How Female Hormones Affect Exercise — at Every Age


During each life stage, the exercise you choose can either help or hinder your hormonal balance.

Regardless of age, it’s important for women to appreciate the complexity of the hormonal changes they experience throughout their lifetime.

Given that each life stage may present unique hormonal side effects and challenges, exercise must be adapted appropriately to enhance quality of life and provide a sense of symbiosis with one’s anatomy.

Here’s a guide to understanding female hormones by age, the associated physiological changes, and the types of exercise that will offer the most support during each phase of life.

The teenage years (12–18)

During the teenage years, the young female body has already undergone puberty, and the menstrual cycle is becoming more predictable due to monthly fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone levels (1).

What’s happening physiologically

This is an important time to be physically active. Doing so enhances bone mineral density and helps maintain a healthy balance between body fat and lean muscle mass.

Studies show that 80–90% of female bone mass is accrued by age 16, with the development of lean muscle helping to stimulate bone density augmentation (2Trusted Source).

Exercise recommendations

Sports and athletics provide an opportunity for growth in many areas, especially when it comes to refining physical skills, increasing strength and endurance, and establishing perseverance to exercise.

While being physically active has numerous benefits, balance is key when it comes to regular exercise and recovery.

It’s important not to overly tax the teenage body with too much intense exercise, as this can result in the loss of regular menstrual cycles, hormonal dysregulation, and a deterioration in bone density.

Adequate sleep, recovery days, hydration, and — most importantly — a healthy diet are imperative to a thriving teenage body, with food intake supporting the amount of exercise performed (in other words, no calorie restriction!) (1).

Beyond that, impact and weight bearing exercises, plyometrics, and resistance training are ideal for increasing bone mineral density (2Trusted Source).

Young adult and reproductive years (18–40s)

These are the years that the female body is governed by its monthly opportunity for impregnation.

The menstrual cycle begins on day one of your period, with very low levels of hormones during the first half of the month. After mid-month ovulation, estrogen and progesterone begin to rise and continue to climb throughout the second half of the cycle until the next one begins (2Trusted Source3).

What’s happening physiologically

Because hormone levels are at their lowest on day one of your period, this is when your body is most resilient and ready to work hard. Following mid-month ovulation, progesterone gradually rises, increasing your body temperature, heart rate, and respiratory rate (34).

Exercise recommendations

At this stage of life, it’s important to coordinate your workout intensity with your menstrual cycle.

Hormone levels are low at the beginning of the month, so this is the time to prioritize intense exercise like high intensity interval training (HIIT), plyometrics, powerlifting, heavy weightlifting, hill repeats, and other rigorous exercise, with at least 1 day of recovery between hard workouts.

Also, due to low estrogen levels during the first half of the menstrual cycle through ovulation, women are at a higher risk of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries (5Trusted Source).

Activities that require quick changes in direction or side-to-side cutting, including soccer or downhill skiing, should be pursued with caution during this phase, and it’s critical to mind proper knee placement during squats, lunges, jumps, and repetitive cardio.

After mid-cycle ovulation, hot exercise environments should be avoided, and moderate intensity, gentle movement is most beneficial. Great options include easy cardio, yoga, Pilates, walks, bike rides, and hikes.

The prenatal period

The first trimester is marked by increases in progesterone, estrogen, and relaxin.

Both progesterone and estrogen levels continue to increase throughout pregnancy, with progesterone levels lessening in the last 4 weeks before labor. Relaxin reaches its highest point within the first trimester and remains present beyond birth (6Trusted Source).

What’s happening physiologically

The most common hormonal symptoms during the first trimester of pregnancy are increased body temperature, nausea, fatigue, and constipation.

The prenatal body also experiences an increase in blood volume of over 1 liter throughout pregnancy, and several symptoms result, including increases in respiratory rate, heart rate, and the amount of blood moving through the heart with each pump (7Trusted Source8).

Exercise recommendations

The following are exercise suggestions for uncomplicated pregnancies, but guidance from a healthcare professional is recommended before making changes to any prenatal exercise regimen.

Given a pregnant person’s increased body temperature and developing babies’ inability to dissipate heat, it’s essential to take all steps to prevent overheating (no hot yoga until after baby arrives!).

Moderate level cardio provides healthful benefits to the mother and baby, significantly decreasing your risk of birth complications, a life threatening diagnosis, and postpartum depression (89Trusted Source).

That said, breathlessness during cardio should be avoided.

Prenatal yoga is a wonderful way to fend off lower back pain while staying mindful of the increase in your joints’ laxity.

Strength training at a low to moderate intensity can also be included in a prenatal exercise routine, with a focus on exhaling with challenging movement and bracing the belly so the abdominal muscles do not protrude out.

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