How can I get fitter? What can I do to improve my fitness? I’ve hit a plateau – what can I do?
These are many of the questions I get from all ladies I work with from all the different fields of women’s health. So I have decided to take one area each blog and talk about fitness at that stage of a woman’s life and what can be done to improve fitness levels.
Fitness in Menopause
The 1st stage I thought I would write about is the Peri to Post Menopause stages. I’m starting here as it is probably one area where women know the least about how they can improve their fitness or control their weight. It is also an area that I will be working on a LOT more in the future and it is also one of the MOST IMPORTANT times for a woman to actually exercise.
Why is it so important to exercise in Menopause?
Very briefly, what happens is that in your early/mid 40’s your ovaries slow down in the production of the hormones estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. The change and imbalance of these hormones result in the peri/menopause. It is a natural biological transition that we will ALL go through but we are all affected differently and have different symptoms.
The thing is that when estrogen and progesterone are balanced they are good fat burners as they moderate insulin so when they start getting out of balance this is when we may notice weight gain around our middle – even with exercising. There is of course a lot more to all of this, but I am pointing out the basics here. I will be going into this a much more detail on the Everything Menopause Programme (https://www.vickihill.co.uk/class/menopause-fitness-course/ )
Menopause symptoms and hormones
So when it comes to fitness and weight loss in the menopause years, it is often about our hormones and how important it is to keep insulin and cortisol levels at bay – as they are a bad combination for fat loss.
These two hormones, when combined together in high amounts over long periods, push the female physiology towards storing fat when calories are high (as opposed to building muscle), and reduce the amount of fat burned when calories are low (burning muscle instead). This is a bad combination for any women, but menopausal women are affected to a much greater extent.
Since insulin and cortisol may be the primary culprits in female belly fat storage, the transition into menopause often results in fat gain, especially around the middle.
How fitness in menopause can help
Exercise needs to be re-considered – 1st look at how long and the intensity of your exercise. It may be time to only do 1 longer run a week and the rest short and sharp sessions.
Cortisol is produced during intense exercise and long-duration exercise. This includes long duration:
- Jogging or running
- High-intensity interval training (HIIT)
- Metabolic conditioning or weight training.
However, intense exercise that is short actually raises the growth-promoting hormones like testosterone and these hormones work with cortisol to burn fat and build, or at least maintain muscle.
I am not saying don’t run or do weights – absolutely not, they are more important than ever to be doing. Shorter intense exercise is probably more beneficial to doing too many long duration exercise of moderate intensity.
Exercises to do in the menopause
Ok, so for our heart health it is SO important to do some bursts of something cardio that will get your heart rate up – hence HITT – but not an hour long session. A short sharp session where you have plenty of rest in between. Have a look at this HITT video I have done: https://vimeo.com/392897245/7459618a04
Weights – start with body weight exercises to build bone health – either see a PT/ do classes or watch You-Tube videos to make sure you are technically doing them right. You need to think about whole body exercises – like a squat to press or lunges with side arm raises. If you haven’t ever really done sets of body weight exercises before build up gently from 1 set to 2 to 3 sets of 8 – 10 reps. Then gradually progress to adding dumbbells.
Be aware – if you only do cycling or spin – yes it is great for cardio health however it offers very little to your bone health – you should think about adding impact exercise – like walking/jogging, weights, side-hops, skipping or step ups.
Essentially – it is about MOVING – bursts of high impact exercise AND starting doing weights. A real combination will help build muscle mass, joint and bone support. So look at what you do now – if you are just a jogger/runner and nothing seems to be improving – start doing some weights or HITT – they will help your running.
Look out for the start date – hopefully, the end of February 2021 when I will be starting the 8 week Everything Menopause Fitness Programme and we will be doing all of these exercises!!