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Menopause: Should we be hitting the weights not the treadmill?

Leading on from last week’s blog, this week we are talking about which exercises we should include into our training and why. With so many women shying away from weighted exercises due to the “bulk factor” it’s important to put this nonsense behind us, and focus purely on the benefits, we need to ask ourselves why we are doing this, what are we getting out of this and how this training is improving our health and fitness. 

Exercises for Bone Density:

Many women nearing menopausal age have an established regimen of yoga and cardio-focused classes. I would never advise removing classes or exercises that you enjoy. However, if you fall into the category of women who do not incorporate any resistance training into their program, you are doing nothing to mitigate the almost certain loss of lean mass and bone density. Sorry, those 5lb dumbbells and 10lb kettlebells from your cardio classes do not provide enough resistance or loading. Create a plan and be specific. 

You need heavy resistance training to maintain and improve your bone density. Understand heavy as heavy relative to your size and strength. Know that you do not need to lift tons of weights or bulk up. You simply need to test the limits of your physical strength. Use movements like the following to safely apply heavy loading to your system. Prioritize using the heaviest load you can handle safely. These movements are all about full engagement and timeundertension.

  • Deadlifts: If you feel comfortable and confident, use the barbell deadlift. For a safer option try suitcase deadlifts with a heavy kettlebell or dumbbell (or bag of shopping or jug of milk) in each hand. You can make these safer still by starting with the weights elevated on a small box. Move slowly and even add a long pause at the top to increase your time under tension.
  • Farmer’s Carries: Pick up a heavy weight in each hand (suitcase deadlift) and carry them. This will add stability challenges to your heavy loading. Think core control and stability. 
  • Yoke Holds or Walks: Stand or walk with a barbell or yoke on your shoulders. As with the farmer’s carries, walking provides a great challenge to your balance, focus, and stability. For safer loading, skip the walk and just bear the weight and stand. Focus on your posture and position. Simply being under heavy load will stimulate increases in connective tissue strength and bone density.
  • Sleds: Push or pull a heavy sled. You can do this fast or slow as long as the primary focus remains on work capacity.

Your body might naturally be losing bone density, but you do not need to accept this as a sentence of osteoporosis or frailty. With a few adjustments to your habits, you can maintain strong bone health late into life.

Maintaining and building lean Muscle Mass:

Like bone density, most women begin to experience losses in lean muscle mass as they enter menopause. Maintaining a strong (Again, not to mean huge or bulky) amount of lean mass helps optimize health for everyone regardless of age or gender. Mid-life and menopause both typically lead to significant loses in lean mass. Maintaining and building lean mass is now more important than ever. 

Muscle mass is not only important to maintain your strength and vitality. Muscle tissue demands fuel and will take up blood glucose when instructed to. Building and maintaining lean mass are great ways to stave off the effects of decrease insulin sensitivity. This in turn supports a healthy level of body fat. 

Incorporate heavy resistance into functional movements to get the greatest benefit in building and maintaining your muscle mass. Favour movements that support your everyday activities. Some of the best options are:

  • Weighted Lunges: Walking lunges provide the best challenge to your stability. Scale with stationary lunges (split squats) to progress toward walking lunges.
  • Push Ups: Full range of motion push ups with chest to the floor. Scale these by elevating your hands on a box or wall or performing them from your knees, rather than shortening range of motion. Remember there are always alternatives. 
  • Ring or TRX Rows: These offer an infinitely adjustable scale for pull ups. You can walk your feet forward and back to adjust the difficulty. Add a static hold at the top and a slow decent to increase the muscle-building benefit.

Stretching: Strengthening and Lengthening:

Stretching is particularly important for menopausal women. In a small Japanese study, published in the journal Menopause, women who stretched for just 10 minutes a day saw a self-reported improvement in their menopausal symptoms, including mood and sleep quality, after just three weeks.

Walking

We all know we should be hitting our 10,000 steps a day, but are we?

In our sedentary culture It's sometimes easy to forget that walking can have a powerful effect on our health and wellbeing, numerous studies have shown that it can help with everything from low mood and anxiety to staving off muscle loss in older age. ‘If you're new to exercise, then brisk walking is an excellent starting point,' I'm a big fan of walking outdoors every day and at speed to get my entire body moving and energised. It's a wonderful way of clearing the head, and can even aid sleep, as well as getting our pooches steps in. Make it work for you! 

So, ladies don’t shy away from the weights, embrace them. If you’re unsure of how to perform the exercises just ask! Training smart is key.  I suggest incorporating x2 45-minute resisted sessions per week, that's an hour and a half out of your 168 in a week.

8766 hours in one year. Can you make time for 78 …? 

#makethecommitment