You know that working out does the body good. In fact, research shows that regular exercise does everything from increasing your odds of living longer to supporting your memory function. But what you may not have realized is that regular sweat sessions offer another pretty cool perk if you’re a dude—they boost your testosterone.
Testosterone, the primary sex hormone in men, is responsible for everything from muscle development to hair growth to mood regulation to sex drive. So yeah, it’s pretty important when it comes to your health and well-being. The problem is, your testosterone levels begin to decline by about one to two percent per year when you hit your 30s. “It then drops until it reaches a critical low level in your 50s and 60s,” says Westin Childs, D.O., who specializes in balancing hormones for weight loss. As your T production dips, you could experience symptoms like weight gain (particularly an increase in belly fat), reduced libido, depression, irritability, decreased energy, and trouble sleeping, explains Childs.
How Exercise Affects Your Hormones
As much as we wish we could, there’s no way to stop time. But you do have some power over those T levels—and it involves putting together a consistent workout regimen. Without regular exercise, dropping testosterone levels can lead to a loss in muscle mass. “The slow and steady decline of testosterone with aging doesn’t necessarily lead to that decrease in muscle by itself,” says Jonathan Ross, C.P.T., senior consultant on personal training for the American Council on Exercise. “But with the absence of training stimulus to maintain that muscle mass, you would see it go away.” And that’s a problem, because muscle mass boosts your metabolism and keeps your body strong and mobile as you get older.
Certain types of exercise temporarily boost testosterone during, and for a short period after, your workout, says Ross. Even though this temporary boost subsides after a few hours, your body is generally able to maintain some of the muscle-supporting benefits after that, he says. And the body you’ve worked your whole life to build will thank you for that.
Testosterone isn’t the only hormone affected by hitting up the gym, though. Some exercises also result in a temporary increase in human growth hormone (HGH), says Childs, which, like testosterone, promotes muscle growth and the reduction of body fat. Another plus for your muscles!
The Best Types of Exercise for Boosting Testosterone
There are two kinds of exercise that’ll give you a T boost: heavy resistance training and very intense, explosive plyometric training (quick, coordinated movements like box jumps), says Ross. He recommends guys who are dealing with declining testosterone work out four to five times a week, alternating days of strength training and plyometric routines.
As far as specific exercises go, it’s all about training the muscles “between your hips and pits,” says Ross. Think squats, deadlifts, lunges, bench presses, and rows. “You’re going to get a bigger temporary testosterone boost from exercises that work bigger muscles, like those in your torso and thighs,” he says. Sure, you can work on your biceps, triceps, and calves, but consider it optional.
That said, how many hours you log in the gym isn’t as important. It’s totally normal that as you get older you’re not able to train quite as hard or long as you could in your 20s—and that you’ll need more recovery time between workouts. Plus, if you go overboard on training, you can really sabotage your body’s ability to recover, which can lead to higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, says Ross. Over time, cortisol can mess with sleep and spur weight gain, totally counteracting the body-building benefits of testosterone and HGH, according to a study published in the journal Obesity Research & Clinical Practice.
The most important aspects of your fitness regimen are consistency and intensity. “You can pick very demanding exercises and just do them for 15 minutes,” says Ross. “Even that will trigger a response in the body.” Choose weights you can lift for a few sets of between four and eight reps to reap the maximum benefit, he says. According to a review published in Sports Medicine, lifting at maximum intensity for about six reps has consistently demonstrated greater impacts on testosterone than lifting a more moderate weight.
The Bottom Line
Declining testosterone is natural with age, so don’t feel like you need to go crazy trying to replenish it, Ross says. After all, your body knows what it’s doing. “If you use biological triggers [like exercise] to maintain your testosterone, your body will respond,” he says. “If you tell your body, ‘Hey, I need to move on a regular basis,’ it maintains its ability to move well.” So, go on, take your T into your own hands!