Menopause and fitness. There I said it. If you are thirty something and thought I was going to say that other “M” word, don't click close yet. This is important information for you too, especially in your 30’s. The more you do now could mean less work in the gym for you later. Less work = good. Right? Now I know I’m asking a lot. I’m waving the white flag saying, mayday, mayday your ship will go down too. And you’re thinking hell that’s ten years away. Let’s start with this - peri-menopause symptoms can be felt as early as late 30’s . Women between the age of 30-40’s begin to lose .5-1% of bone density and muscle annually. Did I get your attention yet?
Here are the brief Menopause facts without going into all the symptoms. Menopause typically happens between the ages 50-54. Peri-menopause can start as early as late 30’s but more commonly appears 40-45. Weight gain, specifically in your mid-section happens. Also known as the “midsection spread”. That word alone should not be allowed. It’s a terrible title. Evidence has shown, decreasing levels of estrogen directly effect metabolism and our bodies hold on to fat storage. Our strength and muscle tone declines more rapidly as well. Sleepless nights and stress levels contribute to the weight gain. And then there is the bone density loss and increased risk for heart disease. It all doesn’t seem fair.
Fact - you need to build a strong body now so you won’t have to go through the painful process of starting later after the proverbial S*@$t hits the fan. Many women in their 30’s are in the throws of bearing and raising children. Forging their career paths in the big world. Finding time to take on a battle that feels far away, may seem silly but it is extremely smart. Weight training, weight bearing and fat burning cardio exercise are key to avoiding the “midsection spread” - again TERRIBLE WORD. Changing how your body responds to the drop in estrogen levels now is the only way to take on this battle. And you want to go into to this battle wearing armor, riding a stallion and carrying a big sword. Not naked trotting on a poodle with a steak knife.
Adding muscle before menopause will help keep your metabolism rev-ing. It takes time to build muscle. Yes muscle does weigh more than fat and takes up less space. You can eventually shrink in inches while still gaining muscle weight. This process takes time. Unlike the high school boys in the gym who like to flex and claim, “l’ve put on 20 pounds of muscle in three months”. Yeah no. A good percentage of that is fat buddy. It takes some serious commitment to weight training and a pristine diet (no Starbucks treats runs allowed) to just put on .25 pounds of pure muscle. That is not realty for many of us. Slow and steady weight training before the onset of menopause is critical.
Weight bearing exercise will help slow bone density loss that quickens in peri and menopausal women. Weight bearing means carrying ones body weight in an activity. Walking, jogging, hiking are just the ticket. Skip the pool and bike. Standing for your weight training session counts too. Challenge yourself and train while standing on a balance trainer. Our balance also declines as we age. Stop the madness!
Society loves to blame our mental states on all the “M” words. At least we have something to blame. It is a fact that all those hormones affects your mental wellbeing, motivation and drive. Exercise will help elevate this. If you wait until you are at the lowest of your mental lows the battle is up hill. It’s kind of a vicious cycle. Your depressed, tired and don’t want to workout. Any sort of movement feels like you are pulling a mac truck along and you’d much rather self medicate with a cheese danish. If you can conquer this battle before menopause sets in you will be ahead of the game and you will be rewarded with a mighty dose of endorphins: The thing that helps improve your mental state.
A fitness program to battle the “M” word does not have to feel like boring slog or jail sentence. “Treadmill, weights, stretching then home” even typed on a page sounds like a snooze. Variety and excitement is the name of the game to help keep you engaged. Kettlebell, TRX, balance training, yoga, sandbags sprinkled in with some outdoor adventures like paddling or hiking a 4000 footer could be your ticket to success. Don't make it routine. Make it about learning and exploring. Fitness as a lifestyle will get you beyond the “M” word and possibly give you new ways to experience life in your 50's, 60's and later.