When you notice that your tummy is becoming a bit more rounded than you would like and elasticated waistbands suddenly seem like a good idea, you might think that a more rigorous exercise regime and hundreds of abdominal crunches will help you reclaim your waist. Unfortunately not. And in this article I’m going to explain why women approaching the menopause (age 35+) should take a smarter not harder approach to exercise.
As women head towards the menopause, the levels of estrogen and progesterone produced in their ovaries starts to decline. Whilst these two hormones themselves are not huge influencers in our ability to burn fat, they do interact and impact other hormones that play a much more significant role in our metabolism; insulin and cortisol.
Insulin and cortisol are a bad hormonal combination for fat loss. High levels of these hormones over long periods of time can encourage our bodies to store calories as body fat (rather than building muscle) and reduce the amount of fat burned (burning muscle instead). This isn’t good news for any women but it’s especially bad news for menopausal women.
How to exercise
First, you need to stop viewing exercise simply as a way to burn calories and consider the impact that your exercise programme is having on your hormones.
Cortisol (a stress hormone) is produced during intense exercise such as HIIT (high intensity interval training), metabolic conditioning, weight training and also when we undertake longer, more moderate exercise such as jogging.
However, when you work out intensely your body also produces growth promoting hormones such as HGH (human growth hormone) and testosterone and these hormones work with cortisol to burn fat and maintain and build muscle.
Long duration, more moderate intensity exercise has a different impact on our hormones. Cortisol levels are raised but you don’t get the benefit of the growth promoting hormones. Raising cortisol in this way at a time when our bodies are far more susceptible to its negative impact can often cause more problems than it solves.
Cortisol levels can also be controlled and lowered by engaging in physical activities that are relaxing. These include gentle Pilates or Yoga, Tai Chi or walking (at a leisurely pace rather than power walking). Activities such as having a massage, meditating or taking a sauna will also help.
Why is this so important?
Because the conventional advice that we hear and read is the exact opposite of everything I’ve just talked about. We’re told to run on the treadmill rather than walk and do 30 day plank challenges rather than meditate for 5 minutes. You can combat midlife weight gain by exercising smarter not harder. These are my exercise recommendations:
- Walk for one hour every day to lower your cortisol levels. Try Shinrin-yoko, or ‘Forest Bathing’. Walking in nature will bring those cortisol levels down even further.
- Exercise intensely three times a week – 30 minutes is great. Incorporate weight training into these workouts.
I really hope this article will make you think differently about exercise – I’d love to know what you think in the comments below.