SSometimes your body notices things before your mind: You might think you’re so far away from menopause that a hot flash is just something you can fake to get out of a boring situation, but your belly knows it best. . Lucinda Meade, 57, is a physiotherapist and personal trainer. She has trained many clients during menopause and says it tends to start with surreptitious weight gain around the middle, which they then can’t move. It can be accompanied by pain in small joints and an unappetizing assortment of “mood swings, sleep changes, boring GP visits to get antidepressants.”
It all makes perfect sense from a hormonal point of view, like another trainer, Sarah Overalls, 51, describes: âEstrogen regulates a lot of your bodily processes, and one of the things it’s involved in is water regulation. It is much easier for the tendons, ligaments, and joints to become dehydrated. And it can also lead to a resurgence of old injuries. Plus, “when your female hormones go down, you go from a gynoid form, carrying fat on your hips and thighs, to android obesity, belly fat, which is a male form.”
But what are you supposed to do, from a fitness standpoint? Should you get over the aches and pains and lethargy, or just give up on being in shape until you’re on the other side? Are there any adjustments you can make to the way you exercise and eat? Can you improve it by working on it first? Finally, are there any benefits to menopause, or is it just a boring slide to death, only improved by the fact that it happens to (half) everyone?
Arj Thiruchelvam, a personal trainer who coaches elite athletes, says of this power versus break dilemma: âAlways make the decision at a macro level rather than a micro level. “In macro terms, giving up exercise during your menopause would be a disaster because your muscle mass decreases with age” at a rate of about 1% per year. For postmenopausal women, it is much more important than that. You need muscle mass to protect your bones, not to mention, as Meade says, that it âdecreases cell death, increases stem cells, and decreases fat cells, which are a secretor of inflammatory markers. Aging is all about chronic low-intensity inflammation. “
At a micro level, however, says Thiruchelvam, “if you’ve had hot flashes all night and haven’t slept, it’s probably worth listening to your body and resting.” Overall, there is a 10 minute rule: “If I wake up and don’t feel like exercising I think I’m going to do 10 minutes and if I still feel bad, I will stop. This is the biggest tip I can give to anyone – 95% of the time you will feel great after 10 minutes.
It’s also important to have weekly rather than daily goals and to be flexible (mentally and physically): use your energy when you have it, rather than blaming yourself for the times when you don’t. This will mean putting yourself first and getting rid of other obligations, but that’s okay – your estrogen is dropping, so hopefully you are also less of the kind to please people.
Now all you have to do is completely change your perception of what type of exercise you need and enjoy. Meade explains, “A lot of women have done a lot of yoga and running and they really need to be brought up to weight training.” It will likely be different once millennials go through menopause as they have a huge iron woman culture and are all over Swedish gymnastics (building strength using your own body weight). But women in their late 40s and 50s will have had their formative years in the 1980s, when exercise was all about looking lean and weight training was unpopular. Younger readers might not believe it, but the magazines were absolutely full of the dangers of bodybuilding, and how once you gave yourself huge, muscular shoulders, there would be no turning back.
But there is more than one way to skin this cat. âDance, climb, climb trees, whatever – find what works for you,â says Meade. “But there has to be an element of strength.” Elite athletes, being so sensitized to the body, often notice earlier than the rest of us that something needs to change. Jenny Stoute, 56, represented the United Kingdom at the Olympic Games in Seoul and Barcelona, ââwinning bronze in the 4x400m relay, before becoming Rebel, the Gladiator, in 1996. Her menopause began two years ago. years old, and now she says she can’t even jog. âIf I went out on the road, hopping up and down, my hamstrings would be a thing of the past. I know my lower back doesn’t really like impacts. So I’m going to do weights and body weight stuff, go on the rower, go on the elliptical trainer. To be honest, I don’t really feel like running 100 meters. I had my time. All I want is to take care of my body to the best of my ability.
It is a very good idea to move forward if possible. âPeople go into menopause like a horrible blind date where you know it’s going to happen but you hope it’s going to be okay,â Meade says. âEveryone in their 40s should be thinking about getting into great shape so that when that happens, it is as good as possible. Don’t treat it like a lottery and don’t wait until you feel bad before trying to make decisions in that state.
Besides strength training, what does it actually look like? Work on your diet, so that your blood sugar doesn’t fluctuate too much: this can prevent the worst hot flashes, and will also help with mood swings. Don’t try a ketogenic diet, but use a protein calculatorbecause meals high in protein can help maintain muscle mass. You may want to adjust your serving size based on your reduced basal metabolic rate (this is how much energy you use while resting, doing basic tasks like breathing and staying warm) – or you might think, damn it, one thing at a time. Take vitamin D and calcium supplements, as well as omega-3s – the first two for bone health because loss of estrogen often causes osteoporosis, the third for the mood.
Work on the dehydration, not just by gulping water when you remember, but learning to recognize your personal signs of dehydration and determine when it is worst during the day. Many postmenopausal women say that they suddenly have no tolerance for alcohol and start to see wine, in particular, as a kind of kryptonite. But it is basically that the concentration of alcohol in your blood is higher. I’m not saying you have to drink – just that, if you stay really well hydrated, maybe you can.
If you don’t have a friendly GP, see a pelvic health physiotherapist. âYour pelvic floor muscles weaken whether you’ve had children or not, so bladder control becomes an issue as well,â says Overall. The trampoline is a famous no-no for menopause, but running can also highlight bladder control issues. Personally, I wouldn’t. You’re probably going to be having a shower when you get home anyway. And that’s not even the worst: “Many women have had untreated problems since childbirth, then menopause arrives, in addition to perhaps a very small prolapse … vaginal atrophy is a nightmare” , says Meade. Pilates in general and Kegels in particular will help. Also, it’s a good idea to know your family history, especially when it comes to osteoporosis. The more likely you are to get it, the more important it is that you do the muscle building work that will protect your bones.
Everyone I talk to has the same opinion about HRT: if it works for you, do it and start as soon as you have symptoms – don’t wait until they are unbearable. There is reluctance to start HRT, misplaced stoicism, the feeling that you only need it because you are weak. Most of the perceived risks of HRT are historical and have been considerably reduced by changes in the treatment regimen; There are a negligible increase in the risk of breast cancer, for example, with estrogen-only HRT.
The symptoms of menopause interact with each other in unnecessary ways: depriving yourself of sleep because you’re too hot doesn’t help mood swings, and a bad mood makes things worse than they are. So many postmenopausal people, including fitness experts, have a stern view of their changing bodies. âThe bloating is terrible,â says Overall. âPeople look at me for their fitness and I look like a Michelin man. Stoute says her own athletic past has made her a wreck. âAnyone who was once on top of the tree in the world of sports is like, ‘My whole body feels like it’s crumbling.’ It’s almost like the fitter you are at your peak, the worse the other end gets. I look for her on Instagram (@gorgeousfifties) and I find that she still looks amazing. âBe kind to yourselfâ sounds like a clichÃ©, but it’s worth doing anyway.
And finally, is there anything good to say about the experience? Meade delivers this catchy statement: âThis is a wake-up call. You are likely to live to almost 90 years. How do you want it to be? How do you want to feel? Make a plan for it. It’s a reminder that you can make choices and change your life for the better. Don’t be a victim; you can fix it. I am much healthier than before.
Overall agree: “I’m not there yet, but friends who have come out on the other side say it’s absolutely awesome. You don’t have to worry about your period anymore, you don’t have hormonal fluctuations anymore, you feel great. No one ever said to me, ‘This is hogwash. I miss the rules.