This is an excerpt from Total Body Beautiful by Andrea Orbeck,Desi Bartlett & Nicole Stuart.
If hormonal aging were a broken-down car, fitness and wellness would be a Lamborghini. The case for exercise and its interactions with our hormones is remarkable. Exercise alone can singlehandedly influence the shifting effects of hormones, influence your energy levels, prevent diseases related to age, affect your quality of life, strengthen your mental health, and keep you in your skinny jeans way beyond retirement. Following are some of the exercise benefits that we think are worth a mention.
Counteract Hormonal Changes
Studies have repeatedly confirmed that cardio training can greatly counter hormonal shifts that result from aging (El-Lithy et al. 2015; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2018).
Aerobic exercise can reduce insulin sensitivity, lower blood pressure, improve lipid profiles (the good and bad cholesterol), and decrease body fat. These physiological responses to aerobic exercise result in an increased efficiency of your system during exercise. By simply moving your butt around and giving your cardiovascular system a little work, you can increase stroke volume, capillary efficiency, and mitochondrial density; strengthen your heart; and lower your heart rate and blood pressure. A strong cardiovascular fitness level assists your body in better delivering oxygen and glucose to working muscles, which in turn keeps you lean, strong, and functioning mentally at an optimal level.
Improve Quality of Life
Research also proves that fitness and wellness choices that are adopted at any age have an incredible amount of benefit (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2021; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2018). It’s never too late to start or to increase your levels of activity from the foundation that you’ve built. Benefits will be almost immediate and will have an everlasting impact on your body.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of decreased quality of life levels (known as morbidity) and death worldwide. In the United States, it accounts for 600,000 deaths per year. Those are the kinds of numbers to get our heart rates up and keep us on the soapbox for cardio. Also, because hormonal shifts cause a metabolic drag and body fat increase, cardio is your most important asset in maintaining a lean body mass index. When you exercise, you are literally changing your internal chemistry, which will affect your external physique for the rest of your life.
Build Lean Muscle Mass
Weight training is one of the easiest ways to counteract hormonal changes because it promotes the burning of fat while maintaining or gaining muscle. Merely picking up weights regularly can help balance your estrogen levels. Science tells us that we regulate our estrogen levels by increasing lean muscle mass, which increases metabolism, which in turn helps to burn more fat and to reduce the amount of fat. Because lifting weights makes more testosterone, less estrogen is produced. In addition, by helping us to build lean muscle mass, weightlifting reduces fat mass.
Slow Bone Loss
Strength training can play a role in slowing bone loss and even in building bone. Loss of peak bone mineral density has been identified as the single most important factor in the development of osteoporosis. Our peak bone mass is achieved by our mid-twenties, and we lose it at a rate of one percent per year after age 40. Studies show that the two most important factors are nutrition and inactivity (Laskou and Dennison 2019; Willems et al. 2017).
In a longitudinal study of over 77,000 women spanning 24 years, researchers found that a high body mass index (BMI, 25+) and low levels of physical activity were attributed with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and death (Kendall and Fairman 2014). The study also connected higher levels of sedentary behavior with a 54 percent increase in risk for metabolic syndrome. Our mighty muscles make up 60 percent of body mass, so the difference between a woman who lifts weights regularly and her sedentary sister is much different (and vital!) metabolically active muscle tissue. The differences are massive and are an indispensable defense in maintaining a lean and strong body.