Updated: Jul 6, 2020
Not everyone should exercise every day, especially ladies.
In fact, intense and chronic exercise is one of the worst things a woman can do to her body from a hormonal standpoint.
For many years, I thought that daily strenuous exercise was one of the best things I could do for my body. I took two consecutive hour-long exercise classes a few times a week, did spin class on the others, and went for long runs on the weekends. It was a stress relief. And I felt happy afterwards.
You know the Elle Woods quote, right? "Exercise produces endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. And happy people don't kill people!"
That is what I would say to people when they saw me running around my neighborhood.
For a young, healthy person, exercise is a great practice to build into your daily routine. But for a woman who was carrying and birthing four babies in a 6 year period, exercise was not doing my rapidly depleting cortisol levels any favors. Cortisol is our stress hormone. It allows us to "fight or flight". It is an anti-inflammatory. It gives us energy and the feeling of being awake. It raises blood sugar.
Um, wait. It raises blood sugar? So, if I am exercising intensely enough every day to keep my cortisol levels elevated throughout the day, my blood sugar could be higher than the average girl?
This is one of the reasons that elevated cortisol leads to an increase belly fat. The body feels a constant state of stress and thinks it needs to store energy (fat) for difficult and stressful times.
Your exercise habits could lead to the very thing you are trying to prevent. Double bummer!
Cortisol also acts sneakily on the body's hormonal structure. It steals away the hormones that metabolize into estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone.
So all of that exercise could be tanking your sex hormones, leading to no libido and decreased muscle tone (testosterone insufficiency), or insomnia and dysregulated menstrual cycles (progesterone insufficiency), or PMS-from-the-pit-of-hell (estrogen dominance). Stress is prioritized in your body because the body wants to survive. Sex, sleep, and a calm mind are non-essentials for the body that is focused on surviving.
You have permission to stop exercising so much.
But moving our bodies- that's a good thing, right? Yes. We just don't want too much of a good thing!
Each one of my clients come from a very different background. Some need to exercise more. Some need to exercise less. Some need a physical pause; some need a mental pause; some need both.
I needed both. I took a month off of "working out" to rest and maybe do some yoga this last February, when my labs showed that I was in Stage III HPA Axis Dysfuntion/ Adrenal Fatigue. A normal daily cortisol output is around 40. Mine was 11. No wonder I was waking up exhausted and was exhausted throughout the day.
Now I exercise 3-4x a week on purpose. I try to walk more, and move more, and stand at my desk. But working out a little less makes me enjoy my workouts more. I don't hate them anymore. I look forward to pushing my body really hard for a short period of time because I know I get a day to rest in between. And slowly, my hormones are normalizing.
If you are interested in doing something like that, I'll share a graphic with you:
A really, really hard 20 minute workout is a great compromise for your body. You work your cardiovascular system and your muscles at the same time. I like to do compound, bodyweight exercises because they don't strain your body and you can accomplish your workout anywhere- no gym needed. Doing tabata, AKA sprint training, AKA interval training, AKA HIIT, pushes your body's metabolism forward but doesn't put a chronic stress on your system like running or hour-long cardio classes do.
As I tell my clients when recommending this exercise schedule- "You should feel like you are going to throw up when the clock strikes 0". Now, they can see my face and know that I am not entirely serious. Please don't think I want you to pass out or barf after your workout. Balance, please, darling. But I do want you to push yourself so hard that you feel accomplished, like you are done for the day. Maybe even done for two days. Because the next day, you should give your body, your mind, and your hormones the gift of rest.
If you currently don't work out at all (and if you want to), start with this. It's only 20 minutes. And you only have to do it 3 or 4 times a week.
And if you don't want to work out, that's fine too. I'm not telling you everyone should work out, or even work out like this.
But if you are a woman whose body could use a rest, and you still want to exercise, this is a great place to start.
If you want your hormones tested, or if you want a customized diet and exercise plan for your body, your hormones, and your metabolic type, you've come to the right place. Text me or call me at 661-808-5114 and let's talk about a program that fits your needs.
Jennifer Woodward, FDN-P