Women’s health expert, author and speaker Jessica Giljam Brown of Wellness by Jessica shares how you can use your hormones to your advantage to get the most out of your exercise.
We know that movement is good for us. Regular exercise helps you to make and maintain muscle mass and reduces your risk for several illnesses. Not only does regular exercise support healthy sex hormones and monthly cycles, but you can use your hormones to your advantage to get the most out of your exercise.
Exercise helps women reduce their circulating oestrogen, an important factor in helping to prevent or treat oestrogen dominance. There is also evidence to suggest that this mechanism helps to reduce cancer risk in women.
Regular exercise helps to improve insulin sensitivity, this means that you become more effective at taking glucose from the bloodstream and packaging it into the cells where it can be used as energy. Good blood sugar control plays an important role in preventing and managing the hormonal condition, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Regular exercise focusing on a mixture of moderately passed cardiovascular movements like walking or swimming, and muscle-building exercises such as plyometric movements.
The stress hormone, cortisol, is increased when you exercise at a high intensity, or for long periods. The body can cope with high cortisol levels for short periods. However, if you have considerable levels of stress in other parts of your life then high-intensity exercise might push your cortisol levels over the edge. Chronically high cortisol can affect your cycle by delaying or preventing ovulation. When this happens you might notice your cycle becomes longer, you may miss a period, or in some cases lose your cycle altogether.
Low-intensity exercise has been shown to lower cortisol levels, so if you are feeling particularly stressed you might like to opt for a slow walk on the beach or a 20-minute yoga session instead of a HIIT class at the gym.
For years a woman’s naturally changing hormones over her cycle were seen as a disadvantage in sport, however, this view has very much changed. Women can hack their exercise by playing to their hormonal strengths at different stages of their cycle.
How to hack your cycle:
Take it easy while your oestrogen levels are at their lowest. Lean towards light cardio such as jogging, cycling, swimming and yoga.
Build some muscle! Strength training in this phase has been shown to result in a greater increase in muscle strength. Hit the gym and lift some weights or try a fast-paced body weight-based circuit at home.
Superwomen mode activated! Around ovulation, women recover quicker, have less muscle soreness and higher energy levels. Plan for a longer, tougher session and push yourself that little bit extra.
Progesterone levels increase the core body temperature, making you feel hotter sooner. Some individuals may also find their weight increases slightly as the body holds onto water and energy is stored. That run around the block might just end up feeling a whole lot harder than it normally would, so try something short, outdoors and more relaxed.
Exercise has so many benefits for all aspects of your health. What’s important is to find something you enjoy and mix it up so you don’t get bored. If the gym isn’t your thing, maybe try an online pilates class, a dance class or spend some time each day out in the garden growing some veggies.