The 4 Best Exercises for Hormonal Imbalance

If you’re living with hormonal imbalance, working up a sweat is one of the most helpful things you can do for your health. 

Exercised for balancing hormones

Regularly sweating it out in your living room, backyard, or local nature spot is key for your well-being. It boosts your mood, keeps your heart healthy, puts you in touch with your body, and helps you maintain a healthy weight. Working out — however you do it — is a win for your physical and mental health.

“Exercise has been shown to reduce stress levels and also help regulate your hormones, such as insulin,” says Dr. Yasmin Akhunji, an endocrinologist with Paloma Health. If you have diabetes, metabolic disorder, or other conditions caused by your hormones not working as effectively as they should, getting into a regular fitness habit can be one of the main ways to start feeling better.

What causes hormonal imbalance?

Powered by our endocrine system, hormones are powerful messengers within our bodies, communicating with our organs and tissues through our bloodstream. That’s no small feat! Every major process in our body is dictated by hormones.

For example, corticosteroids help us maintain blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and salt and water balance, while cortisol functions as a sort of warning hormone, helping us adapt to stress. These are just two of the more than 50 hormones in the human body, all with their own unique jobs to carry out.

Hormones naturally fluctuate with age, but imbalances can be triggered by many things, including stress, environmental chemicals, medical conditions, tumors, or medications.

What are the symptoms of hormonal imbalance?

  • Weight gain or loss
  • Fatigue
  • Bowel issues
  • A hump between your shoulder blades
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Vision issues
  • Puffy or swollen face
  • Feeling hot or cold
  • Urinating often or too little
  • Thinning hair
  • Muscle and joint stiffness, aches, and pains
  • Heart rate changes

There are plenty of sex-specific hormonal issues as well. For example, in men, imbalances in the hormone testosterone can cause all sorts of health issues, including breast tissue growth, decreased libido, hot flashes, cognitive difficulties, loss of muscle, and hair thinning.

On the other hand, a common hormonal imbalance in women is PCOS. This can cause excess hair growth in places where hair doesn’t typically grow, missed or irregular periods, excess acne, weight gain, exhaustion, vaginal dryness, and other symptoms.

It’s important to remember that hormonal issues can play out differently for each of us. One of the best things you can do is manage your lifestyle in addition to seeking medical care and using medication and treatments.

Working out regularly is critical for endocrine health, as it can help balance hormones like cortisol, insulin, thyroid hormones, and your sex hormones. New research is indicating that there may be some kinds of exercise that are better for you than others.

What is HIIT?

HIIT (high intensity interval training), a workout style that combines short bursts of highly intense exercise with quick periods of rest, can be most helpful, according to a group of new studies.

When you incorporate strength training such as lifting weights, or engage in squats, lunges, pushups, and other body resistance moves, it builds muscle while helping to burn calories, and can help to reverse some of the impact of chronically high cortisol levels. More so, strength training can reduce the risk of osteoporosis, which is high for many pre-menopausal and menopausal women.

“This type of exercise has been shown to burn fat more effectively than aerobic exercise alone,” says Dr. Akhunji, who explains that HIIT has been demonstrated to actually increase human growth hormone (HGH), which can help us feel healthy and strong. That’s because HGH promotes recovery, metabolism, and muscle growth.

Another advantage to HIIT? “It improves insulin sensitivity, a huge factor in the measurement of your waistline and preventing or managing serious conditions such as diabetes and heart disease,” says Dr. Akhunji.

If you like to go hard with HIIT, just beware of overdoing it, which can actually have the opposite effect on your hormones, leading to excess adrenaline and cortisol.

“Over-exercising can increase our stress hormones, and raise the risk of muscle loss, injury, and fatigue,” according to Dr. Akhunji. In short, moderation is key. Think about adding HIIT to your routine two to three times per week for about 20-30 minutes. Take it easy, listen to your body, and embrace consistency and rest.

What about yoga and Pilates?

If HIIT just isn’t your thing, there are other options that have also been shown to improve hormonal balance. One new study found that women who worked out for 12 weeks developed better balance, flexibility, muscle strength, and estrogen levels. The women worked out for 60 minutes per day three times per week doing yoga and light dance. The yoga was doubly beneficial as it is both a physical exercise and a proven stress reducer (and thus cortisol overload-fighting) technique.

Dr. Akhunji also recommends Pilates for stress reduction, flexibility, and mood improvement. One study found that after eight weeks of a Pilates exercise program, women saw a decrease in menopausal symptoms caused by changing hormones. Pilates is also the only type of exercises that directly targets your pelvic floor, which can be an added benefit for women in perimenopause and menopause.

Beyond any specific workout routine, aim to walk daily (a good goal is 10,000 steps per day, as often as you can) and spend as little time as possible being sedentary. Try to be mindful of how often you move. A few simple ways to add movement include doing squats during commercials, taking the stairs, and getting up every half hour or so when you're working in a sitting position.

What's the best way to start a new exercise routine?

If you're experiencing hormonal imbalance, it may be extra hard to get motivated. Hormone issues can zap your energy and make working out feel like a chore — and this can lead to a frustrating cycle of weight gain and energy loss. Conditions that involve hormonal imbalance are also often linked to inflammation, which can make working out even harder. In this case, it’s important to find ways to make exercise fit into your life as smoothly and with as little difficultly as possible.

  • Embrace consistency. Find a way to fit exercise into your week and try to show up to the task. Studies show that regular exercise helps manage insulin resistance (which can impact your hormone health and cause a variety of issues), sleep quality, and energy levels. The key is to make it work for you. If you get tired early, it might be helpful to do it first thing in the morning, for example. Conversely, if you feel exhausted after your workouts, that would be a reason to do them right before bed.
  • Make it fun. There’s no quicker way to lose interest in a fitness routine than to engage in workouts that bore you. It’s important that you get your heart moving while having fun. This might mean interspersing some strength training moves with a dance session or adding an in-person or remote class with music you love.
  • Warm up. If you have hormonal issues due to thyroid disease, for example, you may find that you're always cold. That coldness can make working out more challenging — so remember to get your blood flowing with light stretching and movement before diving into the tougher stuff to help prevent injury.
  • Embrace accountability. Workout with a friend, text someone every time you finish a routine, create a fitness diary Instagram account, join a class or exercise program online, or download a fitness app that lets you share your gains.
  • Turn it into a method of taking care of yourself. Not everyone loves exercise, particularly in the beginning, but making an active attempt to reframe your workouts as opportunities to take care of yourself may help you see them as something to look forward to and enjoy over time.
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