Most men think they understand the rules around weight loss, diet and exercise — but they often don't understand the complex relationship between hormones and weight gain.
Here, we are going to delve into how these chemical messengers can affect men’s health, weight, and physique. We’ll offer tips on how men can make their hormones work with them to support their weight loss efforts and health, rather than have these chemicals be a barrier to their fitness goals.
What Are Hormones?
Hormones are chemical messengers in the blood, which travel to tissues and organs and regulate key functions and processes in the body. According to Johns Hopkins Medical School, hormones control essential functions like:
- Blood pressure
- Blood sugar levels, as well as metabolism of glucose, protein and fat
- Sex drive and fertility
- Growth and development
- Red blood cell production
- Sleep cycles
Healthy hormone levels are essential for general well-being. There is a natural cycle to hormonal production, and hormones can be affected by the environment too. Hormones affect how bodies gain and store weight, and men should know they can take active steps to alter their hormone levels in order to look how they want.
Important Hormones and Ways to Boost Them
Here are some of the most crucial hormones that affect weight and muscle mass, and ways men can keep them at healthy levels.
Oxytocin helps men move sperm and women produce breast milk, but is more commonly known as the "love hormone." Oxytocin is responsible for the warm feelings people experience at (among other moments) the early stages of a relationship. It is one of three so-called " happy hormones," along with dopamine and serotonin, responsible for pleasurable feelings — as well as, equally importantly, for psychological stability.
There are many ways to boost oxytocin (for example, meditation, cuddling a partner, and generally doing things that are enjoyable). Yoga is one excellent way of increasing levels of this feel-good chemical. Men who feel good while exercising are likely to keep exercising, which will cause more weight loss and help them establish a healthy routine. So grab a yoga mat and boost your oxytocin!
Cortisol is the body's main stress hormone. At the correct levels, it is important for the body's overall functioning, but prolonged stress can lead to an excess of cortisol and send your body into overdrive. Problems associated with too much cortisol are:
- Anxiety and depression
- Heart disease
- Trouble sleeping
- Weight gain
For a healthy, physically fit body, it's so important to take care of the mind as well, as men who are anxious and depressed are more likely to neglect their physical health. Even though it is physically stressful, exercise is critical for reducing cortisol levels and improving one's overall state of being.
Aerobic exercise reduces cortisol (and adrenaline). This is very important because excess cortisol is also associated with visceral fat — the fat around the belly, considered especially deadly and hard to shift. According to the American Institute of Stress, "people with apple shaped figures are more susceptible" than pear-shaped people to diseases like diabetes, certain cancers, and heart attacks. Belly fat can also create a vicious cycle, as having more belly fat can increase the body's storage of cortisol (and so on). The best way to limit cortisol is to reduce stress through proper sleep, nutrition, enjoyable activities — and exercise.
All exercise is beneficial toward reducing cortisol: elliptical machines provide an excellent cardio workout that is also challenging. Lifting weights can be meditative, and defeat cortisol via two pathways: exercise and relaxation.
Lifting weights also increases muscle mass, which has its own chemical and anti-inflammatory benefits in the body: more muscle helps men to better process insulin in their bodies, and boosts their defenses against belly fat accumulation. Targeting the core specifically is not as important as full-body exercise when trying to improve overall hormonal health. Exercises involving the TRX can provide the full-body workout necessary for hormone health, helping you use resistance to build strength.
Ghrelin, the hunger hormone, can cause men to want to overeat when it’s out of whack. Overeating makes it harder to maintain weight loss. Fortunately, there are natural ways to control ghrelin, including exercise. Studies have shown, interestingly, that aerobic workouts like treadmill running are particularly good at curbing excessive ghrelin, making it less likely men will want to overeat.
Insulin is produced by the pancreas, and proper levels are critical for healthy blood sugar. Diabetics have trouble producing consistent levels.
Eating too much sugar and being sedentary are both terrible for maintaining healthy insulin levels, which then leads to hormonal weight gain. Together with proper nutrition, any exercise will help maintain healthy insulin levels — and not only can exercise lower insulin in healthy people, some studies show that short bursts of high intensity exercise can help Type-2 diabetics produce it. Exercise bikes can offer one way of crafting a home high intensity workout.
