Exercise and its Impact on Hormones

3rd November 2019
Your body has glands that secrete hormones. Some hormones are essential for exercise, but exercising affects your entire hormonal system.

When we exercise, we especially focus on our physical appearance and improving our performance. We all know that exercising is good for our health, so let’s dig a little deeper: let’s understand how exercising affects our hormones.

What are hormones?

Hormones are generally protein or lipid substances that are formed by endocrine glands in certain organs of the body. The organs secrete hormones into the blood flow and they travel throughout the body until they reach their target organ to fulfill their purpose.

Many tissues can secrete hormones but some organs are solely responsible for secreting certain kinds of hormones:

  • The thyroid gland secretes thyroxine, which plays a key role in metabolic functions. It increases energy usage, heart rate and blood pressure among other roles.
  • The pancreas secretes essential hormones such as insulin and glucagon. These hormones regulate blood sugar levels.
  • The suprarenal glands also produce important hormones such as aldosterone, cortisol, and catecholamine. While they all have different functions, they all generally serve to prepare the body for dangerous or stressful situations–such as exercise– for a better reaction or performance.
  • Male and female genitalia secrete testosterone and estrogen, respectively. Testosterone helps the body grow stronger and build muscle mass.
  • Lastly, the pituitary gland organizes all of the body’s glands by secreting hormones that stimulate production. It also produces the growth hormone, which is essential for athletic performance. It’s also controlled by the hypothalamus.

Exercise and hormones

In order to understand the effects of exercise on your hormones, you need to first understand that exercise is stressful for your body. To confront it, your body relies on mechanisms, such as the hormones from the suprarenal gland, that once helped us survive dangerous situations.

hormones stress

Cortisol is a hormone that comes into play in situations of sudden stress. It increases the efficiency of the body’s energetic metabolism, especially carbohydrates. When the hormone is released, the body quickly consumes the glycogen reserves that are stored in the liver and muscles.

As for catecholamines– with adrenaline being the best-known type– they affect the alpha and beta-adrenergic receptors that are located throughout the body. These receptors then react by constricting arteries and veins, which increases venous return and blood pressure.

In addition, catecholamines also increase heart rate and the cardio-respiratory capacity in general. They also increase efficiency in transporting nutrients to the body’s tissues.

In response to the stress of exercise, the pituitary gland secretes the growth hormone. The growth hormone acts through another hormone, IGF-1, which comes from the liver. It makes bones grow (in those who are still growing) and spurs on muscular hypertrophy.

Long-term hormonal effects of exercise

Regular exercise produces a number of physiological changes. The hormonal changes are some of the biggest ones:

  • Regular exercise, especially in the case of high-intensity workouts, raises testosterone levels in the bloodstream. The rise in testosterone has an incredible impact on athletic performance, especially strength. Testosterone levels rise in both men and women. However, women shouldn’t worry about higher testosterone levels as they don’t rise high enough to make them more masculine.
  • Physical activity is linked to better insulin response. On the other hand, a sedentary lifestyle can negatively impact the body’s sensibility to insulin. Thus, exercising can help the body respond better to insulin, which helps it metabolize carbohydrates and fats better as well.
hormones effects

  • Chronically high levels of cortisol have been linked to situations of physiological stress and abdominal obesityExercise helps the body maintain normal levels of cortisol, preventing the effects of chronic stress on the body.
  • Stressful activities such as physical activity are one of the biggest stimuli for the production and secretion of the growth hormone. This hormone plays a key role in athletic performance because it increases muscle mass and reduces body fat. In addition, it also helps the metabolism and uses the body’s fat as fuel.

With all that said, we can conclude that exercising doesn’t just benefit physical appearance; it does so much more. Exercising regularly has long-term changes in the body’s metabolism and hormonal system which translates into a healthier future. Physical activity helps your body, both in and out, to stay healthy.

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