Exercise has many fantastic health benefits, but does exercise affect hair growth? It may seem unlikely that your training will be able to provide protection against the seemingly inevitable hair loss associated with aging, but there may be a connection.
For one, exercise increases blood circulation and oxygen to blood cells, which benefits hair follicles. This can allow the hair growth phase to be longer. Exercise can also reduce stress, which is one of the factors implicated in thinning hair.
So, if you’ve anxiously noticed your shiny locks thinning, keep reading. We spoke to Dr. Fuat Yuksel (opens in a new tab)a hair transplant surgeon who works with patients struggling with hair loss, how hair growth works and whether to jump on one of the best treadmills or exercise bikes may or may not make a difference.
Does exercise affect hair growth?
Unfortunately, there has been very little scientific research to date on the effects of exercise on hair growth. However, by understanding the process of hair growth and the factors that can promote normal hair growth, it is reasonable to assume that regular exercise can potentially promote healthy hair growth.
Before we dive into the potential mechanisms by which exercise can increase hair growth, it’s helpful to understand some basics about hair growth in general.
Hair grows in an alternating cycle that involves stages of rapid growth and elongation of the hair shaft, and periods of regression driven by apoptotic signals.
The hair growth cycle can be divided into three distinct phases:
- Anagen: The anagen phase is the phase of active growth where the hair shaft comes out of the follicle. This phase can last several years.
- Catagen: This is the transition phase where the hair stops growing and actually regresses, losing about a sixth of the diameter of each hair shaft. Additionally, club hairs or short, stubby hairs can form, which are then often lost, giving the appearance of thinning hair. Factors that increase club hair formation and shedding include hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, stress, and vitamin deficiencies.
- telogen: This is the resting phase where growth does not occur.
So how could exercise increase hair growth? Dr. Yuksel says exercise will always have a positive effect on your hair growth because it has a positive effect on your overall health.
“Your hair follicles will benefit from increased blood flow and increased oxygen to blood cells,” says Dr. Yuksel. “Healthy hair follicles will enable your growth phase [anagen phase] be longer. Therefore, the hair will have more time to grow.
Additionally, exercise can reduce stress, and since stress is one of the factors in the catagen phase that can cause thinning hair, regular exercise can prevent hair loss.
How much exercise should you do to stimulate hair growth?
It’s unrealistic to think that a single run or a few yoga classes will suddenly reverse hair loss and sprout a bunch of new hair strands, but Dr. Yuksel says typical guidelines for physical activity levels are sufficient..
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (opens in a new tab) states that adults should aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week, which Dr. Yuksel says is enough to support a healthy hair growth cycle.
What type of exercise will have the greatest effect on hair growth?
Interestingly, not all types of exercises are created equal when it comes to promoting hair growth. Dr. Yuksel says that strength training focused on hypertrophy is not as good as any type of aerobic or cardio exercise. This distinction is due to the effect of hypertrophy training on testosterone.
“Muscle growth is directly related to testosterone, and having high levels of testosterone, including DHT (dihydrotestosterone), shrinks your hair follicles and shortens the hair growth cycle,” says Yuksel.
When it comes to strength training, Dr. Yuksel says multi-joint exercises that engage larger muscle groups, such as squats, deadlifts, and lunges, increase testosterone the most.
“It can make genetic hair loss worse. However, exercise also lowers stress hormones and improves how the body responds to stress,” he adds. “You might see a positive effect from training resistance if you have experienced stress-related hair loss.”
Dr. Yuksel adds that taking steroids in addition to resistance training is a recipe for hair loss, so you should avoid these drugs at all costs.
Can exercise cause hair loss?
The good news is that even if you pump iron several days a week to build muscle, exercise won’t directly cause hair loss.
“You won’t go bald just by exercising,” says Dr. Yuksel. “Hair loss can be caused by a number of factors, including lifestyle, genes, hormone levels and medications, such as antidepressants.”
He further explains that hair loss can be categorized into two types: permanent and temporary. Most permanent hair loss is a product of your genetic predisposition, while hair loss caused by lifestyle choices is usually temporary and can be reversed by improving your overall health.
Also, although Dr. Yuksel says hair loss is not associated with marathon running or other intense endurance training, it can be affected if you don’t take care of your body to support your coaching.
“Athletes who fail to meet their nutritional requirements for such training could lead to hair loss due to a lack of iron, vitamins and other minerals,” he notes.
Other factors that can affect hair growth
In addition to exercise, following a healthy lifestyle, such as getting enough sleep, not smoking, and eating a nutrient-dense diet can promote hair growth.
Hair growth depends on getting an adequate total caloric intake. Prolonged dieting, especially in conjunction with insufficient protein intake, causes the body to stop renewing hair cells.
Additionally, there are several other essential nutrients to keep hair follicles healthy and stimulate new hair growth, such as folate, beta-carotene, iron, biotin, zinc, vitamin C, vitamins B and omega-3 fatty acids.
Finally, Dr. Yuksel says leaving sweat on your hair after exercise can also make a difference. “Hair can become clogged and weak if sweat stays on your head for a long time,” he explains. “Showering after exercise will prevent this.”
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