Exercise is important. Throughout our lives, it keeps us fit, energised and healthy both in body and mind. It remains important as we age, especially through perimenopause and menopause. Not only will it help with weight fluctuations, but it has also been shown to be beneficial in reducing stress, anxiety and depression, all of which show up during and beyond menopause. Unfortunately, there are common exercise mistakes in menopause which often stop perimenopausal women from benefitting from their exercise efforts.
According to Debra Atkinson from Flipping 50, once in perimenopause and beyond, you have to find your ‘exercise sweet spot’, a balance that works for you.
Our bodies change throughout our lives so we need to change our workouts to follow suit. Read on for the three most common mistakes and how to fix them.
Menopause Exercise Mistake 1: Too Much or Too Little
When you enter perimenopause your oestrogen levels start to fall. So too, does your bone density, immunity, blood sugar balance, mood and concentration. Exercise can help to compensate for this reduction by stimulating testosterone, growth hormone, and neurotransmitters in the brain.
Testosterone and growth hormone help to maintain bone density, keep the metabolism high, and tackle bulging tummies. They also help to improve overall body tone. In turn, dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin are boosted by exercise, helping to maintain good brain function so your mood swings, anxiety and brain fog decrease. Too little exercise, then, can be detrimental to your overall health and wellbeing.
However, just as problematic is overexercising. Perhaps you have ignored the changes and been trying to exercise just as you did in your 30s? This was my approach at first and I suffered from increasingly frequent injuries and also felt really tired. It’s easy to fall into the trap of increasing your cardio to try to get rid of that spare tyre – maybe running for an hour or more, exercising hard nearly every day.
Overexercising, especially if you have a lot of stress in your life, leads to inflammation, insulin resistance and blood sugar imbalances, resulting in hard to shift excess weight around your middle, and general low energy.
How do you know you are exercising too much or not enough?
Funnily enough the symptoms are the same for both. Look out for symptoms such as feeling like you need to take a nap after exercise, constantly feeling tired, craving sugar, caffeine or constantly hungry. You’ll find it hard to relax and be still, or enjoy quiet time. Weight around the tummy won’t budge and there’s no muscle tone, despite exercising a lot. If you are experiencing any of these then you are either overdoing it or not doing enough. You’ll know which!
Menopause Exercise Mistake 2: Lack of Progressive Resistance and HIIT
Or maybe you’ve given up on all that ‘hard’ exercise stuff and focus on yoga, pilates, cardio machines and daily walking steps? This can feel safer at this time of your life – especially if you’ve never been a keen exerciser anyway and you tell yourself it’s too late to start now.
One of the symptoms of perimenopause can be joint aches and pains. Many women feel they need to limit their exercise to ‘gentle’ routines and getting their 20,000 steps a day. Or they stick with a light weights exercise programme and never develop it much.
Resistance training is using more demanding weights, resistance bands, body weight such as squats, lunges, press ups, burpees. As you get stronger you increase the loads. This, together with high-intensity interval training, is great for stimulating testosterone and growth hormone. Make sure you have good instruction from a qualified PT, of course.
Menopause Exercise Mistake 3: Forgetting Recovery
This is often forgotten, especially when you think you have to exercise more to get rid of that tummy. After heavy exercise the body needs time to recover. Active recovery, nutrition, sleep, hydration and stress management are very important recovery strategies.
Now you know why you may not be feeling energised, but what can you do?
How To Combat Your Menopause Exercise Mistakes
Find your own personal “sweet spot” for exercise – remember this may not be the same as somebody else’s. Start with where you are now, not what you used to do or be like. know what is too much or too little for you. Pay attention to what your body, energy, mood, sleep is telling you about your exercise habits. If your present exercise, or lack of it, and lifestyle habits are not working for you, stop exercising for 5-10 days, allow your body to reset itself and then begin again.
Introduce progressive resistance training. Two whole body resistance sessions plus two high intensity interval training sessions are enough – the latter can be added onto the resistance training if time is an issue. Start slowly and build up. Aim to reach muscle fatigue by the end of each exercise set. Here is an easy rule to follow to make sure your exercise routine is progressing. Once you find an exercise too easy, increase the resistance – unless you have an injury, in which case seek help to learn how to exercise around that injury. Resistance can be increased by changing one of these variables: add more weight, increase repetitions, or add in more sets.
Schedule in recovery days. Experiment with how much time you need to recover between heavy exercise days. Some people need just one day, others more. Recovery includes active recovery on the days you are not exercising. Examples of active recovery could be moving gently throughout the day, rather than sitting down and doing nothing. Pilates, yoga, stretching, gentle walking for no more than 1 hour, pottering in the garden, gentle short swim, easy cycling, and sports massage are all good recovery activities.
You also need to factor in recovery from stress. Make sure you are having proper sleep (difficult I know in perimenopause! – a consistent sleep routine can help), connection with friends, loved ones, pets, walking in nature, fun, listening to music, meditation, reading, relaxing aromatherapy massage.
Don’t forget nutrition. Keep blood sugar levels stable by reducing your sugar intake, and eating no more than 2 portions of fruit a day – fruit is high in sugar and will stimulate too much insulin release.
Are you eating enough protein? Protein is needed to boost muscle mass and metabolism. Aim for between 0.6 and 1.2g of protein per kg of body weight per day.
And get B vitamins, magnesium, vitamin D and essential fats into your body. They are important in helping to boost energy levels.
Proper hydration. Drink water throughout the day. Use alarms on your phone to remind you to drink. I can easily forget to drink. One thing I do is to drink about ½ a litre of water at set times: 7am. 12 noon, 3pm, 5pm, 7pm
It took some time to find what worked for me and my body. My advice is to just get started and be patient, gentle and kind to yourself.
What works for you? Leave a comment and let me know what you do.