Hormones and exercise

Hello everybody! Welcome back to my blog. The purpose of this blog is to help people find their way to a healthier lifestyle. I mostly talk about exercise, nutrition and the science behind them, which are my areas of expertise, but I also talk about sleeping habits, minimalism and many other subjects related to wellbeing and healthy lifestyle. 

Today’s subject is one of my favourites. When I was back at uni I didn’t like it very much, I found it very complicated. I guess back then there was too much to take in, so many subjects to study at the same time, and I didn’t realise how beautiful and interesting hormones are.

Cortisol hormone

As I kept learning more about physiology and specifically exercise physiology, that passion about hormones grew on me. Not only are they important, essential substances in our body, but they’re also key for many physical and mental diseases.

There are quite a lot of hormones related to exercise and physical activity. In this post we will get to know some of them in greater detail, focusing on the effects they have in our body.

  1. Dopamine

This is the “feel-good” hormone. It’s the hormone released when we listen to music, when we have sex, when we smell delicious food, when we go shopping. Dopamine is in charge of assisting nerve cells to send messages to each other, which makes this hormone very important for our physical and mental health.

When we workout, we release dopamine as well. As we do more exercise and we release more dopamine, our reward system gets more receptive to dopamine, increasing the number of available dopamine receptors. Overtime, this may lead to lowering depression levels thanks to our increased capacity to enjoy.

  1. Cortisol

Cortisol is a misunderstood hormone. There is really bad propaganda around cortisol because it’s guilty of higher levels of stress. It’s one of the hormones released in the fight-or-flight response. But cortisol in the right amount is a great hormone. This so-called “stress hormone” is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands, which are located on top of the kidneys. When the levels of cortisol are too high, it may lead to problems such as chronic stress, inflammation, anxiety, among others.

Nonetheless, there’s a healthy and necessary amount of cortisol that has great effects in our body. When we do exercise, our body responds to the activity as if it was a fight-or-flight situation, though it quickly goes back to normal levels once the exercise is finished. In fact, many studies have shown that regular exercise reduces cortisol levels at night, helping us sleep better. This is one of the reasons why exercising is also good for a proper sleep hygiene.

When cortisol is released in the bloodstream from the kidneys it increases glucose (sugars) in the bloodstream too, increasing the amount of glucose used by our brain and promoting the accessibility of substances that assist with tissue repair.

  1. Adrenaline, also known as epinephrine

Adrenaline is another important hormone to ensure the fight-or-flight response. It’s well known for its effects on our body: nervousness, anxiety, excitement, and it can be dangerously addictive.

This hormone is in charge of increasing out heart rate and breathing, takes the blood to the extremities so we can “fight” or “flight”, sends more glucose to our brain so we can think fast, expands our pupils so we can see better, and it has been shown to increase strength, speed, and many other physical skills in order to escape “danger”. Adrenaline release in the body is very quick. Within 2 to 3 minutes the adrenal glands have produced and released enough adrenaline to ensure we are ready to face the danger.

Even though all these effects sound a bit distressing, it’s actually what our body does when we do exercise, especially when we do certain types of exercise.

Some activities or substances may make us addicted to adrenaline, with devastating consequences. Nevertheless, exercise helps controlling the levels of adrenaline in our body, bringing the levels down very quickly once the physical activity is finished.

  1. Oxytocin

Oxytocin is the love hormone. It’s the hormone released when we hug, when we kiss, when women give birth and breastfeed, when we have sex, when we laugh with other people, when we are bonding with someone, when we see our pets, etcetera. It’s produced in the hypothalamus.

It might not sound like a hormone released during exercise because it has opposite effects in our body. In fact, oxytocin decreases cortisol levels, reducing stress, and increases serotonin production, promoting feelings of peace and calmness. But as the social hormone, when we exercise with people, especially people we care for (our partner, our kids, our friends), we also release this hormone. It’s not as important for the physical activity “per sei” as it is for bonding with the people we’re training with, bonding with our trainer, or having another good reason to do exercise other than being fit.

  1. Endorphins

Endorphins are known to be our natural painkillers. Released by the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, they interact with specific receptors in our brain that are in charge of reducing the perception of pain, decreasing stress levels, and increasing the feeling of wellbeing and happiness in a similar way as morphine does. We release this hormone when exercising, eating chocolate, laughing, dancing, or having sex. It is also released when we have an alcoholic drink or two, though this is not the healthiest way to increase our endorphins. In fact, more than a drink or two can have the opposite effect.

The release of endorphins during exercise is important to engage with it so that we will want to do it again. When we do something that makes us feel pleasure, or that makes us feel good, our brain will want us to do it again to get that same feeling.

These are just some of the hormones related to exercise. Many others are somehow involved, directly or indirectly. In future posts, I’ll introduce other hormones related to physical activity.

Many are the reasons why we should do exercise, not just the release of these amazing hormones. If you want to find out more, check out my post “13 reasons why you should do exercise”.

That’s it for today! I really hope that you enjoy it. If you like what I do and you want to support this project, follow me on Instagram and Facebook, like the post and comment! Should you have feedback you’d like to leave, a comment to share with me, or a cool idea for a post, send me an email to sanchisayslifestyle@gmail.com

10 thoughts on “Hormones and exercise

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