The Final Solution for Menopause: Strength Training
Menopause usually occurs in women between the ages of 45 and 55 years.
Sometime after turning 45 years old, a woman’s ovaries will slowly begin to decline in estrogen and progesterone hormone production: a process most commonly known as menopause.
There are both physical and psychological symptoms linked to menopause. The physical changes are driven by a loss of estrogen hormones. One of these changes is increased belly fat, which is a risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The other is the loss of muscle. Muscle loss means that women become weaker and stand more of a chance of developing problems such as osteoporosis.
When it comes to menopausal women, there’s one thing in common from a physiological point of view: you are becoming weaker.
The answer to this is a well-designed Strength Training protocol more than “cardio”.
The Connection between Strength Training, menopause and hormones.
As women age, the ability to build muscle declines, with the added gift of menopause that ability is even more difficult. Estrogen plays a significant role in building muscle, so when that hormone starts to decline it becomes more important than ever for you to focus on maintaining and building lean muscle mass.
Lean muscle mass does not equal a big bulging body, in fact usually the opposite is true. Muscle is a compact substance, taking up less space than fat. Which usually sees women dropping dress sizes even if the number on the scale doesn’t move. This, in turn, has been shown to be a positive way to reduce your risk of obesity and diabetes.
Building lean muscle has been shown to help keep vasomotor symptoms of menopause in check. Up to 70% of women reported reduced hot flashes and night sweats in a recent study, compared to the cardio bunnies who had a lower amount of lean muscle.
Many of the well-known aging diseases like osteoporosis and CVD are linked with menopause, as estrogen plays a positive role in both heart health and our skeletal muscle. Once we see a decline in estrogen, it’s important that you actively do everything you can to combat such risks.
Estrogen plays a key role in regulating the absorption and breakdown of collagen while also assisting one’s bladder function (holding and releasing urine specifically)
Changes in estrogen levels during menopause can have an effect on the pelvic floor. This may mean that women are more susceptible to urine leaking post menopause due to the reduction in estrogen.
Therefore, adopting a strength training routine may aid in maintaining good pelvic floor health and decrease the risk of urinary incontinence. For example, performing exercises such as squats, glute bridges and kegels with intentional, controlled contractions can help reinforce stability and proper muscle engagement in the pelvic region.
Symptom wise, menopause is most commonly associated with hot flashes, night sweats, and chills, otherwise known as vasomotor symptoms.
The vasomotor center is a part of the brainstem involved in regulating blood pressure via blood vessel dilation and contraction. Changes in the hypothalamus (the area of your brain that regulates your body temperature) can initiate hot flashes and fluctuations in a menopausal woman’s internal temperature. Given the relationship between exercise and healthy estrogen production, a few studies have shown that adopting a regular training regime can reduce the severity of sleep quality, insomnia and depression
Bone Density & Muscle Mass
Regardless of age, strength training benefits the retention of muscle mass of any female. It’s really no secret that following a consistent exercise routine improves one’s cardiovascular, metabolic and psychological health.
One of menopause’s consequences is the acceleration of tissue aging throughout the body (muscles, bones, ligaments, and tendons). Given the majority of women will enter this phase around the ages of 45 to 55 years old, strength training won’t just decrease their risk of osteoporosis but if adopted early on in life, it can also aid them in achieving the highest possible peak bone mass when premenopausal.
I suggest that if you’re under 45 years, it’s smart to incorporate a resistance training routine to benefit as much as possible from it before fully shifting into menopause. It is NEVER “too old” or “too late”.
Now, we already know that once a woman enters menopause, her ovaries start decreasing the production of estrogen and progesterone. Research shows estrogen acts as a regulator of muscle energy metabolism and muscle cell viability. It does so by inserting itself into cells, like muscle membranes, in order to stabilize them and help protect them from tearing. Therefore, strength training to increase the size of muscle fibers can help to mitigate these effects by combating age-related sarcopenia (a reduction in muscle strength and size) and maintain the current health of their bones, muscles, and joints.
