There's more to low testosterone than a sluggish sex drive.
Sure, it's one of the more frustrating symptoms. But it's not the only reason you might be looking to boost your testosterone levels.
Low testosterone (or Low T) is also associated with:
- Erectile dysfunction
- Reduced muscle mass
- Increased body fat
- Feeling irritable, or even depressed
- Changes in sleep habits
"It's completely natural for testosterone levels to decrease over time. In fact, almost half of men over the age of 80 have low testosterone. But younger men can be troubled with symptoms of low testosterone, too — especially those who are overweight or have certain underlying health conditions, like diabetes and sleep apnea," says Dr. Nathan Starke, urologist specializing in men's health at Houston Methodist.
And while there are treatments for low testosterone, many men prefer to start by making the healthy lifestyle changes that can naturally improve their testosterone levels.
If you're looking for all-natural ways to boost your testosterone levels, Dr. Starke offers the following tips:
1. Improve your diet
Adopting and maintaining a healthy diet benefits your testosterone levels in two primary ways:
- Promotes weight loss and a healthy weight
- Reduces the chance of blood sugar spikes
"Men who are obese are much more likely to have low levels of testosterone. Excess abdominal fat, in particular, is likely a major culprit. Having more of this type of fat is thought to result in a higher production of the enzyme called aromatase, which converts testosterone into estradiol — lowering a man's free testosterone levels," explains Dr. Starke. "For this reason, losing weight may improve testosterone levels, and a healthy diet can help you achieve that."
A healthy diet includes plenty of vegetables and fruits, whole-grain carbohydrates, moderate amounts of healthy fats and lean protein, such as chicken and fish.
"The key to a healthy diet when trying to elevate your testosterone levels is avoiding refined, simple carbohydrates, like the ones found in chips and other junk food. These simple carbs can lead to spikes in your blood sugar and have been shown to reduce free testosterone levels," explains Dr. Starke.
2. Mix cardio with strength training, and vice versa
First thing's first: Exercise in general can help you lose weight and/or maintain a healthy weight. And now we know that excessive weight can contribute to low testosterone levels. So, if you're not already exercising, starting a workout regimen focused on losing weight may help boost your levels.
But why make time for both cardio and strength training?
"Cardio is a great way to burn a lot of calories, while the muscle built from strength training can help boost your overall metabolism so that you're burning calories even when you're not exercising," says Dr. Starke. "Plus, both types of exercise — strength training, especially — can help you rebuild some of the muscle mass you might have lost as a result of low testosterone."
Whether you're new to exercise or just getting back into it, know that everyone's fitness level varies and the best way for you to burn calories may look different than the guy on the treadmill next to you. Cardio can be a long run, but it can also be walking at a brisk pace.
And, if you're new to strength training, don't be intimidated. Try starting with body weight exercises, which are movements that rely on your own body weight to help build total body strength — no gym membership needed.
"We lead busy lives, and it's easy to treat exercise as an afterthought. Either we don't consistently make time for it in the first place, or we find a specific type of exercise we enjoy and put it on repeat. But making time both cardio and strength training in your weekly workout routine gives you your best shot at boosting your testosterone levels," adds Dr. Starke.
3. Get plenty of sleep
It's a tale as old as time. Sleep matters. Yes, guys, you need your beauty rest, too.
Getting an adequate amount of sleep every night is important for maintaining overall good health, which likely promotes sufficient testosterone levels in general. But it's actually more than that.
"Most testosterone release happens while you're sleeping, meaning that sleep has a direct effect on your testosterone levels," says Dr. Starke. "Data show that getting less than eight hours of sleep can reduce a man's testosterone levels by as much as 15% the next day."
So, while 4 to 5 hours of sleep may seem like enough to get you through the day, it could be contributing to lower levels of testosterone.
4. Take steps to reduce stress
Like sleep, stress affects your entire well-being — including your testosterone levels.
"When you experience stress, your body releases a hormone called cortisol. This hormone helps your body prepare and respond to this stress, and then your body goes back to normal. But when you're stressed more often than not (chronic stress), you experience prolonged exposure to cortisol — and studies show that cortisol circulating in the bloodstream reduces the level of free testosterone," explains Dr. Starke.
And while life is always going to be stressful, you can take steps to reduce stress you may be feeling.
"One of the best ways to relieve stress is to take time for yourself and do something you enjoy — even if it's only for a few minutes every day. It could also mean actually acting upon those deep-breathing reminders that your smartwatch keeps bugging you about. Just something to get you to slow down, be present and relax your mind and body," says Dr. Starke.
And if you're stress is stemming from your low testosterone level itself, seeing your doctor might help.
5. Address any underlying medical conditions
"I think something many men may not realize is that low testosterone is rarely a phenomenon on its own. It's often linked to — and potentially even caused by — one or more underlying health condition that a man may not even know he has," says Dr. Starke.
We've already discussed that obesity can contribute to low testosterone, but so can other common health conditions, including:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Metabolic syndrome
"Low testosterone can also be caused by medications you might be taking for a health condition you already know about or a previous therapy you've received, like chemotherapy and radiation," adds Dr. Starke.
Seeing and being evaluated by a doctor who specializes in men's health can help you understand what might be causing your low testosterone.
In addition, your doctor can help you understand which of the lifestyle changes above might be most important for you, recommend testosterone treatment and/or refer you to specialists who can help treat any underlying health condition that might be contributing to your low testosterone levels.
"If you're having issues related to low testosterone, such as weight gain and difficulty exercising due to fatigue or muscle loss, starting testosterone treatment can make your weight loss goals and lifestyle improvements much easier to achieve," adds Dr. Starke.
- Learn about Houston Methodist's Men's Health Center, which offers comprehensive, confidential care for men experiencing low testosterone and other common health issues.