Importance of Exercise Through Menopause and Beyond
By Meaghan Massenat, MS, CSCS
Does it feel harder to keep the weight off, or to lose weight now that you’ve hit menopause? It’s not your imagination. With your decline in estrogen levels your metabolism has slowed down, which means you burn less calories each hour, and excess calories get stored as fat, mainly in your mid-section. Less estrogen also results in lower bone density and reduced muscle mass. But, you don’t have to sit down and take it. You can fight back.
Since your metabolism is slower, you probably need to eat less than you are used to, but that’s not the only adjustment you should make. If you’re not currently exercising, most days of the week, it’s time to get started (and it’s never too late). I’m not referring to going for a walk every day, although you don’t have to stop that, but more intense workouts that include strength training will get you results more quickly. A recent medical study showed significantly better body composition benefits for women who worked out with moderate to vigorous intensity for 5 hours/week, vs the typically recommended 2.5 hours/week.
Strength training is essential for maintaining muscle mass, which declines at a rate of 5-10 pounds per decade beginning around the age of 30 (if you don’t progressively strength train). As you build muscle you will increase your metabolism and help to burn off body fat. Strength training also helps to maintain bone density, improves mobility and enhances your activities of daily living.
A strength training program must be progressive in order to be effective. Lifting 2 pound dumbbells for every exercise, every day will only take you so far. Weights should be heavy enough to bring on muscle fatigue within 12-15 reps initially, and once strong enough even 8-10 reps. Your body will adapt and get stronger and when it does you’ll need to increase the weights…again, and again, and again… (you get the picture).
Working with a knowledgeable personal trainer is a great place to start if you’re unsure how to safely begin an exercise program. Your personal trainer will be able to teach you proper technique to avoid injury, explain to you the benefits of each exercise, incorporate balance exercises to improve your reaction time during instabilities, and can also help stretch your muscles at the end of the workout so that you can feel less stiff.