Our experts unlock the secret to effective workouts as you get older.
Maybe it’s taking you longer to recover from your usual gym workouts. Or suddenly your abs look as though they are lost in a softening middle. Or you just can’t seem to motivate yourself to get out of bed for that morning run anymore.
Sound familiar? It’s not just you. Growing older and the hormonal fluctuations related to perimenopause can change the fitness game. This shift doesn’t hit everyone the same way, or to the same degree. But it helps to know what’s happening and what you can do about it.
You can do something about those hormones
You’re sweating it out in the gym as much as you always have, and you haven’t changed your diet. Yet somehow you’re gaining belly fat, the kind linked to health issues like diabetes and heart disease. What’s going on? “Even women who are athletes, who eat right and work out, they’re at their wits end,” says nutrition and fitness coach Miriam Amselem of her 40-something clients. “They say, ‘I’m doing the same stuff I always have. Why am I gaining weight?’”
Well for one thing, there’s your slowing metabolism, which happens as you get older thanks to a decline in human growth hormone (HGH). More specific to those experiencing perimenopause, however, is that as your oestrogen levels decline, certain proteins cause your fat cells to store more fat.
But don’t throw in the towel. There’s growing evidence that you can fight back – and slay those hot flushes – by eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Rebecca Thurston, PhD, whose research focuses on menopause and cardiovascular disease (CVD) in women, says studies show that women who manage to avoid gaining weight (or who don’t gain as much) through perimenopause and beyond are the ones who stay physically active – but the kind of exercise you do as well as the amount matters. (Keep reading for tips!)
Building lean muscle is the way to go
Spin classes and long weekend runs used to keep you lean. Now? Not so much. Time to reduce your kilojoules and do even more cardio, right? Well, maybe not. “Most women believe the right approach is to exercise more and eat less, but that results in an even more increased stress response,” says clinical nutrition and fitness coach Ariane Hundt.
Lower oestrogen can make perimenopausal women more sensitive to stress, which can raise cortisol levels and lead to packing on the kilos around your waist. “Doing steady cardio and working out hard most days of the week can really drive cortisol, which contributes to inflammation and belly fat,” warns naturopath Tyna Moore. She says the best strategy is to shift your focus to building lean muscle mass and resting.
Get active for the sake of your bones
If your abs seem to be disappearing and your push-ups feel like they’re getting harder to perform, it may not be your imagination. Both women and men lose muscle and bone mass as they grow older. This is called sarcopenia, and it can also slow down your metabolism. It begins in your 30s and accelerates once you hit 40. Inactive adults lose 3-5 per cent of their muscle mass and function each decade. Active people experience some sarcopenia, too, but the good news is it’s not as severe if you’re working out regularly.
Give your body the rest it craves (minus the guilt)
There may be mornings when you wake up feeling like your usual workout is absolutely, positively not happening today. On top of that, when you do make it to the gym, you may get tired more quickly and take longer to recover.
Fluctuating oestrogen can cause what’s known as “crashing fatigue” – meaning exhaustion hits you suddenly, out of the blue – says personal trainer Amanda Thebe. Perimenopausal women also often have trouble sleeping, and sleep disturbances can make you feel wiped and mess with your fitness program, adds Thurston.
The fix, says Thebe, is to provide your body with the rest it craves, which might mean building more rest days into your exercise schedule. It may seem counterintuitive, but giving yourself more rest time can make your workouts more effective.
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