Hormone health is frequently talked about across the health and fitness industry. It’s certainly significant and we do a lot to educate people about how hormones work and how they may impact upon your health goals. However, I frequently see people fly off immediately to get tests done, buy expensive supplements and start posting in Facebook groups for help as a first point of call.
The reality is there are some really simple steps you can put in place from today, right now without spending a penny that can be incredibly powerful and have the ability to transform your hormonal output in seconds. With daily practice they can play an effective role in rebalancing your long term hormone profile.
As someone prone to screwing up my hormones in the past, I know a lot about correcting imbalances with nutrition, supplements and exercising (or maybe not exercising as the case might be). However, the real key here is to stop those imbalances reoccurring and this involves a degree of reflection about you, how you think, what you prioritise in life and how you spend your time each day.
Hormones are like the email system of the body. If you think of your body as a business operation, the hormones are relaying information about the current state of affairs, what tasks need to be done, what resources need to be increased or decreased and what are the priorities for the success and survival of the business. They work closely with neurotransmitters (the two terms are often used interchangeably) and govern the company atmosphere by influencing our emotions, confidence, get up and go and overall sense of motivation. The emails are sent out by our ‘glands’ so these are like different departments in a company (marketing, accounts, admin, etc). They are all looking for direction from the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) which is basically our brain.
One issue with our hormonal signalling these days is that our stressful lifestyles are constantly relaying signs of a major threat to the company, similar to an ongoing recession where jobs and tasks are at risk often leaving your body in a heightened state of security 24/7. One of the long term effects is that the nervous CEO will start to be concerned about the future health and success of the company and begin making job cuts, especially in the reproductive departments as these can be spared in favour of the company survival. One of the biggest drivers of this hormonal recession is our over ambitious lifestyles and complex thought patterns, which is good to know as it means YOU have the power to change this. A good starting place is getting your mojo back, however, there are simple, practical things you can do each day to tip the company back into a more prosperous state and persuade your CEO to get fruity…okay this analogy is going totally wrong now so let’s move on!
Are You In Boom Or Bust?
Before we continue it’s important you understand the role of something called the vagus nerve. I often think the more you can understand the underlying mechanisms and visualise the physical processes taking place, the more likely you are to put the advice we offer into daily practice. The word vagus means “wandering” in Latin as this nerve branches from it’s origin in the brain and wanders right down to the stomach, touching almost all other major organs along it’s route.
The vagus nerve is responsible for switching the body from “fight or flight” to “rest and digest.” It’s a bit like the company finance manager bearing good news and feeding back that the company is flourishing and accounts are healthy. It’s takes it’s lead from our senses and is geared to put the brakes on your body by releasing calming neurotransmitters and lowering our heart rate and blood pressure. Easing off the stress signals then puts your body in “rest, digest and let’s add reproduce” mode and encourages healthier ratios of hormones like testosterone, estradiol and progesterone.
Get Toning Up Your Vagus
What’s incredible about our body is we have the ability to train these mechanisms. You want strong glutes then you prioritise squats, you want an optimal hormone profile then you flex your secret weapon; the vagus nerve. It’s your super power and the more you train it, the more you can harness it’s strength in times of stress.
The following habits will all improve your vagus tone. If you implement these every day imagine how powerful the effect could be. What’s even more wonderful is that each of these are FREE and pretty lovely to do. You have no excuse! Get toning…
5 Daily Habits To Help Balance Your Hormones
1. Deep Breathing
Deep diaphragmatic breathing stimulates the vagal tone and harmonises the bodies hormonal output. When you feel distress kick in, place your hand on your belly and take a deep breath to inflate the stomach. Breathe in for 3-4 seconds and out again for the same time, take long slow breaths. Ideally you should do this for 5-10 minutes a day, either lie or sit somewhere quiet and perform the deep breaths with your eyes closed to help you focus on deepening and lengthening the breath. Before a meal is ideal to switch you into digest mode. Breathe in and out through your nose and then start to play around breathing in through your nose and breathing out through your mouth loudly, maybe sigh. Yogi’s do this often as they’re well aware of the impact of vagal toning. Studies have shown you can lower your heart rate and blood pressure immediately.
2. Do 10 Push Ups
During our advanced kettlebell training sessions we were coached about the power of breath work. Strength training is really effective for healthy vagus tone. The key is to focus on making a robust exhalation during the exertion part of an exercise. Push ups are an option most of us can easily implement at some point in our day (you can perform against a wall on a chair if you wish to regress a little). Aim for 10-20 reps each day and breathe powerfully as you push up. Matt demonstrates this in the video below.
3. Listen To Music
I often walk hamish and write all my blogs to music, it helps my energy levels and sense of creativity. I’ve done this for years as music has always been so effective at calming me down or lifting my spirits. I’ve used it to power through exam season, relationship break ups and any tough times for that matter.
Nearly every organ in the body can respond to musical stimuli – how cool is that! Heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate are the most commonly investigated in studies. Chill out music has been shown to decrease heart rate, respiration rate and blood pressure. Whilst rock music has been shown to increase cortisol and adrenaline. Anyone who trains knows how effective music can be in succeeding at that final rep.
The HeartMath Institute has conducted a number of studies looking at how music changes peptides in the body that influence the production of behavioural chemicals linked to our emotions. It can also have a significant impact on our immune system by increasing DHEA secretion. Different music will impact differently on every individual as our response and relationship with music is very intimate and subjective. Music from your childhood or a memorable occasion (favourite film, wedding or a night out) is awesome to transport your body back to a time of enjoyment and happiness and flood the system with feel good chemicals, a bit like the CEO announcing a free half day holiday 🙂
4. Sing Or Hum
Singing, humming and chanting (again used frequently by yogi’s) has been studied frequently due to its ability to synchronise breathing pattern and alter hormone output, heart rate and blood pressure. Some studies observed if people felt they couldn’t sing it could impact negatively on hormone health, however, as someone who can’t sing for toffee I want to encourage you to just sing badly. I’m always doing this much to the amusement of others, Coldplay Paradise is possibly my finest rendition. Most people get an urge to sing when they’re in a good mood so why not put yourself in a good mood and sing! I often sing whilst cleaning, walking the dog and have been known to do some solo performances for Hamish. He likes it because I sound like the cat next door howling.
5. Laugh Out Loud
Yes actually laugh, don’t just smile and write “lol” all day long. Meet up with pals for a good catch up and laugh, take time out across your day to watch a bit of comedy or daft stuff on the internet. I’ve lost track of how many times I watched these Weiner Dog Minions. Many female clients I work with are often suffering from a laughter deficiency. Speaking with some girlfriends the other day we compared how our partners often spend time in the day laughing at silly videos online and when they try and share the experience we often brush off the gesture with “Have you unloaded that dishwasher yet???”
Laughter is the best medicine, it’s being studied would you believe! Studies have observed the ability of laughter to increase the release of endorphins, lower cortisol, stimulate the vagus nerve and increase heart rate variability. There’s even been observations of people passing out from laughter as they over stimulated their parasympathetic nervous – that’s my new health goal!
For more information on the plan visit www.fitter16.com.