Women, weight gain, and menopause; Part two – exercise!

When I wrote in my last blog post about women’s belly fat in menopause, people took notice. Belly fat can definitely happen as we age – for women and men alike. The article centered primarily on the stress hormone, cortisol and the implications of high-stress levels throughout life. Stress causes us to gain weight, and for many who are considered obese, stress is a principal cause both early and later in life.

One of the big questions I get from my clients is how to plan workouts for optimal weight and overall wellness.  The good news is that you do not need to train for a marathon to optimize your workout routine and control your weight.  If you believe that, go back and read my blog post “Lessons from a Fat Runner”.  Additionally, it’s absolutely important for you to understand that obsessive exercise including excessive cardio work, causes high stress in the body. Remember, cortisol is the stress hormone and when activated, it scurries through the body looking for new ways and special places to store energy or fat because you’ve put your body into fight or flight mode. Stop that. Stop it right now.

The truth is, an ideal exercise routine for every human on this planet (unless you ARE specifically training for a high-intensity competition like a marathon, century ride, or Ironman) consists of 3 things:

  • You need to get the heart-rate up the equivalent of 2.5 hours a week or approximately 150-175 minutes a week (Mishra, N). For me, this consists of running every day-ish for about 30 minutes. Some weeks it’s more, some less ~ and certainly it’s more if I’m training. If you don’t run, walk really fast, ride a bike, use a stair-stepper, do high-intensity intervals, step up and down on a sturdy block or stair (add a few weights if you like), jump-rope, skip, chase your kids or grandkids around the yard, swim a lot, play racquetball or tennis;
  • Throw heavy stuff around. This does NOT need to be in a gym. Get a 20-25 pound kettle bell and swing it around. Do squats with it. Hold it over your head and walk from one end of the room to the other and back. Pace a room doing lunges holding onto two 5 or 10 pound dumbbells in each hand. Swing a gallon of water around. Hang from a tree. See how far you can pull yourself up. Carry a baby and do some baby-bench presses. Play airplane with your kids and balance them on your feet. Swing a sledge hammer. Chop wood. Dig a garden. Do squats while you pull weeds. Push a big tire across your yard. Move some rocks. All of these things will keep your bones healthy and happy;
  • Do some breath/body movement to keep the stress down and thus control the cortisol levels. If you don’t want to do yoga, how about Tai chi, Pilates, Qigong, meditation, or just breathe. For more on this, see my earlier post “Just Breathe“.

That’s your exercise routine. You’ve got this – a little cardio (30 minutes a day), throw heavy stuff around, and breath/body movement. In my next blog post, I’ll talk a little about other hormones, the food we eat, and inflammation and how these things tie back to our weight and overall wellness. If you want to learn more about how I can help you plan your optimal workout and how to eat for peak health and wellness, go to the “Tell Me About You” tab on the main menu and I will be in touch to set up a time to chat and help you set your body goals, and see if one of my programs is a good fit for you.

(Mishra, Nalini and Mishra, V.N. – Exercise beyond menopause; do’s and don’t’s. Journal of Mid-Life Health – July 2011)

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