I’ve been baking sourdough bread during the pandemic. It’s a simple, ancient process. The yeast is activated with flour, water, salt, and time, creating a starter which grows, and as a living organism, it needs to be tended, and rested. Over the years I’ve neglected it – travel, work, family – life gets in the way. The yeast slowed waaay down, but it reactivated, and baking resumed. It’s resilient.
You get where I’m going here – this newsletter issue isn’t about baking, but I couldn’t resist the metaphor!
Some women sail through menopause with mild or no symptoms. Not you? Me either. My symptoms were classic through perimenopause (irregular cycle, crabby, poor sleep…) but I had no idea what was going on with my body because so much was going in in my life. Then my period ended abruptly with a crashing halt at around the same time as my divorce. I was glad it was over – the marriage and the periods – and I felt liberated, but so depleted mentally and physically. As a mom of 6 kids, stress came from all angles. As a runner and cyclist, I tried to run and ride more and longer, which didn’t help at all.
Everything changed when I began training strength and power. Along with physical strength, my mental clarity improved, and I felt in control and balanced. PLUS it improved cycling power!
One of the benefits of strength training is efficiency. An effective workout can be done in 20 minutes.
So what happens if you started, you saw results, but then got off track? It happens to everyone.
There are so many legit reasons that we may need to take a break from an exercise routine for illness, injury, vacation, family, holidays, or a busy time at work.
Menopause shouldn’t be one of them, but it happens…
Recovery should be built into your program anyway, especially through menopause.
But if time away from training is unplanned, it can be discouraging and frustrating – for you athletes the feeling of failure, and lack of control can do a number on your head – seeing performance drop can feel terrible. Don’t beat yourself up. Adjust your resistance/weight, repetitions, and volume, allow gradual progression, and you’ll see results. You got this. You are resilient.
It’s never too late.
The need for consistent exercise training is indisputable, and finding the balance that’s right for you is critical to success. If you’ve been off for a while, something is always better than nothing. Long, intense, regular workouts aren’t in the cards right now, so moving your body throughout the day 10-15 minutes at a time can make starting again less arduous. Gradually add weight/resistance, pushing, pulling, lifting in all 3 planes of motion. Hit some lunges and squats in the kitchen, or go up and down the stairs two-at-a time. Do push ups. Do body weight training – calisthenics – Here are some great body weight exercises and inspiring calisthenic moves.
Strength training improves metabolic and mental health.
Strength training enables the body to efficiently use energy even at rest, which is not the case with cardio exercise alone. Adding strength training to your program of running, cycling, and other cardio will also improve performance and protect against injury. Gaining strength will empower you mentally as well as physically.
I called into the radio show All Of It on WNYC on October 13th to comment on the Strength training segment with Casey Johnston.
Give it a listen. Right before I called I was CHEERING! (I’m at the very end at 22:04.)
Want a strength and cardio workout? Try rowing: The classic 1 minute on, 1 minute rest AMRAP (as many reps as possible) to fatigue. How many are you able to do maintaining power, or split?
Rowing as a workout in itself is great, and it’s been fantastic as cross-training for cycling. It’s also fun and effective as part of a circuit workout.
Every rowing stroke utilizes about 90% of every muscle in the body and provides a strength plus cardio. A NYTimes article this week explains the benefits of rowing for everyone at every age and every fitness level.
It’s no secret that nutrition – your diet – will have an effect on health and performance at any age, but it’s particularly important during the time before, during and after menopause. This is a great article in The Guardian about how nutrition and exercise helps with midlife changes to our bodies.
If you’re into podcasts, here’s Dr. Adam Rinde interviewing Dr. Stacy Sims, author of the “science-based layperson’s book (ROAR), written to explain sex differences in training and nutrition across the lifespan.” The book “challenged the existing dogma for women in exercise, nutrition, and health.”
Science isn’t conclusive on whether hormones can be changed with diet and exercise, but “issues like stress and hormones may play a role in our fitness journey at any age, and how we can navigate obstacles to become the best possible version of ourselves.” Read Dr. Maria Luque on women’s health, fitness, and hormones. She’s a contributing author to the NASM Women’s Fitness Specialization program, and the founder of Fitness in Menopause.
Dr. Luque says, while there is no solid evidence to suggest that physical activity can balance hormones, resistance training, especially heavy resistance training has been linked to increases in growth hormone. For women over 35, increasing GH can be especially beneficial.
I hope this and other Thoughtbox articles are interesting, educational, and helpful for you. It’s exciting to be a part of the coaching and training community learning how science is finally supporting strength and nutrition through menopause and beyond.
I’d love to know how you’ve been experiencing this time in your life. Are you training differently – adding strength? Have you had lapses in training, and then resumed? Share your story!