Regular exercise reduces your risk of an abundance of health conditions and diseases. It could even help control sexual health issues such as erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation. But that’s not all it does.
Studies have consistently replicated the findings that exercise has some level of testosterone-boosting properties. Let’s break it down:
- A study looking at the effects of short high-intensity exercise on levels of testosterone and cortisol found that both hormones were elevated after exercise - in particular, cortisol.
- Another study found a statistically significant difference between men who exercise regularly and men who lead a sedentary lifestyle, with active men seeing increased levels of testosterone.
- By testing growth hormone and testosterone levels in both young and old participants during a 12-week strength training program, a study revealed some interesting insights. They concluded that growth hormone and testosterone increased in all participants, but the increase was more pronounced in younger subjects, suggesting that age influences hormonal response to exercise.
Although the research does demonstrate an increase in testosterone levels after exercise, it’s important to note that the rise in testosterone levels may be temporary. For example, a 30-minute treadmill run was found to significantly elevate testosterone levels immediately after the run but 60 minutes later, testosterone dropped to pre-exercise levels.
That said, people who exercise regularly are shown to have superior levels of testosterone compared to sedentary individuals. A 6-week HIIT training program led to significantly elevated levels of testosterone in older men who had lived a sedentary lifestyle. These findings were replicated in a study that specifically compared active men to sedentary men. A year-long study found that exercise increased levels of DHT, a potent derivative of testosterone, but other sex hormones remained level.
So, it’s clear exercise and testosterone are linked in some way. But the question is: why?
Why does exercise increase testosterone?
The link between exercise and testosterone is complex, but understanding how our bodies respond to exercise helps us to grasp why the hormone interacts.
Vigorous exercise causes microscopic tears in the muscle tissue which triggers a response in the body called muscle protein synthesis. This is a naturally occurring process where the body produces a protein to repair muscle damage. It’s what drives the muscles to adapt to the same exercise in the future.
What does this have to do with testosterone?
Well, testosterone plays an important role when it comes to muscle development, particularly when it comes to muscle protein synthesis. A study that scrutinised the relationship between the hormone and muscle growth process found that testosterone increased muscle protein synthesis in all subjects.
When it comes to the actual biological process in the body after exercise, strength training alters the physiological system that mediates our hormonal response (hypothalamic-pituitary-testicular and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis). This system adapts to trigger a hormonal release, enabling an individual to increase muscle mass and strength.
Another way exercise could help increase testosterone levels is through weight maintenance. Exercise reduces fat mass and testosterone is known to play a role in fat metabolism, with men who have higher levels of testosterone demonstrating lower levels of fat mass. Obesity is linked to decreased levels of testosterone so the role that exercise plays in weight maintenance could be a driving force for increased testosterone levels.
Although testosterone and exercise are clearly linked, individual differences play a role in our hormonal response to physical activity. A literature review found that the type of exercise, training intensity, population sample, and point of time that the testosterone was measured all played an important role when it came to the rise in testosterone levels in individual participants. Age, sex and type of exercise have been reiterated as determining factors for the rise of the hormone.
If the type of exercise plays a critical role in the increase of testosterone, it begs the question…
What’s the best exercise to increase testosterone?
One study measured testosterone response with respect to specific training regimes. Participants completed a HIIRT (high-intensity interval resistance training) workout and were assigned different goals. They found that participants who had completed the ‘RANDOM’ workout, where they had the freedom to choose the order of exercises, number of consecutive repetitions, speed, and recovery time, had the greatest testosterone response. This is compared to participants who performed the ‘LADDER’ workout which followed a pyramid scheme and 1 minute of recovery after each lap and the ‘ASAP’ workout where participants were instructed to complete each circuit as soon as possible followed by 1 minute of recovery time.
A possible explanation for the difference in hormonal response is the lack of structured rest time in the ‘RANDOM’ test group. A study that specifically measured the effects of rest time on testosterone response found that shorter rest periods led to higher levels of testosterone.
One type of exercise that might actually decrease testosterone is endurance training. An article on athletes who perform a tremendous amount of exercise described how they had chronically low levels of testosterone. This evidence supports a 2012 study that found higher levels of free testosterone in subjects who performed high-intensity interval training compared to steady-state endurance training.
If you’re concerned about your levels of testosterone, you can take a simple at-home finger-prick test that will measure your level of the hormone, along with other critical health biomarkers.
The bottom line
Studies have demonstrated a complex but definitive link between testosterone and exercise. This could be down to several factors including the role testosterone plays in muscle mass and the way exercise interacts with the physiological systems that regulate testosterone. High-intensity resistance training seems to elicit the most prominent testosterone response with endurance training leading to reduced levels of the hormone.
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