Saving the best for last, endorphins are classically associated with exercise, including stretching. Like oxytocin, they make us feel good. (They are considered hormones, although they can also be classified as neuropeptides). Endorphins lower our pain and are responsible for the classic runner's high. That feeling (which everyone gets eventually — sometimes it hits after a run, we promise) is a great motivator to exercise and weight loss, whether that means running on a treadmill, lifting weights, or trying a high intensity interval (HIIT) workout. Many exercisers come to look forward to their sweaty workouts because of the good feelings that are engendered on a hormonal level. Endorphins make people feel better about themselves and life in general, making it easier to keep working on shifting the fat.
Aging and Hormones
As men age, their hormone levels can change, too.
Testosterone is a hormone associated with men for sex, muscle bulk, heart health and bone strength. Testosterone levels can lower with age, which can make it harder to lose weight (higher testosterone levels are associated with better weight loss capacity). The good news is that just as men lose testosterone naturally, they can boost it naturally as well, without needing supplements.
According to studies, strength training is a great way to boost testosterone. Weights are the cornerstone of strength training, but there are also variations to explore, like kettlebells and weighted vests, to make cardio more challenging and boost hormonal weight loss.
With low testosterone levels, it may be harder for men to gain more muscle mass, but with proper nutrition and strength training, it is still absolutely possible. There are yoga poses said to boost testosterone (and lower cortisol, which as mentioned above affects fat storage — but also the ability to create muscle). For this reason, yoga is an excellent practice to help men balance their hormones. Men shouldn't hesitate to get on their mat and grab some handy yoga props like blocks and straps.
Another hormone that drops as men age is norepinephrine. Norepinephrine is both a stress hormone and a neurotransmitter. As it relates to fat loss, norepinephrine is involved in blood flow to muscles, heart rate, and release of blood sugar. Low levels can also lead to depression. Fortunately, exercise can increase norepinephrine levels, creating a beneficial domino effect — more exercise equals increased norepinephrine, which equals better heart health and blood sugar control, making it easier for men to lose weight and also keep it off.
Human Growth Hormone
Human Growth Hormone, as its name suggests, is critical for healthy growth of muscles, bone and tissue, as well as for metabolizing fat. Its levels can decline with age and obesity. Exercise restores HGH to healthier levels, particularly high intensity exercise. Heavy weights and explosive exercises like plyometric jumps are excellent ways of boosting HGH.
Hormones, Sleep and Lifestyle
Some hormones, like HGH, rely on a mix of activity and rest to properly metabolize. Good, restorative sleep is very important.
Healthy levels of the hormone serotonin can improve sleep and mood, as well as fight depression and improve digestion (which both have a positive impact on weight loss, of course).
Aerobic exercise is one great way to boost serotonin, including elliptical training, swimming, jogging, jump rope, and rowing. Getting a good night's sleep helps keep the body's hormones in balance, maintains brain health, and lowers overall risk of disease as well. All these factors are related to maintaining a healthy weight.
Hormone Disruptors, Exercise and Weight Loss
Unfortunately, many chemicals in the environment can affect our hormones, like Bisphenol A (BPA), a so-called hormone disruptor commonly found in can linings and plastics. BPA is associated with a host of negative health effects and can have estrogenic effects — bad for men trying to lose weight and stay healthy.
BPA can linger in the body but also comes out in sweat, making exercise a good way to rid the body of this toxic menace (and a good reason to lose fat, as this is where BPA is stored). With a home gym, workouts are easy and flexible, and men can make sure they have a variety of exercises available to them.
Conclusion: Hormones, Weight Loss and Exercise
Scientists are constantly refining their understanding of the complex interplay of hormones and weight gain, but their conclusions are consistent in recommending exercise as a tonic. With many home options including trainers, exercise can boost mens’ levels of feel-good hormones, and keep them in good shape for the entire duration of their lives.