Most of us know the importance of regular exercise. It helps us keep unwanted weight off, boosts our immune response to illnesses, and helps us lead a healthy, happy life. However, what few of us realize is that behind every post-workout high is a complex chain of hormonal responses that can boost brain activity, create physical adaptations, and improve our mental health.
These hormonal responses can make a meaningful difference to your life outside of exercise, too. Over time, exercising will help you handle stress, and can ensure that you stay physically healthy and capable well into old age.
So, here are a few reasons why you should exercise for greater hormonal regulation and a mental health boost.
Modern life is stressful. We lead lives driven by work schedules, and can easily be thrown out of our routine due to changes in our health, relationships, or work. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant stress for millions of Americans — the American Psychological Association (APA) even reports that 2 in 3 American adults experienced increased stress due to the pandemic.
However, exercise can help us regulate stress and mitigate the tension we might feel in our bodies. This won’t come as a surprise to folks who regularly tie up their running shoes or dive into their local pool for a few lengths. Exercise makes us feel great and leaves us with a “high” that can change our mood and improve our ability to handle stress.
Current research on why exercise feels so good is mixed, but researchers believe that the neuromodulator norepinephrine might have something to do with it. Norepinephrine is the chemical that is produced to help us manage stress, and when we exercise, our body gets a “practice run” at working with stress in the body. Over time, regular exercise improves our stress response — even if it stems from a source that has nothing to do with exercise.
Testosterone production begins during puberty and declines at a rate of 1% per year after the age of 30. It’s a hormone that has a major impact on your physical health — it promotes muscle growth, strength, bone density, and red blood cell production. However, it can also have a meaningful impact on your mental health and emotions.
When your testosterone levels get out of line, everyday tasks become difficult, and you may be more likely to develop conditions like anxiety and depression. If you suspect that you have low testosterone, then you should speak to a medical professional who will recommend a path forward that works for you and is specific to your lifestyle.
Amongst the many treatments that medical professionals may prescribe is increased exercise. That’s because exercise helps you handle stress and improves the quality of your sleep. In time, improving your sleep and reducing stress may help you naturally remedy low testosterone.
Even the most dedicated runners, lifters, or swimmers want to skip a workout from time to time. But, they all repeat the same mantra “this might suck now, but I’ll feel great after I exercise”. Almost all exercise leaves you feeling refreshed after you finish up, and there are a few things better than taking a shower to clean off after you’ve worked up a sweat.
By starting an exercise routine, you stimulate the release of endorphins. These endorphins help you feel happy, and can even reduce the amount of pain you feel. They also help you burn off any “anxious energy” you might be feeling, and can help you snap out of a funk.
However, extremely intense exercise might have the opposite effect on your body, and leave you feeling tired and sore. So, if you’re interested in working out to feel good, then you should start slow and work up to more intense workout programs. A great beginners program might include a walk/jog, or a swim at your local pool. As your fitness improves, you can join a fitness club, or start playing a sport with a team — just be sure to get plenty of rest and recovery.
Unwanted Weight Gain
Folks in the fitness industry are finally starting to understand that not all fat is bad and that not everyone wants to be a bodybuilder. Fighting off fat-phobia in fitness has taken time, and there are still plenty of people who are yet to come around. However, it is worth noting that not all weight gain is “good”, and can still be bad for your overall health.
Research surrounding hormones, exercise, and unwanted weight gain is still in its infancy. However, a meta-analysis on Leptin — the hormone which regulates your “fullness” — shows that regular, moderate-intensity exercise can mitigate your feelings of hunger and can reduce the amount of excess fat you carry.
There’s also the reality that folks who are obese are more likely to develop issues stemming from hormonal imbalances. This might be as simple as mood changes, or as serious as changes to sex hormones and other health conditions. By engaging in regular exercise, people who wish to lose weight can change their hormonal response to hunger and can build bone density and muscle mass while working out in a caloric deficit.
Research on hormones and health is just starting to take off. Advancements in science are revealing networks and responses that were previously unknown, and medical professionals are now able to use hormone treatment as part of their overall approach to healthcare. For everyday folks, understanding the link between hormone regulation, mental health, and exercise can help you get off the couch, and start to engage in workout routines to help you feel good and achieve your fitness goals.
Dan Matthews is a writer, content consultant, and conservationist. While Dan writes on a variety of topics, he loves to focus on feeling better both mentally and physically, and imparting health tips to others can help make the world a better place to reside. When Dan isn’t working on new content, you can find him with a coffee cup in one hand and searching for new music in the other.