The Pusher as Exerciser: 10 Strategies that Help!
Posted on 01 August 2013
I bet you are similar to me. Maybe you like to push yourself to your limits, to feel that good burn of hard work, to sweat and then revel in the endorphins that follow an awesome workout. But being tough, thrashing your body, and testing the limits of your endurance can also come at a cost.
While exercise is an essential part of managing health and balancing your hormones, it can also throw them further out of whack if not managed properly. Some exercises place so much stress on the body that cortisol shoots sky-high, such as running and spinning. Other dedicated female athletes may see body fat drop to such a low number that they stop having menstrual cycles, or can’t produce enough estrogen and progesterone to properly manage their mood, appetite, and sleep.
I recently spoke with Ben Greenfield about this issue and it was wonderful to have the insight of someone from the elite fitness community. Because many people are still struggling to get into a regular fitness routine at all, it’s fascinating to look at this problem from a different perspective. Luckily, Ben and I agree that hormonal balance is essential to health and maximizing your potential, on the field and off. Today I want to share with you the main hormonal issues that serious athletes and fitness junkies encounter...and what to do about them. If there’s anyone who will appreciate a call to action, it’s you!
Problem #1: High Cortisol
High-impact sports like running, and fast-moving contact sports like soccer and basketball can actually increase cortisol. The extra stress placed on your body at impact and the adrenaline pumping through your system tells your brain that it’s time to release glucose into your bloodstream so you can escape whatever crazy tiger is chasing you.
Most of us are operating at a fairly stressed-out baseline level, and when you add a body-thumping activity into the mix, it doesn’t get lower.
You can manage your cortisol by adding a few goodies to your routine. One of my favorite ways to lower cortisol, especially if you’re an athlete, is to practice yoga, meditation, or guided visualisation several times a week. Yoga will increase your flexibility and your breath control (so will mindful breathing), and meditation can help improve your focus and concentration during competition. The best athletes in the world know this, and visualization is as important for race prep as a good warm up. All three activities are also proven to lower cortisol and temper your stress response.
An even better way to do this is to create coherence in your nervous system with the iPhone or iPad app, Inner Balance. Learn more about that in the webinar coming up with psychologist Deborah Rozman and me (scroll down on my blog to register!)
A good friend of mine, Dr. Sharon Melnick, talks about the virtues of sprint/recovery for athletes, and also for working more efficiently. In her book, Success Under Stress, she outlines a great method to recover rapidly during your day, which I recommend whether or not you're an athlete!Elite athletes are able to buffer the rise in cortisol with vitamin C, as I described with Ben.
Another great way to lower your cortisol is to add a few natural, proven supplements. Fish oil, aka the Miracle Pill, juices up your system with healthy fats and is a cortisol-lowering powerhouse. Another supplement that is a staple in my daily diet is Phosphatidylserine. It’s been proven over and over in randomized trials to lower cortisol and prevent stress from overwhelming your system. Holy basil is another favorite.
Yoga, meditation, visualization
Mindful entrainment of sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system with HeartMath techniques
Problem #2: Low Progesterone
Intense exercise can lower your progesterone levels. This has a couple of serious effects on the female body. Progesterone is responsible for lining your uterus and preparing it for pregnancy. When progesterone levels drop, that lining disappears, leading to irregular or even a complete absence of menstrual cycles. This is bad news for anyone trying to get pregnant.
Low progesterone is also a precursor to osteoporosis, and can put women at risk for weakened bone strength and stress fractures. I know that the thought of being sidelined by a broken bone is a bitter pill for any athlete to swallow.
There are a few ways you can raise your progesterone levels. One is to start taking vitamins Bs and C. Women in pre-menopause and perimenopause can take Chasteberry, as I describe in Chapter 5 of my book, page 136-138. Saffron is also effective.