I can’t simply talk about fitness and the “M” word for women without bringing up the “T” word for men. What expertise do I have on the topic? Nine years of training, gently nudging men to exercise, and explaining why “this” (insert stomach grab here) is happening. We ladies aren't the only ones who battle the bulge. Low testosterone is a big factor that can cause weight gain in men. In fact (are you ready men?) - the heavier you are, the lower your testosterone level is likely to be.
Decreased Testosterone levels can strike as early as the 20s for men, but are more typical after age 30, with decreases of 1% to 2% occurring as you approach 40 and 50. The hormone testosterone helps to build muscle, melt fat, fight off depression, and prevent diabetes or cardiovascular disease. It’s an all-around “great ‘guy”, when present in the right amount. When your testosterone drops, weight gain can happen for a variety of reason. If that’s not enough, the more fat you carry, the more aromatase enzyme you produce, which converts testosterone, to estrogen, making it difficult to add lean muscle to your body. Uh-oh. This is the kind of roller coaster no one wants to ride.
Getting off the rollercoaster of fat turning T into estrogen, and lack of T turning you fat, is not easy. How you start solving this fitness puzzle is the key to success. Get your T levels and diet under control first, by losing weight and adding a weight lifting program, because adding muscle increases your metabolism and raises T levels.
OK, so this next insight may be hard to swallow: Regular consumption of alcohol can significantly decrease your T levels. I hear you thinking “So, how do you define significant?” If experiencing a 10% T level decrease over a three to four week period sounds hunky dory, well then, go for it, but I have a feeling that a 10% T loss could bring on the same feeling as the Patriots losing in the playoffs - no bueno.
On the flipside, I do have good news on the diet front. Eating good fats, similar to a Paleo diet, can increase your T levels. Saturated fat contains cholesterol, which is important to testosterone production. Conversely, eating a regular low-fat, high-fiber diets can reduce T level production. So, you can toss out the rice cakes. Go good fats!
Good news is coming again boys. Sleep can help prevent your T levels from dropping. I can hear the standing ovation from mankind happening along with proclamations of, “See honey? She says I need to sleep in, ALL the time!” Ladies, I did NOT say that. Instead, prioritizing sleep over TV time or a game that goes on until 2 AM when you’re really tired is important if you want to prevent your T levels from dropping. Poor sleep habits can decrease your T levels by 15%. Ouch. Stress does not help either. Cortisol is created when stress levels are high and it can disrupt your sleep patterns, which we know drops T. You may have to add to yoga during football games to keep your stress levels down and assure sufficient sleep happening. Kidding here of course.
“Manopause” is real too. We women are a bit more open when it comes to discussing our emotional state. It's not as common a conversation among men, but the fact is that hormone-induced changes don’t only occur in women. Low T can bring on depression, fatigue and mood swings. Cells in the brain have testosterone receptors. Scientist are not exactly sure why or how, but studies have shown a tangible link between low T and the mental state in men. It is real, but don’t despair, because exercise and proper diet can help shake off the emotional turmoil brought on by low T.
Stress, lack of sleep, poor diet and lack of exercise can be hard to control when you have a ton of responsibilities, so finding things that takes you away from it all becomes crucial. Just don't make it wine, pizza and the sofa. You need to break the vicious cycle and build in “you” time, and it has to be the right kind. The fitness kind. It doesn’t have to be in the gym either. Outdoor adventure sports are a great way to weave fitness into your life. Mountain biking, hiking, ice climbing, skiing, kayaking and more can build muscle, burn calories and help bring back some T, delivered in such a way that the hard work is sweetened with a healthy dose of outdoor “ahhhh”. Getting outdoors can be a powerful antidote for depression or anxiety. It can shake you out of a haze, give you clarity and provide a new perspective. If you are ready to start the low-T battle, consider getting the basics under control and mixing up your fitness options in the gym and outdoors. Make your T-battle a quest to achieve fitness for life.