Way back in July I started a 5-part series about hormones and weight gain after 40.
In that post, I highlighted the physical changes that many women experience during peri-menopause and the menopause transition itself. The picture I painted wasn’t pretty and many of you wrote to say that you’ve experienced the changes I described, including muscle loss, weight gain, insatiable food cravings and a belly or ‘muffin top’ that won’t go away
I outlined what I believe (based on research, my experience training many 40+ female clients and what works for my 46-year old body…) to be the four most effective strategies for dealing with hormonally-induced mid-life weight gain; (1) nutrition, (2) exercise, (3) sleep and (4) stress management and promised to write a post about each, in turn.
You can catch up on the 2nd instalment of the series here >> Why nutrition matters even more now
Today’s post, Exercise for hormonal balance, represents part 3.
And keep your eyes open for parts 4 and 5; I promise I won’t make you wait another 4 months 😉
Exercise for hormonal balance
We all know that exercise is good for us.
It strengthens our heart, our lungs and our muscles. It helps to regulate blood sugars and fat storage. It improves bone density and stimulates the production of ‘feel good’ hormones. It’s essential for weight loss and weight maintenance.
Indeed, many women experiencing perimenopausal weight gain increase their frequency and duration of exercise in an attempt to ‘out run’ middle-age spread.
The thing is, exercise also creates stress on the body. Not just mechanical (wear and tear on the joints) and muscular stress (aches and pains as muscles repair the micro tears created by exercise), but hormonal stress as the adrenals increase their production of cortisol to keep energy levels high and the body’s various systems running effectively.
While chronically high cortisol levels are never desirable (resulting in extreme fatigue, reduced immune response and low blood pressure, among others), they’re even less welcome in a perimenopausal body whose production of progesterone is at an all-time low.
Why? The adrenals cannot make cortisol without progesterone. The more cortisol they’re required to make to offset stress, the less progesterone will be available to balance estrogen and testosterone. Without the balancing effects of progesterone, excess estrogen often leads to weight gain, in particular, an increase in the body’s central fat stores. Hello muffin-top.
Clearly we need to balance the benefits of exercise with the potential costs of elevated stress. I call this ‘exercise for hormonal balance’ and suggest the following:
- Lose the ‘more is better’ mindset. Shorter, more intense workouts will stimulate cortisol production less than longer, less intense workouts. Think cardio intervals rather than long, slow runs. If you’re having a hard time letting go of this mindset, think of how many over-40 women you know who’ve trained for a half- or full-marathon and failed to lose or maintain weight despite the volume of their training.
- Practice efficiency in exercise. Choose compound, whole body movements rather than isolation exercises. Involving more muscles in your workout not only burns more calories (both during the workout and later), it also reduces the length of your training session. I prefer metabolic circuits over body-part splits for myself and my 40+ female clients.
- Add more non-exercise movement to your day. As cliche as it sounds, taking the stairs, parking farther from the mall, carrying your groceries rather than pushing a cart, hanging the laundry to dry and washing floors all help to increase your metabolism without causing hormonal stress on your body.
- Engage in formal exercise 4 or 5 days per week. For best results, alternate strength and cardiovascular training days, keeping each workout between 30 and 45 minutes in length.
So what might this look like in practice?
(Recall that although I am a certified personal trainer, the following program is a general one, and may not be appropriate for all individuals depending on their fitness goals, current fitness level and physical abilities).
Monday: Cardio intervals on the elliptical. 30:60 s work:recovery intervals for a total of 20 minutes. Cool down and stretch.
Tuesday: Metabolic strength circuit. 12-15 repetitions of each of the following exercises, in rapid succession, 2-3 times through. Dumbbell squats, pushups, walking lunges, TRX inverted rows, barbell dead lifts and Russian twists on the stability ball
Wednesday: Active recovery. 60 minute leisurely walk and chat with a friend.
Thursday: Cardio intervals on the treadmill. 60:60 s work:recovery intervals for a total of 20 minutes. Cool down and stretch.
Friday: Metabolic strength circuit. 12-15 repetitions of each of the following exercises, in rapid succession, 2- 3 times through. Weighted squat jumps, chest press on the ball, alternating lateral lunges, assisted pull ups, single leg straight leg dead lifts and Bosu abdominal curls.
Saturday and Sunday: Active time spent with family and friends. Perhaps a yoga class for relaxation and meditation.
Next up: Sleep and Hormonal Imbalance
Interested in learning more about exercise and nutrition during the peri-menopausal years? Make sure you’re on my email list to be the first to hear about the next round of my online fitness program for 40+ women. In the words of a recent participant;
It wasn’t until I was deep into this amazing program that I truly realized its astounding value. It is so much more than an online fitness program. I expected to lose weight and gain muscle but I got so much more. It was about reclaiming my health, and as a consequence my life, in this ever changing 40+ body of mine.
I have always been a fitness enthusiast but things have changed since I turned 40. My body isn’t as keen on pushing myself to the limits every day with earth moving cardio. I have the injuries to prove it. My body has let me quietly know that the diet I had 10 years ago is no longer going to work. Tamara helped me work through the food and exercise challenges. She wisely let me take the lead (and accountability) as the key detective but provided me with the information and guidance to be a good one. Honestly, I didn’t even know where to look before.
I completed the program feeling stronger, rejuvenated and just plain healthier. I also made some wonderful connections with like-minded (with similar struggles) women. We cheered each other on, laughed at our slips and groaned together about our newly discovered muscles. I highly recommend this program to any woman over 40, looking for a new, healthier and happier outlook on her health.