“Running isn’t good for the menopause! Really but it’s the only thing keeping me sane!”
This is my running story and why I ignored the advice that running wasn’t a good choice of exercise for the menopause.
I’m Sally and I love running. It’s my me time, that time where you can let everything go. Now I’m not particularly good at running but that doesn’t matter. I love running on my own and with other people, at big events or just in the village I live in. I even take my trainers on holiday!
My running journey started after my 2nd daughter was born, she’s now 9. When she was 6 months old, I was overweight and unfit and decided I needed to do something! I started running, 1 lamppost, then 2 and gradually built up. My friend Sarah suggested we train to do the Great North Run! And I said why not! Now this was not my finest race, wrong fuelling, awful weather, drinking too much fluid before the race so I needed the loo 10 minutes in! And then after the most awful stomach cramps and upset, let’s just say Sarah and I got to know each other even better from this event!!
However, despite the pain I was amazed at what my body could do. I had just started training as a personal trainer, specialising in postnatal recovery, and I started a running group in our village. I wanted to share what I’d learnt, I was the girl who’d always said, “I can’t run”, and I had just done a half marathon. Over 200 women later and several thousand raised for charity our running group is still going strong.
As I approached my forties I started noticing changes in my body and started struggling with things I found easy before, both physically and emotionally. I was putting on weight even though I was eating and exercising in the same way. The same thing was happening with many of my clients. The menopause! No it couldn’t be, I was far too young!
3 years of study, research and working on myself and with clients I launched The Menopause Club. But the hardest thing for me to get my head around was lots of the research was telling me running isn’t good for the menopause, and I couldn’t take this as true.
The science ….
Many of the women I work with suddenly find that the exercise they were doing before stops working in the same way. We don’t get the same results even though we’re doing the same thing. It can feel really disheartening so why should we bother?
As we get older there is a gradual and progressive fall in the spontaneous growth hormone (hGH) secretion. This usually occurs in parallel with a reduction in lean body mass, decrease in testosterone production, decrease in oestrodial production, increase in visceral fat, decline in bone mineral density, sleep disturbance, reduced immune function … HGH is considered the fountain of youth and with it’s decline comes changes in skin texture, reduced vision, greying hair, lack of muscle mass etc. Now before you get too depressed there’s plenty we can do about it.
The most important thing to understand is that the reduction in hGH has a huge impact on the way our bodies respond to exercise. Our habits and lifestyle need to take into account what our body can’t cope with naturally any more.
How can we increase hGH through lifestyle?
- Sleep/restorative activity
- Watch carbohydrates and increase protein
- Reduce stress
How can we increase hGH with the “Right Type” of exercise?
- Get hot
- Feel the lactate burn in your muscles
- Get sweaty
- Get out of breath
- In short bursts – work until you feel truly challenged and need to rest
A suggested exercise strategy for optimising hGH secretion through exercise is as follows:
- Perform 3-5 short “metabolic” sessions per week
- Each involving at least 10 minutes work about lactate threshold (feeling the burn)
- Keep total workout time to between 20-30 minutes
- Include a variety of styles and principles to maintain muscle confusion
- Work hard – keep it short and sweet!
For the body to release growth hormone, there must be an adrenal response … specifically the release of adrenaline or nor-adrenaline by the adrenal glands during high intensity exercise that triggers the growth hormone response. Basically without a high enough intensity during your exercise session, growth hormone cannot be triggered. The key in this type of session is ALWAYS to workout with a greater intensity for a shorter period of time. We don’t need long session, we need intensity and brevity. Especially if you are suffering from adrenal fatigue, long-distance running may not get results.
SO in reality this science is saying that running, especially long distance running may not be the optimum choice for us.
The counter science …
Running is of course ‘weight bearing’ and involves plenty of impact which is good for bone health and maintaining bone mass at this critical life phase.
