Understanding the intricate dance of hormones in the female body can be a daunting task. However, it is crucial for women to be aware of the potential implications of hormonal imbalances and the role that exercise can play in maintaining hormonal health. This is a lesson that Tori Porter, a 28-year-old fitness and wellbeing PR, learned firsthand.
Tori had been dealing with amenorrhea, a condition characterized by an absence of menstrual periods for extended periods, and had also been evaluated for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) when she was 23. PCOS is a hormonal disorder that affects the functioning of the ovaries. Tori suspected she might be suffering from hormonal dysfunction, an imbalance of one or more hormones in the blood, and sought medical advice.
However, her doctor informed her that accurate hormone level readings could not be obtained while she was on the pill, which she had been using to manage symptoms associated with PCOS. Tori decided to stop taking the pill to gain a better understanding of her hormonal health. This decision led to a breakout of acne on her chin, something she had never experienced before.
Five months after discontinuing the pill, she still hadn't menstruated and the changes in her skin had begun to affect her mental wellbeing negatively. She decided to explore lifestyle changes that could potentially improve her symptoms.
One of the major changes Tori made was revamping her workout routine. Until then, her exercise regimen consisted mostly of high-intensity workouts about six times a week. She also sought nutritional guidance to ensure she was getting all the necessary nutrients.
Exercise has a significant impact on our endocrine system, which produces and releases hormones. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) can offer excellent health benefits if balanced with other lifestyle factors and stressors. However, excessive HIIT can contribute to stress and subsequently, hormonal dysfunction.
Dr. Rebecca Robinson, a consultant physician in sport and exercise medicine, explains that while high-impact exercise can be beneficial, overdoing it can lead to dysfunction. During high-intensity workouts, the body enters a 'flight mode,' causing the stress hormone cortisol to remain stimulated for extended periods. This prolonged stimulation can reduce the production of certain hormones, including estrogen, to conserve energy.
Reduced estrogen levels can negatively impact bone health, heart health, and cognition. Progesterone and testosterone, which are essential for muscle repair and rebuilding, are also limited, increasing the risk of injury.
Long-term elevated levels of stress hormones like cortisol can increase the risk of digestive issues, headaches, heart disease, stroke, and mental health disorders. It can also lead to anxiety due to hormonal dysregulation in menstruating women.
To manage her stress levels, Tori decided to reduce the number of high-intensity workouts in her routine and incorporate more low-intensity workouts. Research suggests that low-intensity workouts can release serotonin and dopamine, chemicals that promote well-being and mood regulation. Additionally, while intense exercise stimulates cortisol, gentler activities can decrease its levels, thereby reducing stress.
Regular low-intensity exercise can also help decrease excess circulating estrogen levels by increasing a type of protein that binds to any free estrogen in your body. This can help alleviate symptoms of PMS, fatigue, and mood swings.
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In conclusion, understanding the relationship between exercise and hormonal health is crucial for women. While high-intensity workouts have their benefits, it's essential to balance them with low-intensity exercises to maintain optimal hormonal health. As Tori's experience shows, it's never too late to reassess your lifestyle and make changes for better hormonal health.