Exercise for an Endocrine Tune-Up

Exercise for an Endocrine Tune-Up

Public health authorities encourage us to engage in “moderate exercise most days of the week” or to “walk 10,000 steps per day.” But they probably err on the side of caution, selling many people short on the comprehensive benefits of exercise. Pressed between the obligations of work and family life, many potential exercisers, feeling overwhelmed, take the path of least resistance and settle fitfully into their recliners. It’s the beginning of the end.

So what’s wrong with “moderate exercise most days of the week”?

Nothing! If you are not fit, then following the path of moderation will improve your health, perhaps even help you shed a little extra weight. If you do enough brisk walking each week, a massive longitudinal study sponsored by the National Cancer Institute and Harvard-affiliated organizations confirms that you can look forward to increased life expectancy. At 75 minutes, the payoff is 1.8 additional years; 150-299 minutes pushes it to 3.4 years, while at 450 minutes weekly, the average increase in life expectancy rises to 4.5 years!

But that’s only part of the story! As you spend more time in moderate exercise, you add the insult of diminishing returns to the injury of time stolen from loved ones or building a career. If you begin to run, you may experience overuse injuries — plantar fasciitis, ITB friction, and “shin splints” — or worse, “foot-strike anemia.” Don't overlook the fact that distance running is inherently catabolic and works against the greater goal of inducing favorable endocrine changes.

How does exercise influence endocrine function?

The stress of exercise causes every body system to adapt, including the endocrine system. The cellular response to insulin is improved, stopping the deadly progression of insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes in its tracks. Exercise boosts fat cells’ production of adiponectin, which in turn helps burn fat. Leptin increases at the same time, amplifying the effect of adiponectin.

Vigorous, short (say 30 seconds) bursts of high-intensity interval work, interspersed with easy 60-90-second recovery periods can optimize free testosterone, thyroid hormone, and human growth hormone (HGH). In other words, short intervals (think hill sprint repeats) are anabolic, helping the body spare muscle while burning fat at an accelerated rate. The net effect of HIIT (high-intensity interval training) is to restore hormonal output to youthful levels and apply the brakes to aging. Fasting has been shown to increase HGH secretion 2,000% in men, and 1,300 % in women; HIIT has an almost identical effect!

What guidelines should I follow to optimize hormonal response?

Several studies confirm that HIIT is especially useful in improving body composition because it magnifies excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) without the catabolic toll induced by traditional cardio. HIIT also temporarily decreases pH, which increases HGH secretion. HIIT increases secretion of leptin and adiponectin, causing the body to burn more fat, even at rest, and preferentially targeting visceral fat, thereby reducing the risk of metabolic syndrome.

Consequently, exercise to tune up the endocrine system would include:

  • 2-3 days per week of HIIT, like the Peak 8 protocol; each session would last about 20 minutes max!
  • Three 45-minute strength training sessions per week, concentrating on heavy, compound movements like squats, deadlifts, power cleans, bench presses, T-bar rows, and weighted chins in 3-5 sets of 4-6 reps each.

Implementing this exercise routine along with eating a diet including adequate saturated and monounsaturated fats and getting deep, restful sleep, will restore youthful vigor. Work harder, work smarter, and live well!