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Raising Growth Hormone with Exercise

August 1, 2015

You want muscle. More is better (up to a point). And we lose a bit every year as we age. We also lose growth hormone as we age. Growth hormone is your repair hormone. Yes, it makes you grow when you are a little tyke, but it also fixes you. And it helps you grow muscle. It peaks when you are about 15-20 years old. Growth hormone is actually quite elusive and difficult to measure because we secrete it at night in tiny pulses that only last a few minutes. It is a pretty big molecule, with 191 amino acids weighing about 20 kilodaltons (not much). Now, when you exercise, you secrete a slightly altered form that weighs 22 kilodaltons and can be detected by the ratio of the 20 to the 22. The change in this ratio is how you can tell an athlete is cheating and taking extra on the side.

Growth hormone stimulates your body makes a hormone in your liver called IGF-1. We can measure IGF-1 easily as it hangs around in your blood a bit longer. It becomes our defacto measurement of growth hormones. An IGF-1 of about 450 is what you have as a teenager. It progressively declines as you age, hitting 150 by age 50 or so. Once you are below 100, bad things start to happen with reliable frequency. And at virtually any age, low IGF-1 will sort out those who are doing well, or those who aren’t with any given illness/condition/malady. And best of all, growth hormone helps you modulate your fat/muscle ratio.

Ok, if you have such importance with growth hormone, IGF-1, how can we control it and keep it higher? That is the holy grail of wellness. Keep my growth hormone up there! This is where exercise comes in.

Turns out exercise has some of its magic mediated through growth hormone. But it takes a specific kind of exercise. Not just any will do, at least by our current standards. You have to get to the point of lactate. That means walking around the park, which will burn some calories and help you feel better, isn’t enough. You have to get to the point of “failure,” meaning pushing yourself to the limit of what you can do. One way of doing that would be to run like crazy for 30 seconds, then rest for 90 seconds. Then run like crazy for 30 seconds . . . repeat, repeat, repeat for six to seven reps. Another method would be weight lifting to the point of “failure.” Take any given weight that feels a bit heavier than you can manage, and curl it up with your biceps. Repeat the curl until you can’t do anymore. If you can do more than 10, you need a heavier weight. If you fail at about eight or so, that’s what we want. We want your muscle to be pushing to the point of failure, because that’s when you make lactate. Lactate is the product of glucose being burned without oxygen – and it is the final desperate step of making energy when all else fails. Rest and repeat. Go for at least 10 minutes. That’s it! 10 minutes. And then, growth hormone surges for a couple of days. Rest for a day or two.

Longer, aerobic type exercise doesn’t do it. Nor will just one single bout. You need repeated bouts over 24 hours. Sounds like Cross-fit to me.

WWW—What will work for me? I walk quite a lot. There is good evidence that walking does good things for you. But intense exercise is the magic for growth hormone release. You have to get sweaty. And you have to “fail.” I need to add high intensity to my jogging. I’ve started three bouts of intense sprinting in my two-mile jog. The nice thing is that I get to walk for 45 seconds after the sprint. (Definition of sprint is very, very loose here.) Or, how about yoga till “exhaustion,” or Cross-fit, or spinning, or . . . ? You pick.

John E. Whitcomb, M.D. is founder and medical director of Brookfield Longevity & Healthy Living Clinic. He is a Yale University School of Medicine graduate and is board certified in holistic and integrative medicine from Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine.

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 3, 2015 5:18 pm

    Do you have to schedule time at the end of the day or do you just find pockets of free time to do this stuff? Thanks!

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