Many studies have shown the benefits that physical exertion have on our hormones which affect all four areas of our human development alone. When we experience physical exertion, not just exercise (there must be sweat and a lot of it) we reduce cortisol levels and increase serotonin levels.
This is of great use to us, as cortisol is our hormonal response to negative stress, when our cortisol levels are high we release more glucose from the liver as a fight or flight response to provide us with quick energy. Although initially a good thing, over time, prolonged periods of elevated blood sugar can lead to catastrophic health effects and with elevated cortisol we can experience drastic mood swings, abdominal weight gain, high blood pressure among other negative health and wellness effects. Where as serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood and improves digestion, sleep, sex drive, and even social behaviour. These two hormones fight for their right to dominate within our bodies and I think it’s clear which hormone we want to promote when we can control it.
There is one more hormone to be aware of in this dynamic and it’s a tricky one. Many of us have heard of dopamine it’s known as the “happy hormone” and like cortisol has positive short term benefits, like serotonin it is also a neurotransmitter and has a vital role in our cognitive and physical functions. Dopamine is beneficial in small doses, but this hormone becomes tricky in large doses as every action has an equal and opposite reaction. With large releases of dopamine, the action allows us to feel happy in the short term, but the body inevitably responds forcing us into the other side of that large happiness spike caused by the initial rush of dopamine. People that have exposed themselves to prolonged elevations of the dopamine hormone are inclined to ADHD, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, depression, bipolar disorders, binge eating, addiction, psychopathy and schizophrenia. Dopamine is linked to happiness but it is a hormone responsible for things like motivation, arousal, and reward signal.
When we exercise our cortisol and serotonin will take care of balancing themselves out, however, it is a good practice to become aware of the things that promote serotonin and reduce cortisol.
To promote the bodies ability to utilize serotonin we trace back through the process of synthesizing stages of L-tryptophan to L-amino acid decarboxylase. The following methods can be used to strengthen this process:
Diet- Increasing dietary tryptophan, such as: chicken, eggs, cheese, turkey, beef, salmon and tuna, tempeh, beans, lentils, spinach and other dark green leafy vegetables, pumpkin and chia seeds, and nuts.
Exercise- High intensity exercise
Lifestyle- Get outside, Vitamin D is a major factor in boosting serotonin. Get your 8 hours of quality sleep that is also consistent is vital for serotonin synthesis.
In reducing Cortisol we need to think about calming down the stress patterns on the nervous system using the following methods:
Diet- Omega 3 fatty acids (wild salmon), Vitamin C (citrus fruits), L-Theanine (green tea), Glutamine (meats, beetroot), Phosphatidylserine (soy, egg yolks)
Exercise- Moderate to high intensity exercise, without overtraining. Exercise, although a positive form, is still a form of stress. Overtraining can lead to reverse intended effects.
Lifestyle- Relaxation and down time. Avoiding mental stress is a major factor in reducing cortisol. Strategies on reducing mental stress using lifestyle include: Journaling, physical intimacy, positive relationships, proper respiratory function.
With Serotonin levels going up and cortisol going down, we can start to experience major health, wellness, recovery, and performance benefits. All sparked through mainly physical exertion.
However, the dopamine hormone is sneaky and we should understand it in order to be aware of its benefits and downfalls. When we release dopamine, we crave more of its release, this is how it aides in addictions and habits. Dopamine does not have a govern and it doesn’t have a conscience, it causes compounding results, whether you are receiving the response from gambling, watching netflix, checking off the box on your to do list, or working out, dopamine doesn’t care which one is better for your health, it just wants to be released and when it gets a taste of freedom, it wants more of it. Yes, people are different, but if you’ve noticed some people have addictive personalities and others seem to not have addictive personalities, I’m not sure if it’s a personality trait or a hormonal balance/imbalance.
Further, we tend to label addiction as negative, like gambling or drinking excessively, but we can be addicted to good things as well. The name of the game for us is simply turning the worse habits into better habits, one at a time to guide your dopamine response and regain control. We can control our hormones through our habits, it doesn’t happen quickly, but with some guidance we can help get it on track.
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