cause shortness of breath and make pregnant women more prone to injuries and ligament strains while exercising. Lastly, during menopause, women can often experience fatigue due to falling estrogen levels that will reduce energy, stamina and strength.
How to Minimize the Effects of Changing Hormones
One of the easiest ways to handle changing hormones and still exercise is to shorten your exercise periods and use pain relief methods such as NSAIDS (Ibuprofen or Tylenol) or a heating pad. During periods of fluctuation, such as menstruation, these methods can efficiently reduce the pain you’re feeling while still allowing you to exercise.
However, pregnancy will likely require more significant countermeasures. It is still very beneficial to work out during pregnancy, although you’ll likely need to take it easy and be flexible with your body’s changes. Lastly, during menopause, one should endeavor to fight the naturally occurring fatigue while engaging with weight training, pilates and strength training to combat bone loss.
Exercises to Minimize the Effects of Changing Hormones
Just because your hormones are changing doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise. Indeed, by exercising, you can help balance the hormones in your body. However, for women, the exercises for balancing hormones differ according to each life phase.
During the teenage years, sports and athletics can be an invaluable opportunity for the body to grow. However, you must be careful not to overly tax the body, especially during menstrual periods, or it may adversely affect the natural cycle.
During the young adult and reproductive years, you should overlap your exercise routine with your natural cycle, prioritizing intense exercises when hormones are low at the beginning of the month while considering that ACL injuries are more likely at this stage. Be sure to protect the knee during squats, lunges and cardio.
During menopause, you should focus on resistance training and impact exercises, including pilates, yoga, dynamic stretching and foam rolling. The main thing to keep in mind is recovery. It is imperative to keep rest days consistent and properly stretch and roll out muscles before and after use.
A Parting Reminder
Even though we can’t see them, hormones present a fundamental in our bodies and their ability to exercise. Keeping hormone changes in mind while exercising is critical for women who regularly experience hormone changes and fluctuations due to their natural cycles. While it may seem like hormones can be your enemy at times, through careful planning, you can keep your workout routine consistent and help your body regulate your hormones more effectively!