Posted by on Aug 26, 2013

General Health

Adam Bornstein is the founder of Born Fitness, LLC, a health and fitness publishing and consulting company. Named “one of the most influential people in health,” Bornstein is the former editorial director for LIVESTRONG.COM and former fitness editor for Men’s Health magazine. He is also the author of 6 health and fitness books and has been published everywhere from Forbes and The Wall Street Journal to ESPN the Magazine, SHAPE, and Men’s Fitness.

Visit Adam on his websiteFacebookTwitter, or Fitocracy.

Your trainer can’t see it. Your nutritionist never thinks about it. And your doctor won’t ever test for it—unless you ask. Even then, you might receive some resistance. But one of the biggest problems—the one that controls your ability to gain fat, lose muscle, have sex, and fight stress—are what you can’t see: your hormones.

The problems are across the board. Low testosterone. Low growth hormone. High insulin and cortisol. Combine them together and you have a kick-you-in-the-face cocktail that will knock you out faster than whisky-zoloft cocktail.

For most, this might mean injections or expensive pills, but save those for professional bodybuilders. The reality? These problems are reversible by natural methods. In fact, Australian researchers recently found that people in their 60s can have hormonal levels that function as well as people in their 30s without any pharmaceutical aid. The reason for the high levels? Lifestyle decisions that refresh your hormonal ecosystem.

Here are three changes you can make to your body that will help raise your hormone levels, supercharge your fitness, and reinvigorate your sex life.

Squat, deadlift, and lift heavy weights

You probably are completely unsurprised that you’re being told to hit the gym. But this isn’t your typical “exercise to lose weight” pitch. You see, lifting weights might be the best way to produce more fat.

Say what?

You read that right. But before you dismiss this suggestion, you need to understand how new research on brown fat—and it’s relationship to lifting heavy—might be what you need to scorch your gut.

Researchers from Harvard recently identified a new hormone called irisin. This hormone promotes insulin sensitivity, which speeds up your metabolism. But more importantly, irisin transforms white fat into brown fat. Even though you might not even realize that your body has two forms of fat, it does. The white stuff gives you love handles and the brown gives you a six-pack. Simple, right?

But here’s the best part about brown fat—you can control its presence. A study published in the journal Nature found that contracting your muscles at the highest intensity—like you do in any exercise from squats to sprints—produces a substance called PGC1, which creates a protein called FNDC that breaks down into several components, including irisin. And irisin is exactly what will turn your white fat into brown fat, transforming you from someone with a belly to someone with flat abs.

Sleep 7 Hours

We probably don’t need to tell you that lack of sleep can screw up your life. You know that it makes it harder to concentrate and work, but you may not know that it also messes with your body on levels that directly impact your ability to lose fat. When your sleep quality is poor, your metabolic rate decreases, making it easier for you to pack on pounds faster than you can say, “McDonald’s.” A bad night of rest also limits your ability to recover from your workouts, meaning it becomes harder to become stronger and build more muscle.

But the biggest problem is tied to your hormonal production. You see, there is an implied catch-22 when it comes to sleep quality and hormones—particularly cortisol. If you have high levels of cortisol, you have trouble sleeping. And when you don’t get enough sleep, your cortisol levels rise. Cortisol increases during times of stress, and one way stress creates itself is insomnia. The end result is a vicious cycle that crushes your body in every direction, causing more weight gain and harming sleep patterns, which also lowers growth hormone and increases insulin. And that combination has been show to kill blood flow, diminish sex drive, and cause erectile dysfunction.

If that wasn’t bad enough, researchers at the University of Warwick and University of Naples Medical Schools found that people who sleep fewer than six hours per night have a shorter life expectancy. If living longer isn’t a good enough reason to focus on your sleep, then we don’t know what is.

Cleanse—The Real Way

You’ve probably heard of cleanse diets—most likely from your favorite organic juice shop, or if you were trying to pass a drug test. (Yeah, we know why you really visit your favorite supplement store.) These are the juice cleanses or liver and kidney detoxifiers that are supposed to rid your body of toxins, improve the functioning of your internal organs, and help you age better.

The only real cleanse occurs at the cellular level. It’s called autophagy, and it’s your body’s ability to regenerate and become better. Autophagy helps you repair injuries, makes your brain function a little better, helps with muscle growth and fat loss, and even assists in your ability to walk and breathe.

You see, every day there are millions of cellular reactions occurring in your body. Some of this activity causes damage within your body. As with any equipment that is used a lot, the daily stress causes breakdown. Fortunately, your body is built for such circumstances and can naturally heal anything that isn’t working at an optimal level. This is autophagy.

So what happens when your internal repair is slow and lazy and doesn’t get the job done? That’s when you have a damaged internal environment. More specifically, when your workers don’t repair your mitochondria—the cellular power plant of your body—then your body is basically screwed.

You age faster. You suffer from chronic disease. You lose your hair. And you get fat.

That brings us back to hormones. Your lack of growth hormone (GH) is limiting the natural process of autophagy. And as your GH levels continue to sputter along, your tissue continues to degenerate. It’s why you have more aches and pains. Why food seems to make you fatter than it used to. And why muscle just won’t appear on your body, no matter how many reps and sets you perform.

What’s the best way to pump up your GH and turn the autophagic process into a group of grind-it-out interns that will work when needed? Strategic eating.

This isn’t about specific foods or how much protein, carbs, and fats you eat. It’s simpler than that. This is about when you eat. Or more specifically, when you don’t eat. The more time you spend eating—as in actual hours during the day eating—the less time you spend in the autophagic process.

That’s why intermittent fasting can be helpful. Going 16 hours per day, or spending one day a week fasting 24 hours a day allows autophagy to work in a way that helps you age better. By turning on autophagy at the right time, you’ll be stripping off fat in ways you didn’t think possible and speeding the muscle-gain process. Just as importantly, your brain will work more efficiently, and research shows that you can even fight off diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Intermittent fasting will change your life, your mind, and your body in ways that will have your internal organs working like a machine and your reflection looking fit and healthy.

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