Aging. It happens to all of us, and unless you're 15 years old waiting to turn 16 to get your driver's license or if you're 20 waiting to 21 to legally (lol who does this) buy alcohol, getting older sucks. As we age, our cognition slows, our joints stiffen, our skin sags, and things we once found easy are now seemingly impossible. Now each of the afflictions mentioned above is inevitable, but the speed at which they occur can dramatically be reduced with a handful of easy to follow behaviors. However, before diving in on the fix here is what you need to know about your hormones:
1) Hormones are an integral part of how your body works; they are the dominant player in your endocrine system and specifically dictate how your body's other systems work. Think of hormones like messengers that control and coordinate the different operations within your body.
2) As you age, hormones typically go in one of two directions: you secrete more of some types and less of others. The hormones that usually reduce as we age are your primary sex hormones (hormones that keep you feeling "youthful"): testosterone, estrogen, and insulin-like growth factor, to name a few. The hormones that typically increase as we age are luteinizing hormone (responsible for fertility), epinephrine, and norepinephrine (stress hormones).
3) The reduction in sex hormones is two-fold. As you age, not only do you produce fewer sex hormones, but your cells and organs become less receptive to them. You can effectively think of a hormone and a hormone receptor as if it were a lock and a key. As you age, there are fewer and fewer keys, and even when you find the key, the key is now dull and doesn't open doors as easy as it once did.
So now that you have a general idea of how they work, here's how you keep them working for you!
The first step is getting adequate sleep. The average American sleeps less than 6-hours per night, which typically is between three and four sleep cycles. To optimize your hormone levels, you need to prioritize sleep. In my opinion, this means you need at a minimum of five 90-minute sleep cycles (7 1/2 hours of sleep), but ideally, I would like to see everyone get six sleep cycles, which is 9 hours of sleep. To make this happen, you have to make sleep more important than staying up to watch Netflix, surfing the internet on your phone, or any other disruptive behavior that keeps you awake. Once you have decided to make sleep a priority, here are a few steps to make the transition from sleeping less to sleeping more. Step one, turn off all screens 90 minutes before bed. Spend the last hour and a half before bed, creating a routine that helps you unwind, such as reading a book, meditating, or stretching. Creating a habit, and sticking to that routine, is how you "teach" your body that it is time to go to sleep. Next, it's critical to ensure that the room you're going to sleep in is optimal for restful sleep. Ideally, the sleeping room is cold (63-65 degrees), dark as possible (no lights anywhere, use electrical tape to cover all lights), and there is some type of white noise, as complete silence allows for you to hear small sounds which can keep you up and alert while trying to fall asleep. These two habits (pre-bed routine and optimizing the room) usually alleviate most sleeping issues that I see. However, if you still struggle with sleep, you may need to consider the amount of caffeine you are ingesting. Reducing the amount of caffeine or creating an early "caffeine-curfew" may be necessary to allow your body to process the caffeine you'd like, without it affecting your ability to sleep.
Food quality matters. There is simply no way around it. Every food decision you make either positively or negatively impacts not only your health but also your hormones. Without diving too deep into the polarizing field of macronutrients, I advise you to keep it simple. Whole, unprocessed foods that are as close to their "natural" state as possible is preferred. Keeping your diet diverse and unprocessed ensures you're are giving your body the proper "building blocks" it needs to create hormones. Along with fuel, adequate hydration is vital, as most of your hormones are lipids (fat) and water.
Compound Joint Exercises
Now to the cool part, exercise. The first two tips are unavoidable, everyone has to sleep, and everyone has to eat, but not everyone exercises, and this is where you have the advantage! All movement creates what is called a "neuroendocrine response," meaning that whenever you move, your body produces both a neurological and hormonal response. The more you move, the more your body responds. However, there are certain "types" of movements that elicit a more significant response than others, and they are called "compound joint exercises." Translation? The more parts of your body that are engaged and moving, the higher the response. The profound effect of these compound joint exercises are why we are continuously training squats, deadlifts, presses, and Olympic lifts as they produce a much higher impact than do single-joint exercises like bicep curls or calf raises. The stress these movements produce causes your body to ramp up its hormone production so that you can "bear the load" the next time this stress occurs. The more frequently you provide your body with this stress, then allow it to recover and rebound, the abler your body will be at creating these hormones. For this reason, you will always see compound joint exercises as a significant part of the training we do at the gym.
If you want to stay both feeling young and looking young, you won't skimp on your sleep, food quality, or your exercise. Stay young, my friends!