Your testosterone has a massive impact on how you feel from day to day. It affects your energy levels, your mental health, your sex drive, and much more. Exercise is a great way to naturally boost your testosterone levels.
What is testosterone?
Testosterone is a sex hormone. Both men and women have testosterone in their bodies. However, men produce a lot more and the hormone plays a bigger role in men’s health.
Testosterone is responsible for many of the physical changes males experience during puberty, like growth spurts and body hair. It also affects things like your:
- muscle mass and strength
- sex drive
- red blood cell production
Even though females produce less testosterone, it still plays a key role in many important functions — including red blood cell production, sex drive, and reproduction.
Learn how your health affects your training with a sports performance blood test.
What are the symptoms of low testosterone?
There are lots of possible symptoms of low testosterone. These differ a bit between males and females. Common symptoms for men include:
- low sex drive
- erectile dysfunction
- weight gain, especially around the stomach
- lack of body hair
- excess breast tissue
- low muscle mass
- insulin resistance — increasing the risk of diabetes
Common symptoms for women include:
- low sex drive
- irregular menstrual periods
Low testosterone is also linked to several mental health issues, like depression, low mood, lack of concentration, and poor memory.
How does exercise affect your testosterone levels?
If you have low testosterone levels, exercise can be a good way to increase your levels naturally. However, different types of exercises have different effects on the two sexes.
Male testosterone levels and exercise
For males, resistance training and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) increases testosterone levels. Resistance training includes lifting weights and bodyweight exercises like push-ups. This seems to be the best type of exercise to increase testosterone levels — both in the short and long-term.
HIIT involves short bursts of intense exercise with periods of rest or lower-intensity exercise — like doing 1-minute sprints with a 1-minute walk/jog in between.
Steady-state cardio, like running at the same pace for 45 minutes, is slightly different. It's really important for many aspects of your health but doesn't seem to raise testosterone levels like resistance training or HIIT. In fact, too much cardio could lower testosterone levels. However, this is quite rare and is usually due to overtraining — which often causes a very low percentage of body fat that can disrupt testosterone production.
Female testosterone levels and exercise
For females, studies show that resistance training also helps testosterone production. While some studies show that HIIT can actually reduce testosterone levels. This isn’t always a bad thing — high testosterone in females can cause issues like acne and irregular periods.
How to increase your testosterone levels
Exercise is just one of the many natural ways to increase your testosterone levels. If your levels are very low, exercise alone probably won’t increase your levels enough. So other possible ways include to increase testosterone include:
- eating a diet filled with protein, carbohydrates, and unsaturated fats
- ensuring you’re getting enough omega-3s in your diet — if your levels are low, you could try an omega-3 supplement
- getting enough vitamin D
- limiting your alcohol intake to no more than 14 units a week
- keeping your stress and cortisol levels under control
- managing your weight
Keep in mind that it’s normal for testosterone levels to drop in men with age. From the age of 30 years, testosterone levels drop by about 1% every year.