What Do Health and Fitness Experts Often Overlook with Women Over 40?
Today we are talking about women’s health and fitness after 40, so let’s jump in.
As perimenopause kicks in, estrogen levels drop. Most of our understanding of menopause is either incomplete or shallow. Do you know why many menopausal women find themselves gaining weight, specifically, around the belly? Menopause is not a process confined to older women alone, some younger women go through ‘mini menopause’ based on stress
Both perimenopause and menopause often coincide with elevated stress level leading to higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. This combination of higher cortisol paired with insulin and low estrogen makes gaining body fat easier. It also makes sleep more difficult.
Here are some science-based effects of cortisol that we know from human biology.
Cortisol, adrenaline, and other stress hormones increase heart rate, slow digestion, and increase blood pressure, all to allow greater blood flow to our muscles, heart, and brain to be able to think or act quickly in the face of immediate or acute stress.
Working out (at home or a gym) is important but not enough alone to optimize our metabolism or body. You’ll need to dial in the right nutrition, the right sleep, and some effective, non-drug relaxation to lower stress levels and cortisol. One of the simplest is something most humans learn to do at about age 1 but often neglect. What is it?…
We all need daily movement on our feet. Humans are not designed to sit all day as we often do. The cool thing is walking help as it relaxes the “fight or flight” reaction of our sympathetic nervous system, especially outside in nature. This is a proven way to lower the stress hormone cortisol. But wait there are even more benefits…
Walking at least 30 to 60+ minutes per day, helps us improve metabolism & digestion, shed unwanted body fat, decrease stress, strengthen your bones, and ramp up your muscle power, and recovery from a specific type of short metabolic strength workouts 2 to 3 times per week. We often start with just bodyweight exercises and then add minimal equipment like fitness bands or maybe dumbbell weights. This has been very effective and very sustainable with all of our most successful coaching clients.
Walking after the workout helps to relax and again lower that cortisol. It can also help reduce your risk of developing conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and some cancers.
Humans are designed to move daily not sit all day. Meditation, yoga and being around positive people or new active fun can boost the relaxation response too.
Now, here’s another key point from Andres Panagos, M.D who answered a key question in these busy times we live in:
What is the Least Amount of Hard Exercise to get Significant Health Benefits?
For some working out hard can feel so good, that you look forward to doing it for up to an hour or more. But this can be too much for many women 40+.
That’s why with our VitalityON coaching we researched the science and found that shorter, smarter workouts of 15 to 30 minutes is enough to burn body fat and to keep your metabolism working well if done correctly with the right lifestyle habits. But what about those extra crazy weeks? Can you reduce it even more and still benefit?
Yes, because the amount of exercise you need for health benefits is less than you may think. In fact, a large study on exercise and mortality found something researchers did not expect, that challenging exercise for as little as five to fifteen minutes a day could significantly lower your risk of premature death (Lee D.C. et. al., 2014).
So no matter how busy you are, we are sure you can fit in five minutes a day of vigorous exercises, such as circuit strength training (our favorite), jump-roping, or non or lower impact HIIT. Consider simple things in your daily routine such as walking up several flights of stairs while at work. Over the long-term, even brief amounts of exercise may add years to your life. (This is also called this micro-workouts or Tabata).
After hard exercise this is ideal…a session of simple static stretching can result in short-term cardiovascular benefits as well.
When you stretch, your brain releases compounds that not only relax your skeletal muscles but also relax the small muscles in the walls of your blood vessels (Farinatti et al., 2011). This results in dilation, which can lower your blood pressure and support decreased cortisol and better sleep.
Fat Loss is about Calories, Hormones & Stress Control Habits
So to recap, more is not better for a woman in peri-menopause or menopause. The reason is the body is stressed by too much so it’s best to reduce intense exercise to a max of 20 to 40 minutes with off-days in between. If you have a bad night’s sleep it’s 100% OK to postpone your workout but still move and get your steps (more below)
So for most of my coaching clients, this means 3 to 4 workouts per week. This includes HIIT, steady cardio or strength training. Relaxed walking after intense exercise is ideal to reduce cortisol levels somewhat and promote relaxation. Avoid long 45+ minute, intense exercise sessions, as this increases cortisol.
Increase Active Fun: To lower cortisol & help reduce belly fat, engaging in pleasurable active fun can relieve stress. Dance, walking outside, recreational cycling, meditation, sex, yoga, tai-chi, and even yard work can be effective methods for some.
10K Steps / Day: If can, get your daily step count up to 10,000 or more on non-workout days. Add some humor, music and hugs for even more cortisol reduction.
OK so time to wrap this up and hit the save button and jump on a Zoom coaching call with a client. As we can see, chronic high stress can lead to a host of health problems. De-stressing and activating a resting state is important for maintaining a proper balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
Don’t be extreme with the failed “eat less & exercise more” mentality. You are biologically unique and will need to find the right combination of nutrition, movement, stress control, sleep and short, smart muscle fatiguing workouts. If you are scientifically inclined you can test different variables via trial and error .
Or get some expert help so you can fast track your results by working with an effective, older fit coach who has worked with hundreds of women on 3 continents and has been a metabolism & fitness science geek for decades.
For any questions contact us and if you have not taken my quick Fit & Fat Loss I Q Quiz it’s free and waiting here 🙂
Did you find anything interesting in this post?… I’d love to know 🙂
Schneider R. et al. Abstract 1177: Effects of Stress Reduction on Clinical Events in African Americans With Coronary Heart Disease: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Circulation. 2009. 120:S461.
Nidich S. et al. A randomized controlled trial of the effects of transcendental meditation on quality of life in older breast cancer patients. Integr Cancer Ther. 2009 Sep;8(3):228-34.
Nidich S. et al. A randomized controlled trial on effects of the Transcendental Meditation program on blood pressure, psychological distress, and coping in young adults. Am J Hypertens. 2009 Dec;22(12):1326-31. Epub 2009 Oct 1.
Farinatti, Paulo Tv, Carolina Brandão, Pedro Ps Soares, and Antonio Fa Duarte. “Acute Effects of Stretching Exercise on the Heart Rate Variability in Subjects With Low Flexibility Levels.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 25.6 (2011): 1579-585.
APA Stress Survey: Children are More Stressed Than Parents Realize:
< http://www.apapracticecentral.org/update/2009/11-23/stress-survey.aspx >
New York Times article: Can Meditation Curb Heart Attacks?:
< http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/20/can-meditation-curb-heart-attacks/ >
Washington Post article: From incarceration to meditation?:
< http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/13/AR2009121302680.html >
BBC article: Meditation eases heart disease:
< http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/8363302.stm >