A few Osteoporosis/Bone Health Facts and Figures
- Bone remodelling is a lifelong process, but unfortunately bone loss starts to outpace bone gain as we age. This starts to happen around aged 34 when peak bone mass is achieved for most people….this is not an ‘old person’s issue’! If ever there was a poster child for PREVENTION being better than cure….bone health is it!
- The decline in Oestrogen production also has a negative impact on bone remodelling activity.
- The first 3-5 years following the onset of menopause are associated with an accelerated period of bone mass loss before the decline settling to a more linear decline as menopause progresses. Most women are hitting Peri-Menopause in their late 40’s and Menopause in their early 50’s.
- As bone mass declines and the threshold for osteoporosis is approached and exceeded the risk of fractures to the hip, spine and other fall fractures is also greatly increased.
- In the UK and the US 1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men over 50 will experience a fracture.
- Research by the National Osteoporosis Society estimate that the daily cost of caring for those who experience disability due to hip fractures is somewhere in the region of £6 Million PER DAY!!
- The mortality rate for those who experience hip fracture increases by 20% in the 12 months post fracture.
- Bone is reactive not proactive….to induce remodelling bones must experience stress, the less stress applied, the less remodelling.
- There are actually more ‘fragility fractures’ – (300,00) in the UK than strokes (275,000) and heart attacks (110,000)
Running is good for our mental health
Running is not only a great way of improving your overall happiness, health and well being but it can in fact help to alleviate symptoms of depression.
It is estimated that one quarter of the population will suffer from some kind of mental health issue each year, with depression effecting nearly a fifth of UK adults. Many studies have proven that regular exercise can help to alleviate symptoms of depression. A recent study by University College London found that exercising three times a week could lower the risk of depression by 16%. Factors included its ability to distract a person from stress and the production of endorphins after exercise. GPs are regularly prescribing exercise for depression and running is a fantastic way of getting into exercise. A great way to get started is through ParkRun http://www.parkrun.org.uk/
As well as triggering the release of endorphins – the body’s own natural antidepressant, running can alleviate symptoms of depression in many other ways. Here’s how:
Exercise reduces the body’s stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. Aerobic exercise, such as jogging,has been shown to reduce both generalised anxiety and anxiety sensitivity.
Encourages Social Interaction
Another way that running can help to alleviate anxiety and depression is by encouraging social interaction. Making friends through running can become a great social support for those suffering from depression. It may help to reduce anxiety in other, more socially-demanding situations.
Helps Improve Sleep
Insomnia has been proven to worsen symptoms of depression. Regular exercise will improve sleep quality as the transition between sleep cycles becomes more regular. A good nights sleep is important for our health. Exercise leads us to feel less stressed and have more energy. This helps us to sleep better and feel refreshed when we wake.
Finding you can do something you didn’t think possible is an amazing feeling. I find achievements in running can be so immediate. I’ve had over 200 women who have told me they can’t run (me included) go on to achieve 5k, 10k and even half-marathon/marathon events. A grehttp://www.parkrun.org.uk/
Gives You a Goal/Purpose
Studies have found that daily goals in the form of positive activities can help alleviate depression. By running a couple of times a week, you can set yourself weekly goals. Whether it be simply putting your trainers on and getting out of the house, running for 30 minutes without stopping, or beating your PB. Entering a race is also a great way of setting yourself a goal to work towards. This helps in encouraging regular exercise as part of your training.
My reality …
As I said at the start, I love running. Sometimes I like training for a specific event, sometimes I’m focused on consistency. Sometimes I want to get faster but most of the time I just want to get outside and clear my head. SO should I be running? To me as with everything it’s all about balance. I run regularly but I also ensure I keep to 2-3 resistance sessions per week as well as introducing yoga.
It’s all about what’s right for you. Do you love running? Then keep doing it. Do you hate running? Then don’t, there are so many other things you can do. Exercise should be something you enjoy, not a punishment. Sure, some sessions will be tough. They’ll be times when you don’t feel like going but you know you’ll feel better when you do.