A Scientific Analysis
Hypogonadism (testosterone deficiency) is a significant medical concern associated with multiple adverse effects and decreased overall quality of life. Symptoms of low testosterone include:
- Low libido.
- Erectile dysfunction.
- Reduced muscle strength.
- Problems concentrating.
- Weight gain.
- Decreased bone mineral density.
Although the effects are often limited, multiple ways to increase testosterone levels naturally exist.
Alternative ways to increase T levels and maintain circulating testosterone levels
- Get 7 to 10 hours of sleep per night.
- Limit sugar intake, as high blood sugar can reduce T levels.
- Eat nutrient-dense, whole foods.
- Keep your body fat percentage in the average healthy range (15-20%).
- Reduce stress to prevent the increase in cortisol, a stress hormone that inhibits T.
- Keep alcohol consumption to moderate levels and avoid drugs.
- Consume vitamin supplements, such as vitamin D and zinc.
- Minimize exposure to Bisphenol A (BPA).
- Have sex.
The portrayal of how exercise impacts testosterone levels is frequently convoluted and, occasionally, misleading.
Can exercise cause an immediate increase in testosterone levels?
Yes, but it depends on the type of exercise. Resistance and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) elicit a temporary testosterone boost. In addition, after endurance training, testosterone levels often temporarily decrease.
When exercise does increase testosterone, it is temporary. The boost of testosterone you see after working out lasts for a couple of hours, then returns to normal. There is no increase in basal or resting post-exercise serum testosterone. So far, the purpose of this temporary testosterone boost is unclear.
Resistance, high-intensity interval, and endurance training
Resistance training includes the following:
- Isotonic resistance exercises: cause a lengthening or movement of a muscle. Examples include weight training such as bench presses, deadlifts, etc.
- Isometric resistance exercises: require no movement with the muscles working. Examples are planks or wall sits.
- Isokinetic resistance exercise: utilize special machines to aid in creating varying levels of resistance. An example is using a stationary bike.
In addition, according to one study, minimizing the length of rest periods between sets during weightlifting produced an increased testosterone effect.
High-intensity interval training can also temporarily boost testosterone in men. HIIT consists of working at an intense level, then backing off for a slower recovery period, followed by another round of high intensity. In other words, your workout alternates between high-intensity exercise and slower recovery periods. You can use HIIT with any cardio workout, such as running, rowing, or jumping rope.
In one study, interval training that included 90 seconds of intense treadmill running, combined with 90-second recovery periods, boosted free testosterone levels more significantly than running for 45 minutes straight.
Endurance training is the act of exercising to increase endurance. Endurance training generally refers to training the aerobic system instead of the anaerobic one. Examples include walking, jogging, dancing, and swimming. Endurance training can potentially reduce testosterone levels temporarily. Endurance training will not boost testosterone levels because more extended exercises increase cortisol levels and limit testosterone production.
In addition to the type of exercise, additional factors influence the temporary exercise testosterone boost.
Factors that influence temporary testosterone increases during exercise
In addition to the type of exercise, increased plasma testosterone concentrations during exercise may depend on multiple factors:
- Intensity–a relative intensity level must be reached to induce changes in testosterone levels.
- Volume (i.e., the amount of muscle involved)–larger muscle mass involvement is more prone to increase testosterone levels.
- Active lean vs. obese men–obesity reduces temporary testosterone increases.
- Age–the increase in testosterone may be lower in older men than younger men.
Exercise increases resting or basal post-exercise testosterone levels
What! That was meant to catch your attention. There is another possible meaning when you read that exercise improves testosterone levels. This explanation is less picky regarding the type of exercise and involves changes in body composition.
First, obesity is a significant reason men suffer from low testosterone. Regular exercise and healthy eating can help you lose weight, which can significantly increase testosterone levels. One study reported a significant testosterone level increase in obese men after 24 weeks of high-volume moderate-intensity exercise. Data suggest that testosterone levels remain stable with minor fluctuations in weight, but more substantial weight loss in obese men results in a reactivation of the HPT axis; increased signaling from the brain to the testes increases testosterone production.
In addition, strength training supports the development of lean muscle mass, which boosts your metabolism. Endurance training burns calories and helps you burn fat. Of the two, strength training has a more significant effect, but both may lead to increased testosterone.
Exercise decreases inflammation
Exercise decreases inflammation, which may increase testosterone. A 2016 study found that exercise helps eliminate inflammation that has built up in the body. Just one workout can have an anti-inflammatory effect. Decreasing inflammation is essential, as inflammation decreases testosterone levels. When inflammatory particles are removed, it is easier for the body to build up testosterone naturally.
Exercise can reduce fat and increase muscle. Regular exercise can reduce fat mass and adipose tissue inflammation, which is known to reduce systemic inflammation.
Can testosterone help preserve muscle and strength when exercise is not an option?
Testosterone is one of the hormones that is anabolic; it helps build muscle and seems to help prevent muscle degeneration. A study randomized participants to receive transdermal testosterone or a placebo for six months. The study found that testosterone treatment for six months in frail older adults with low testosterone may prevent age-associated loss of lower limb muscle strength and improve body composition, quality of life, and physical function. Also, a 2004 study found that older men who exercise regularly had increased testosterone, growth hormone levels, and brain function.
Studies have shown that preoperative strength training improves muscle strength and postoperative outcomes. A study demonstrated that testosterone supplementation counteracts muscle loss after surgery. In this study, postoperative testosterone supplementation increased lean muscle mass six weeks after knee ligament reconstruction.
Regular exercise lowers the risk of developing chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, dementia, osteoporosis, and some cancers. Exercise can also increase energy and boost self-esteem, mood, and sleep quality.
In addition, regular exercise and a healthy diet can help maintain healthy body weight. According to research, the testosterone levels for obese men are about 30% lower than men at healthy weights, and obesity is a significant cause of low testosterone.
There are many benefits of exercise. However, there must be a balance. Researchers have reported that men who engage in intensive exercise training can develop low testosterone and symptoms of hypogonadism. Too much exercise puts the body under stress, and the release of cortisol can lead to a testosterone decrease.
Weightlifting and HIIT can produce small, temporary increases in testosterone, though it is unclear what health effects these temporary boosts may have, if any. While this slight boost in testosterone may help maintain healthy testosterone levels, it would be impractical for a healthcare provider to recommend exercise as the sole treatment for someone with hypogonadism because the effect would not be significant enough to resolve their symptoms.
Testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) is a safe, effective, and beneficial treatment. There is increasing evidence of TRT's favorable effects on multiple organ systems. Testosterone therapy is the recommended treatment for men with symptomatic testosterone deficiency to correct symptoms of hypogonadism.