Exercise and the menopause – what should I be doing?
I love exercise but that hasn’t always been the case! There are also days when the last thing I feel like doing is getting out for a run or going to the gym, but I always feel better afterwards! I was the girl at school who avoided exercise and I was lucky in some aspects as a classic TOFI (Thin on the Outside, Fat on the Inside). After having children I just became fat, I’d put on weight and didn’t know what to do about it. I started running and fell in love with exercise and changed my whole career as a result!
Now, I’m not some slim gym-bunny, I’m a normal woman who sometimes struggles with her weight, especially since hitting 40. But I know how much better I feel when I exercise and eat well. My overriding aim is:
“Every day I’m doing something today that will make me healthier tomorrow!”
You might already exercise regularly and even if you don’t exercise specifically to help with weight loss, it’s imperative to be active for your health and wellbeing.
If you aren’t currently exercising, or if you haven’t exercised for a long time, then it’s normal to feel anxious about starting a programme. Please don’t worry, the most important thing is getting moving, it doesn’t matter what you do.
Benefits of Exercise
Exercise is beneficial in so many areas. Exercise can help you lower stress, encourage a more restful sleep, increase your energy levels, and release endorphins that boost your mood.
Certain types of exercise will also help to strengthen your bones – something that’s very important as we age and bone loss becomes a problem.
“Weight bearing activities” involve doing exercise on your feet with your bones supporting your weight. This is the type of exercise that will help to strengthen your bones. Examples include walking, running, tennis, dancing etc. These activities are also excellent for your cardiovascular health, and will make your heart stronger.
Cycling and swimming are great for your heart and your overall health too, but they aren’t considered weight bearing. That makes them great options if you’re working around an injury.
Strength or resistance training helps strengthen bones and improve posture too. It also increases your muscle mass. This is something that is important that we focus on as we get older.
Strength and muscle mass decline after the age of 30, so unless you do something about it, as soon as 30 comes and goes, you’ll gradually get fatter every year. It doesn’t seem fair, does it?
We all know that it tends to be harder to lose weight as we get older. But age doesn’t have to be a defining factor. You’re not destined to be overweight as you move through your 30’s, 40’s and beyond, as long as you take action.
“Strength training – the best anti-aging exercise you can do”
If you aren’t already doing it, then adding a strength training component to your exercise routine 2 to 3 times a week is the first step you should take towards building lean muscle tissue.
You don’t have to exercise in the gym if you don’t want to. There are lots of ways to exercise at home or outside. I’ve included some home workout sheets in “Moving Your Way Through The Menopause” and there are loads of exercise videos on YouTube that you can try.
Why is Muscle so important?
Lean muscle mass is the most metabolically active tissue in your body. So the more muscle you have, the faster your metabolism, and the more calories you’ll be burning every single second of every single day. This is a big reason why men seem to have a much easier time losing body fat compared to women. Men are quickly able to burn up excess calories due to their greater level of lean muscle mass, so they create the calorie deficit required for fat loss with ease. This can feel so annoying! My diet is so much better than my husband’s and although he loves exercise, I exercise more regularly. Of course his % body fat is so much lower than mine!
Building lean muscle mass won’t just boost your fat loss results. It’ll also be your best way to prevent future fat gain. The higher your metabolic rate, the less strict you’ll have to be with your daily diet in order to stay leaner long term.
Why muscle helps us store carbohydrates
The second reason to focus on building lean muscle mass is because lean muscle mass is going to act as a carbohydrate storehouse.
If you don’t have much muscle on your body and you aren’t depleting the glycogen (glucose) storage in your cells, when you do take in extra glucose in the form of carbohydrates they’ll immediately get stored as body fat.
If, however, you have more muscle tissue and are constantly working out, you’ll have partially depleted your muscle glycogen stores. This means the excess carbohydrates you eat will first go to your muscle tissues for storage, and only once your muscles are fully saturated will you begin to convert the excess carbs to fat.
By having more muscle and working out more often, you can eat more carbs on a day to day basis. And that is good news for those of us who love food.
Why muscle enhances insulin sensitivity
Another great thing about having more muscle is that it will also increase your insulin sensitivity.
This means that your body will be better able to regulate its blood glucose levels, and when you do eat carbohydrates you won’t notice as great of a blood sugar spike followed by a crash.
This can help to decrease your risk of diabetes, as well as decrease the chances of fat gain over time. If you aren’t instantly storing the carbohydrates you eat as body fat — like you will if you have poor insulin sensitivity, or ‘insulin resistance’ — it makes it easier for you to sustain the leaner body you’re after.
Muscle makes you stronger
Adding more muscle makes you stronger overall. If you want to improve the quality of your life and make day to day functional movement easier, then building more muscle is the way to go!
Women who have more muscle mass will be able to keep up with the activities they enjoy, and that means they’ll probably also end up being more active overall. This again increases your daily calorie burn, making weight management easier.
“The best way to increase your metabolism is to build lean muscle through strength training.”
Yoga is another type of exercise to consider as it’s also great for stress management and relaxation. I am quite new to yoga but I’m already seeing the benefits.
Yoga is also a weight bearing exercise, and it’ll improve your flexibility, balance, bone density, endurance, muscle mass, agility and energy level.
I love Brett Larkin – she has great beginner programmes and night-time yoga routines where you finish the routine in bed! Check out her Youtube channel.
So what’s the perfect exercise combination for pre-, peri- and postmenopausal women?
- Strength training 2 to 3 times per week
- Yoga 2 to 3 times per week or every morning and evening if you can manage
- Cardio based weight bearing exercise like walking, running, hiking, elliptical, or tennis every day
My Routine includes:
- Running 3-4 times per week – I used to run longer distances but I now find shorter runs are better for managing injuries
- Yoga – 10 minutes morning and evening – I would love to say I stick to this every day but I do this at least 80% of the time. This has been new to me over the last few months and the benefits have been amazing.
- Strength training 2-3 times a week – I do a short 20-30 minutes circuit session with mainly bodyweight and dumbbell exercises or try to fit in classes at the gym.
This may sound like a lot, but once it becomes habit it is manageable. It is so important that you prioritise time to move your body. To start with this could just mean incorporating a walk at lunch time, an exercise class per week. The main thing is to find something you enjoy doing. Introduce one session at a time until you find what works for you
Exercise should be a fun way to feel great, and enjoy how strong and amazing your body can be.
Don’t complicate things too much. There are great benefits, both physically and mentally, to getting outside and just being active while doing something you love.