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What are Hormones and Why Do They Matter to Fitness?

Updated: Aug 1, 2022

Hormones are the chemicals that run throughout our body telling it what to do. They are essential to our everyday functioning, and they serve an incredibly important role in every single process our body undertakes, including growth and development, sexual function and reproduction, mood, and metabolism (among many others).

Although you may be familiar with the endocrine system and its role in hormone production, other parts of the body are known to produce hormones, and those include our gut, kidneys, and fat tissue. When a hormone is released, it causes a chain reaction, often with other hormones, to send a signal to somewhere else in the body. So, we can think of hormones as chemical messengers.

You may have heard (or even said) at some point in your life, “oh I’m just hormonal” or perhaps you’ve associated mood changes with a particular time in your menstrual cycle. Our ovaries are what produce estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone in our bodies. Estrogen is central to our sexual and reproductive health, and as we get older and closer to menopause, our ovaries produce less and less estrogen. Contrary to what we may think, estrogen production doesn’t stop altogether after menopause, but instead, our bodies produce a different type of estrogen, moving from the production of estradiol (E2) to estrone (E3).

But estrogen isn’t just important for our sexual and reproductive health, it also affects cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels, bone and muscle mass, circulation and blood flow, collagen production and skin moisturization, and our ability to focus.

Another hormone critical to consider is cortisol. Cortisol is often called the “stress hormone” because it is released into the bloodstream during periods of stress. Like estrogen, cortisol controls many different bodily functions including blood pressure, metabolism, regulating blood sugar, and helping with your sleep-wake cycle. When our cortisol levels are abnormally high, the effects could include weight gain, stretch marks, muscle weakness, high blood sugar that could lead to diabetes, and weak bones. Cortisol and estrogen are significant to one another because as cortisol levels rise, estrogen levels (regardless of where you may be in your life cycle) go down.

As estrogen decreases, our body’s ability to maintain bone and muscle mass also decreases. Menopausal and post-menopausal individuals are therefore at a higher risk of injury. This is where training is essential. Not only is it important for fitness to be a part of our everyday routine, but the types of activities we do can make a difference in how we experience a reduction in estrogen in our life cycle. Additionally, we must consider the related changes in our bodies that happen as a result of menopause or perimenopause. Things that should always be considered include changes in the timing of rest and recovery, ensuring that adequate mobility work is included to combat changes to flexibility and balance, and a consideration of how we manage stress (cortisol).

Not all workouts are or should be the same. Depending on where you may be in your life cycle, different considerations need to be taken. Working with a trainer who is educated in the effect that hormones can have on the body, together with the knowledge of how best to move including duration and intensity as well as when to rest, will maximize the efficiency of the work you are doing for yourself. We all change, but it doesn’t have to be awful.


Perry, M. C., Dufour, C. R., Tam, I. S., B'chir, W., & Giguère, V. (2014). Estrogen-related receptor-α coordinates transcriptional programs essential for exercise tolerance and muscle fitness. Molecular endocrinology, 28(12), 2060-2071.

Uusi‐Rasi, K., Sievänen, H., Vuori, I., Heinonen, A., Kannus, P., Pasanen, M., ... & Oja, P. (1999). Long‐term recreational gymnastics, estrogen use, and selected risk factors for osteoporotic fractures. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, 14(7), 1231-1238.

Orsatti, F. L., Nahas, E. A., Maesta, N., Nahas-Neto, J., & Burini, R. C. (2008). Plasma hormones, muscle mass and strength in resistance-trained postmenopausal women. Maturitas, 59(4), 394-404.

Timon, R., Corvillo, M., Brazo, J., Robles, M. C., & Maynar, M. (2013). Strength training effects on urinary steroid profile across the menstrual cycle in healthy women. European journal of applied physiology, 113(6), 1469-1475.

Hormones: What They Are, Function & Types, Cleveland Clinic

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