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Muscle in Menopause - why you need it

If you've fallen down the "everything menopause" rabbit hole like I have, then you'll start to notice how much the Facebook and Instagram algorithm is sending you messages like "Get rid of your Meno-Belly FAST and NOW!" But the message I know that is the truest of them all has to do with muscle in menopause and why you need it more than ever. 

Indulge me for a hot minute while I rant about how cringey I'm finding all the obvious marketing to the menopause market right now. Particularly the products that promise to melt away that fat on your belly, hips and thighs. Pl-uh-ease! Were we all born yesterday??? Thanks for letting me do that. I feel better already.

Let's get to it. Skeletal muscle makes up 30-40% of the total body mass, is metabolically active (burns energy/calories), connects bones via tendons and ligaments to facilitate movement and has a complex interconnection with the nervous system. 

So here's the thing. The menopause transition will have you losing up to 16% of your lean muscle mass from the age of 30. It's called "sarcopenia" and this happens with the decline in oestrogen and the down-regulation of receptors in your muscles to respond to oestrogen.

The oestrogen/muscle connection results in:

  • loss of muscle mass and response to stimuli (movement and weight training)

  • a shift from Type 2 muscle fibres (fast twitch explosive dynamic) to Type 1 muscle fibres (slow twitch endurance)

  • reduced speed and efficiency

  • a reduction in protein synthesis responsible for muscle repair, recovery and adaptation

  • higher sensitivity to muscular stress from training

The key point that menopausal women who are experiencing faster and unwanted fat gain need to know.

Muscle plays a major role in the uptake of glucose from the blood stream in response to insulin. When there is suboptimal glucose uptake, as in menopause, we can develop an insulin resistance which leads to increased fat storage, increased inflammation and the challenge with moving and recovering from exercise.

I have a personal love-hate relationship with weight training. When I was a personal trainer in my 20's and competing as Ms Fitness New Zealand internationally, my workouts were heavily skewed towards weight training. I was 10kg heavier than I am today but significantly leaner. In my 30's I found marathons, group fitness back-to-back classes and any workout that would elevate my heart rate as fast as possible for the limited time I had due to career goals and having a family. I also cherished the rush of endorphins that cardio provided and to be honest, I was a bit burnt out from competing and dieting for 10 years of my life. The weights went untouched for many years. 

Enter my 40's and I'm the fittest I've ever been. Except that it's all feeling a little too hard and it's taking longer to recover. Two classes/day went down to one HIIT workout/day and a lot more yoga. The weights lay untouched and collecting dust. Once I realised I was in perimenopause (read all about it in My Menopause Memoir), the science unequivocally pointed back to weight training. And not some light weights that I can strap to my ankles to tone my booty or a resistance band to crab-walk up and down the room. I'm talking barbells, dumb bells and chin ups.  

Here are my TOP TIPS to integrate weight training into your life during menopause:

  • If you are a complete beginner, seek a personal trainer. Vet them to see if they know anything about menopause and how to train women in menopause. 

  • Start with the basics - squats, deadlifts, pulls and pushes.

  • Weights that are heavy enough to fatigue the muscle at 8 -10 repetitions. 3 - 4 rounds

  • Compound muscle groups - where you are using more than one muscle in a movement. Don't waste your time on seated bicep curls, better to do some chin ups.

  • Up to 72 hours between weight training sessions to recover fully. This means 2 sessions/week.

  • Use light cardio, yoga, stretching and walking in between weight training sessions to maintain your cardiovascular fitness, mobility and flexibility. Only do this if you have the energy, otherwise REST.

  • Schedule a core workout at least once a week. Those core muscles are essential for your posture and injury prevention.

  • Don't think about it, just subscribe to the Sexy Ageing Fitness and Lifestyle APP! Everything you need is there - FREE One Week Trial, 30 day and 3 month programs and monthly subscriptions.


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