Fortysomething Fitness Part One – Human Growth Hormone
I’ve recently completed a fantastic course about the perimenopause and while I process the information and start writing new programmes I thought I’d share some insights about the kind of activities we should be doing in order stay fit and healthy as we enter our forties. Today I want to explore the issues surrounding human growth hormone – what it is, how it affects you and what you can do to improve production.
Perimenopause occurs in the years six to 10 years before menopause, usually in the forties but possibly earlier. The body begins to experience changes in hormonal levels that are a mirror image to those that occur during puberty.
Most of us are aware that we begin to produce less oestrogen but there are far wider changes going on. Hormones don’t act in isolation; the function of one set of hormones depends on and influences others. Consequently, hormonal imbalances can have a major effect on physical, mental and biochemical processes.
Middle Age Spread
Probably one of the first areas we begin to notice a difference is in our weight. As we get older our muscle mass declines, body fat increases and the metabolism slows down. Previous exercise regimes no longer seem to work and we begin to see weight creeping on, especially around the middle. This visceral fat is stored around the organs and increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers. Pretty depressing stuff!
The changes we experience are largely due to a decline in levels of human growth hormone (HGH). HGH acts as a kind of fountain of youth, promoting cellular renewal within the body. It plays a crucial role in fat metabolism, tissue growth and repair, energy levels, cell replacement, bone strength, brain function, sexual function and organ health. etc
Unfortunately, by the time we are 30 our bodies no longer produce enough HGH to keep pace with the cellular damage that occurs naturally in our bodies and the ageing process accelerates.
But it’s not all bad news. We can improve our production of HGH via the right kind of exercise and lifestyle.
When it comes to exercise, intensity is the key. It’s no good just going through the motions. Your workouts should make you hot, sweaty and out of breath.
You need to raise body temperature in order to create the right hormonal response so if you’re not sweating, you haven’t reached the necessary intensity. You also need to create an oxygen debt by making yourself out of breath. During recovery your body tries to replenish oxygen by raising the heart rate and increasing respiration. This triggers the release of HGH.
It’s an exercise cliche but you need to ‘feel the burn’ too. This is a sign that you’ve reached lactate threshold which will boost your metabolism and help get rid of stubborn stubborn fat by releasing HGH.
So what kind of exercise should you be doing?
Don’t keep looking back at the kind of workouts you used to do. In all likelihood the exercise you did in your 20s is no longer working for you. As you enter perimenopause your exercise regime should have different aims and priorities. Listen to your body, assess your needs and make a plan.
We’ll be looking at other key areas such as bone and pelvic floor health in later articles but in terms of HGH production, you should be aiming three to five short metabolic sessions per week. Include strength and cardio work. HIIT and bodyweight sessions are a good option because you can do them anywhere with minimum equipment.
There is a caveat here. As we reach middle age we begin to feel the effects of years of chronic stress and the adrenal glands begin to struggle (more on this later too). We need to produce an adrenal response to release HGH via exercise but we don’t want to fatigue them. You can do this by avoiding endurance workouts an keeping your exercise sessions to less than 30 minutes.
Dehydration has been found to decrease exercise-induced HGH response so make sure you drink plenty of water during exercise and during the day. This varies from person to person but around one-and-a-half to two litres a day are recommended.
High carb intake inhibits the release of HGH so now is the time to tweak your diet. You should also avoid sugar for two hours post-exercise in favour of at least 25g protein preferably in liquid form for quick absorption eg a clean protein shake. Lean poultry, meat and eggs are also good options.
Both the quantity and quality of sleep are important. Most people need around seven to eight hours per night. The largest surge in HGH production occurs around one hour after onset of sleep. Poor sleep also leads to elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol which in turn has a negative impact on the production of HGH.
Combating stress is so important as we get older so make sure you include some kind of restorative or stress-relieving activity in your programme. That might be yoga, meditation or simply getting outside and appreciating nature. Walking is now a really important part of my week and you can read more about the benefits of walking here.