We already know estrogen’s role goes beyond a woman’s reproductive system. On top of helping regulate the menstrual cycle, estrogen is crucial to preserving muscle mass and is instrumental in bone formation. As estrogen production starts to decline, premenopausal and menopausal women’s bone rebuilding process will, in turn, start to slow down. So, in this case, strength training is a great way to help maintain a healthy skeletal and muscular system while you secret more testosterone available in your system.
When we think of testosterone, we usually think of it as a male hormone, a marker of men’s inherent masculinity. But testosterone is actually one of six hormones produced by the female reproductive organs as well. It is often not until women enter menopause, however, that women start to look more closely at their testosterone levels.
Back in 1999, researchers appearing in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommended the addition of androgen (testosterone) to estrogen for all women undergoing surgical menopause.
Today, it’s still a treatment that healthcare providers offer to women struggling with the natural effects of menopause. And some research has shown that testosterone can, in fact, provide the following benefits to women:
- improved relief of vasomotor symptoms of menopause
- increased energy levels
- enhanced feelings of well-being
- decreased breast tenderness
- improved sexual desire
- increased sexual sensitivity
- increased frequency of coitus
- enhanced orgasms
Testosterone is essential in females. In fact, testosterone levels in women are about 10 times higher than estrogen levels. Testosterone has many important roles for women. It is critical for energy levels, as well as sexual desire and response. It plays a crucial role in muscle mass and fat distribution, which makes it important for metabolic rate.
More so, testosterone influences cognition or mental acuity. Testosterone peaks when women are in their early twenties and continues to decline through the menopausal years. The average testosterone levels fall by about 50% by a woman’s mid-’50s.
Low testosterone in women can manifest in many ways and can sometimes be subtle. Decreased energy, low libido, loss of orgasms, and decreased sexual satisfaction are the most commonly recognized symptoms. Women with low testosterone can also experience fatigue, weight gain, muscle weakness, and mood changes.
Because testosterone levels often decrease gradually over time, these symptoms can sneak up on women making it harder to recognize that there is an imbalance. Although these symptoms can occur throughout a woman’s life, low testosterone while at the menopausal stage tends to be more problematic as estrogen and progesterone levels also decrease.
Testosterone plays an important role in the development of lean muscle mass. When testosterone declines, muscle mass can decrease and fat can increase. The loss of muscle mass leads to a decrease in strength and metabolic rate. Women with more lean muscle mass burn more calories at rest than women with lower muscle mass, even at the same body weight.
Women with lower testosterone levels tend to gain weight more quickly because they have a lower metabolic rate.
Along with building more muscle and boosting your overall strength, you need to be focusing on recovery. During menopause or postmenopause, women have a decreased capacity for physiological stress.
This is largely due to vasomotor symptoms. These symptoms (often called hot flashes), are described as a sudden increase in blood flow mostly to the face, neck, and chest, that cause the sensation of extreme heat and excessive sweating. When a woman experiences these symptoms at night, these “night sweats” can cause significant sleep disturbances. These can be caused by the decline of estrogen, which help you fall and stay asleep by controlling levels of cortisol, and a lack of melatonin, which regulates body temperature for sleep. All the more reason to ensure proper recovery.
During the last years, is not a coincidence that that majority of my personal clients are women (over 60% of my clients) with ages from 35-65 years old.
I have seen a huge increment in demand in the last 10 years but also a big shift in mindset with women when it comes to training.
I have done a few seminar in the past talking about this topic, and before used to be an “obstacle” for women and the approach was reactive.
Right now, there are more education about it and is just a phase in life where I see women more proactive about measures to take before hitting or during menopause.
Your goals can be achieved as a private training or group class.
We offer both training modalities at OnePlus Strength and Conditioning.
Strength and Conditioning Specialist.