Reviewed by Mary Lucas, RN
Written by Our Editorial Team
Hair loss becomes a problem for most women at various stages of their lives. It’s a bummer, but it’s a fact. That means we’re always on the hunt for ways to slow hair loss and improve hair growth. We all know about prescription hair loss medications and topical hair loss solutions, but one question many women are asking is: can exercise increase hair growth?
Exercise does wonders for our physical and mental health — we all know that. Hell, it even helps us in the bedroom. So, it makes sense that folks are curious about what regular exercise could do for other areas of difficulty (namely, our hair health).
That’s probably because hair loss is actually pretty common — it affects more than an estimated 30 million women in the U.S alone.
The question now is: can a healthy lifestyle routine like regular exercise do anything to thicken our hair, and give us that sense of rejuvenation and youthfulness we want to carry with us as we age?
Read on to find out.
While the totality of what causes hair loss has yet to be uncovered, researchers today understand that the most common type of hair loss is related to hormones called androgens.
First (and most common), hair loss can be genetic.
Some medical conditions, such as coronary heart disease and prostate cancer, are believed to be associated with higher levels of androgens, leading some researchers to think they have a connection to hair loss.
You can even bring about permanent hair loss by pulling on your hair too frequently, known in the medical community as trichotillomania.
Here are some other causes and factors that can lead to hair loss:
Hairstyle: Yes, the way in which you wear and style your hair can lead to hair loss. Remember: there’s a difference between a scalp massage and pulling at your hair. Frequently tying your hair back tightly, for example, is a way to increase the likelihood of losing hair.
Hormones: Hormonal imbalance leading to hair loss has most commonly afflicted women. Nevertheless, hormonal imbalance is important to monitor, regardless of your gender.
Overuse of Vitamins A and/or E: Can too much of a good thing be bad? It turns out, when it comes to vitamins A and E, the answer is: yes. Overuse of both of these vitamins via supplements can lead to hair loss.
Iron Deficiency: Although we do not know the degree of one’s iron deficiency that leads to hair loss, we nevertheless know that iron deficiency is a cause for hair loss.
Menstrual Cycle: A heavy loss of blood during a woman’s period might also cause hair loss.
Scalp Infection - That inflamed part of your head that’s making you itch and squirm? Notice how you’re also losing hair around there? Turns out you might be going bald — you just have a scalp infection. Get it checked out!
While the causes of hair loss vary, it’s important to take a careful, concerted approach to understanding just why you may be losing your hair.
Though medication can assist in regrowing or preventing multiple forms of hair loss, folks can also look to natural habits such as exercise to help their hair.
Sweating is an all-around plus for a healthy lifestyle, assuming you have proper hygiene and a laundry machine.
Sweating is the body’s self-cooling mechanism, keeping our body temperature regulated so that we can survive the changing of the seasons.
There’s evidence, too, that – regardless of your gender – sweating is simply the dead giveaway that you’re getting the intense workout you need to feel at your best.
But does sweat make your hair healthy?
To kick things off: because of the level of sodium your sweat contains, sweat can have a less-than-pleasant visual effect on your hair. This might give you a bit of a punch if you’re trying to impress that special someone and look your best.
Further, sweat — both in the moment of exercising, but also in the aftermath — can give off an unpleasant odor.
As mentioned above, hygiene is critical because you don’t want to get a scalp infection, because scalp infections lead to hair loss.
Because sweating implies there’s increased blood circulation, that increased blood flow means that sweating helps cleanse the skin. You can think of sweating as the body’s miniature car wash.
In the short term, at least, sweating benefits the entire body — the scalp and your hair included.
But, the question remains: does regular exercise really do anything to beat back or slow your hair follicles from waving goodbye? You may also wonder: does drinking water help with hair growth, as you should rehydrate after exercising?
The evidence behind whether exercise can increase healthy hair growth — or cause your hair to fall out — points in both directions.
Regular exercise has enormous anti-anxiety effects by reducing our overall stress levels. And we all know how stress can mess with one’s hair density — or the amount of hair one has on their head.
We say this as a warning: when it comes to answering this question, be careful when you open your web browser.
If you search the Internet, you’ll find a number of websites that purport to know the secrets behind the connection regarding hair health and exercise.
Dig a little deeper, however, and you’ll find most of the declarations on the subject, erring one way or another, aren’t the result of great data-driven, scientific scrutiny.
When it comes to findings that promote exercise as a way of maintaining healthy hair — or even regrowing it — a study from Mass General Hospital concluded that increased exercise, which leads to increased blood circulation, potentially contributes to the health and growth of one’s hair. It is important to note that this study was done on mice.
Exercise can also combat extreme stress, as well as high blood pressure — and we know that stress can lead to loss of hair.
On the other hand, while blood circulation is great, there’s evidence that exercise can have the opposite effect one hopes for when hitting the weight room.
That’s right: excessive exercise can potentially cause you to lose your hair. However, the likelihood of exercise resulting in hair loss is greater in men than in women, due to men having higher levels of testosterone.
In this study, we learn that when men hit puberty, their accelerated testosterone production also accelerates their rate of hair loss.
With women, estrogen production protects them from hair loss until they experience reduced estrogen during menopause.
Sounds great, right?
Well, here’s where things get a little complicated — contradictory, even, compared to the evidence via our friends at Mass Gen.
Testosterone can be converted into an androgenic hormone called dihydrotestosterone, or DHT.
Research has shown that one of the main contributing factors in hair loss – from the thinning of hair to balding – is — ready for it? — DHT. Like that, a healthy lifestyle habit like regular exercise has morphed into a potentially harmful habit.
Our point is this: there’s no real clear answer, unfortunately. It seems exercise can help prevent hair loss in some ways, but may also promote it in others. What we know for sure is that more research needs to be conducted before we can say anything definitively.
There’s no doubt that exercise, overall, is good for us. But if you aren’t sold on whether or not it can make a huge difference in keeping or losing the hair on your head, the good news is that there are plenty of real-deal, science-backed, FDA-approved, and clinically proven hair loss treatments on the market.
The two most popular? Minoxidil and finasteride.
First, a potentially effective option is minoxidil, which often comes in foam form and has been used by men for decades.
Minoxidil is considered safe and effective. It’s believed to work by stimulating blood flow to the affected areas of the scalp, thereby promoting healthy hair growth.
Another effective treatment for any form of hair loss is finasteride, also sold under the brand name Propecia®. Finasteride is often taken in pill form, although there are now topical forms of finasteride to use, as well.
You care for your skin, mental health and other aspects of your body — why not care for your hair?
Regular exercise is a critical component to anyone’s physical and mental well-being. While the evidence is at times contradictory regarding the effects exercise has on one’s hair, what’s incontrovertible is the benefits of regular exercise far outweigh the risk to one’s crown.
What we do know is there are other treatments like finasteride and minoxidil that can help you in your fight to keep the hair you have. The first step, however, is scheduling an appointment to speak with a board-certified dermatology provider, who can help you sort out your hair care woes.
Mary is an accomplished emergency and trauma RN with more than 10 years of healthcare experience.
As a data scientist with a Masters degree in Health Informatics and Data Analytics from Boston University, Mary uses healthcare data to inform individual and public health efforts.
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