It's no secret that regular exercising is one of the best things you can do for your body. A doctor-approved balance of cardio, stretching and strength training can do wonders for your physical and mental health. It can even help nourish and stimulate your hair follicles by increasing blood flow to your scalp.
Still, while regular physical activity can benefit both your health and the health of your hair, too much aerobic exercise can stress out your body, which can negatively affect your tresses. Read on to find more about the connection between exercise and hair loss and what to do if you're experiencing thinning hair.
The Connection Between Exercise and Hair Loss
Moderate exercise can be the perfect complement to a hair wellness routine by providing benefits such as increasing blood flow to the scalp and decreasing stress levels. So how could something that seems so good for your body be so bad for your hair? The answer is all a question of balance. Overtraining and food restrictions leading to iron deficiency and other nutritional shortages can cause your body to start shedding hair.
"Regular exercise is key for a healthy lifestyle," said clinical dermatologist Dr. Ailynne Marie Vergara-Wijangco. "However, if done in excess along with a diet geared toward weight loss, it may lead to heavy hair fall."
It's not that exercising is inherently bad for your hair. It's simply that overdoing exercise — especially if you're dieting and subjecting your body to nutritional imbalances or extreme weight loss — can create conditions that lead to temporary hair loss.
How Stress Impacts Hair Growth
Pushing your body too hard creates stress conditions, leading your system to behave as though it's under attack. This extreme stress disrupts your natural biorhythms and can lead to increased hair breakage and loss.
"Too much exercise disturbs the hair's growth patterns, leading to [the] early entry of hair into a phase of rest called the telogen phase," said Dr. Vergara-Wijangco. "When the body is subjected to extreme stress, an unusually high amount of hair follicles enter prematurely into the telogen phase, causing them to shed. This leads to heavy hair fall and the appearance of thinning hair."
Susan Bard, M.D., a New York City-based dermatologist, explains that stress hair shedding occurs for a variety of reasons. "Telogen effluvium can be triggered by fever, illness, surgery, medication changes, weight loss, nutritional deficiencies and many other physical and psychological stressors," she said. "Whenever the body senses that it is overly stressed, or not at its healthy baseline, it will terminate production of what it deems nonessentials, such as hair and nails, in order to preserve nutrients and energy for the more vital organs."
Unlike female pattern baldness or other forms of genetic hair loss, exercise and hair loss are linked by this pattern of stress shedding, which only begins when the body is pushed to its limit.
Dr. Vergara-Wijangco said women are particularly vulnerable to the effects of overexercising on hair loss due to their vulnerability to fluctuating hormone levels. "The negative impact of strenuous overexercising is seen more in women, due to a reduction in estrogen and rise in testosterone caused by too much exercise," she said. "This can disturb the menstrual cycle and lead to brittle bones."
And the effects of overexercising and undereating can go well beyond temporary hair loss. Repeatedly depriving your body of the calories it needs to survive while pushing it with an exhausting exercise routine can lead to chronic disease and a host of long-term, negative health outcomes.
What Is Considered Excessive Exercise?
So if too much exercise is as bad as too little exercise, how can you find the balance? While the perfect amount of physical activity for supporting the health of your mind and body (and your hair) varies from person to person, ensuring that you're eating a properly balanced diet is the key to avoiding chronic stress.
The American Heart Association recommends that most people get around 150 minutes of moderately intense aerobic activity per week, or 75 minutes of more vigorous activity. You can also combine both moderate and vigorous exercise, doing yoga or going on walks three days out of the week and taking a high-intensity aerobics, boxing or weightlifting course the other two days. The AHA recommends spreading your activity out throughout the week to give your body a chance to recover. With this level of physical activity, you should be perfectly fine eating an ordinary, balanced diet.
If you're someone who prefers more intense forms of exercise, you should consult with your trainer, doctor or another professional familiar with your body and routine to get more specific recommendations for nutritional support.
Whatever exercise routine you chose, Dr. Vergara-Wijangco said that supporting the body with adequate nutrition is key. "It's especially important that you follow a proper diet with a balance of vitamins, proteins and minerals." Studies have shown that vitamin deficiency can cause hair loss.
Tips for Supporting Stressed-Out Hair
So how can you reclaim your body's balance and move away from poor nutrition and stressed-out hair? Here are three suggestions to help you get on the right track.
Find Your Zen
Research shows there's a link between stress and hair loss. And low-intensity exercise can play a role in reducing stress, especially by lowering cortisol levels. However, if you find yourself overexercising to banish anxiety, your efforts can be in vain. Instead, try switching up your routine with lower-impact forms of movement like walking, swimming, or dancing. Also, adding in a nonphysical activity, like meditation or journaling, can also help you lower stress levels.
Eat a Balanced Diet
Aside from making sure you're getting the calories your body needs, also include vitamins and minerals in your diet that are known to support hair. These include:
- Iron (found in green veggies and chickpeas)
- Vitamin D (found in mushrooms)
- Folate (found in leafy greens, lentils and flax seeds)
- Vitamin B-12 (found in nutritional yeast, seaweed and tempeh)
- Selenium (found in broccoli, chia seeds and flax)
Additionally, make sure you've covered the basics and are consuming the carbohydrates your body uses as fuel when you exercise. And a supplement designed to encourage hair wellness, like GRO Biotin Gummies for Hair, can also provide a key aspect of nutritional support. The gummies contain biotin, folic acid, zinc and a host of other helpful vitamins: Vitamins B-5, 6 and 12 help support your body’s production of keratin and collagen, and Vitamins A, C and E help neutralize follicle-damaging free radicals.
Check Your Product Routine
Dr. Ong Kee Leong said that washing your hair regularly after exercising is critical for supporting scalp health. "When exercising, you sweat, even on the parts of your scalp that are covered with hair," he said. "If you don't clean your scalp post-workout, the follicles can get clogged and weakened."
And when it comes to post-exercise hair care, your products should be working as hard as you do! Start by applying a scalp serum to remove scalp buildup, including excess oils, and create a healthy environment for your hair follicles. Then, follow up with GRO Revitalizing Shampoo and Conditioner designed to promote visibly thicker, fuller and stronger hair. Or for stressed out scalps, try GRO+ Advanced Replenishing Shampoo and Conditioner with full-spectrum CBD to help soothe the scalp and lift away impurities.
With a holistic hair wellness routine, a well-balanced diet and the perfect balance of exercise, you'll be well on your way to achieving the healthy hair of your dreams!
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