Testosterone has gotten a bit of a bad reputation over recent years, as a drug taken by bodybuilders or the province of overly "macho" men. But as a naturally occurring hormone in the body, testosterone has a plethora of health benefits. Some people have suggested testosterone is beneficial in the boardroom as well, with higher-testosterone men seeming to excel in business environments.
What is testosterone – and how do we increase it naturally?
Testosterone is a hormone that is produced in the bodies of both men and women, although women get it in smaller amounts. It's responsible for increased muscle mass, body hair growth, and can influence everything from bone density and muscle growth, to your sex drive and energy levels, according to studies (opens in new tab).
Testosterone is also partially responsible for fat distribution, with low levels associated with accumulated fat around our guts, arms and thighs. It's also related to the production of red blood cells, which help carry oxygen around our body, improving heart and muscle health. This is worth knowing if you're looking for methods on how to lose weight from your thighs or arms.
Testosterone can be naturally increased through lifestyle factors. Getting enough sleep – the recommended eight hours – can improve testosterone levels, while getting 5.5 hours or less of sleep can decrease testosterone levels by 10-15%, according to science (opens in new tab). Lifting heavy weights can also naturally improve testosterone, especially big compound lifts, so you'd best pick up a set of the best adjustable dumbbells for home use, or learn how to do barbell squats in the gym.
Foods rich in vitamin D like tuna and eggs, and foods rich in zinc like shellfish and red meat, can also contribute to our T levels.
Can testosterone really make us more successful?
So by now, it's pretty well-established that high levels of testosterone contributes to a healthy, energetic body, in both sexes to some degree but especially in men. There's also an idea that high-testosterone men do better at work and earn more money, but this idea is more complex than first thought.
One study (opens in new tab) found that executives with higher testosterone counts tended to have increased status, and more subordinates, than their peers with lower testosterone counts. On the surface, it's easy to see why – the idea of red-blooded alpha males taking what they want is very common in the business world.
So there is a link between success and testosterone. However, this trend was noted only among executives who also had a low amount of cortisol, another naturally-occurring hormone in the body. Known as the "stress hormone", cortisol is released when we panic and enter fight-or-flight mode. It seems to be able to decrease the production of testosterone in the body, encouraging us to store fat easier and promoting several other unhealthy effects.
Cortisol is released by stress, and lower socioeconomic conditions (opens in new tab) are well-known to be a stress factor, so somebody with a more fortunate background might have lower levels of cortisol, making them more likely to attain higher status. So it's not as simple as "more T, more money" – other complicated environmental factors also come into play.
However, just as you can increase testosterone, you can level the playing field and lower cortisol by learning how to meditate, spending time in nature and getting plenty of exercise. Running is great for this, as it not only keeps you away from screens which up your stress levels, but running through a park fulfils both the exercise and nature requirements for lowering cortisol levels. You just need some comfortable clothes and the best running shoes for women, or best running shoes for men, to get started.
Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and News Editor at Fit&Well, covering all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.
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