Exercise in Perimenopause: The Brain-Body Connection

Exercise in Perimenopause: The Brain-Body Connection

While getting yourself hot and sweaty in a workout offers numerous benefits, it’s not the only type of perimenopause exercise that matters.

The other side of the workout coin is to focus on slow, intentional movement that builds the connection between your brain and your body. Exercise is known to deliver benefits both physical and psychological. Finding the type of workout that appeals to you to support both elements is a fun personal investigation.

Yoga is the Perimenopause Exercise Poster Child

One of the best studied forms of perimeopause exercise is yoga. Physical benefits include increased flexibility and strength, both of which are important for mobility and bone health. Psychological benefits of a regular yoga practice include improved mood and mental clarity. Positive effects of hatha yoga are both physical and psychological, and it’s something almost anyone can do right from home.

For women who are juggling the multiple priorities of work, family life, and caretaking for elderly parents, inserting some intentional movement with deep breathing has immediate physiological benefits. By practicing self-care of movement and breath, you can reduce stress.

Yoga nidra or restorative yoga are two forms of perimenopause exercise that can help lower stress levels. By holding postures for a longer period of time, the nervous system calms down and recalibrates. And with lower stress levels come less of the stress hormone cortisol. When cortisol is lower and steadier, there is less abdominal weight gain, greater mental clarity, and a better sense of emotional balance. This psychological boost has meaningful physical effects.

Restorative yoga offers physical benefits as well. I have yet to meet a woman who doesn’t have tight shoulders or a sometimes-sore lower back. In restorative yoga, bodies are arranged in carefully aligned postures and held for several minutes. When combined with deep breathing and mental release, the muscles release their grip. Many women find profound release and relief through restorative yoga.

Aqua yoga also offers intentional movement coordinated with the breath. With the added benefit of hydrostatic pressure to calm the nervous system and lower blood pressure, aqua yoga also offers perimenopausal women the opportunity to move their body in a supported way.

Finding the balance between high intensity exercise and meditative movement is part of the perimenopause puzzle, Whatever way you choose to move your body, your muscles, your nervous system, and your brain will thank you.

After all, the body and the brain (and the spirit) really are all connected!

Exercise in Perimenopause: Fight Fire with Fire

Exercise in Perimenopause: Fight Fire with Fire

While hot flashes may have you feeling like you want to rip off all your clothes or move to Antarctica, building up body heat through exercise in perimenopause is exactly what we want to do. Getting hot and sweaty from the inside out can stimulate the hypothalamus, your body’s thermostat. When the hypothalamus is working properly, it does a good job regulating your body temperature all day long.

And the really good news is that research suggests women who exercise have fewer hot flashes than those who do not.

If you’re moving your body in a way that makes you hot and sweaty (think interval training workouts), you’re activating your body’s thermostat. You’re also stimulating your body’s human growth hormone production. HGH is a necessary part of the hormonal cocktail that prevents weight gain. So if you’re 40+ and struggling with unexplained weight gain, amp up the intensity of your workouts.

Exercise in Perimenopause: Fight fire with fire.

If you want to reap the benefits of greater HGH production, you need to up the intensity of your workouts.

Interval training workouts offer you the hard work/short rest format that will benefit you. For those of you who work out at home, do not fear! A few simple bodyweight exercises will still offer you a productive challenge. If you need more structure to your workouts, check out Balance Virtual Bootcamp for a series of workouts you can do in your own home with minimal equipment. All will get you hot, sweaty, and producing HGH.

Don’t shy away from weights!

Look around any gym, and you’ll see men 40+ in the weight area, trying to hold on to their glory days. Where are the women? Most of them are over on the cardio machines, trying to hold on until the dreadmill tells them their hour of mindless torture is over.

This cultural arrangement isn’t doing you any favors, Ladies.

’m here to tell you Cardio Bunnies that you should hop off the machines and hop over to the weights.

(If you don’t feel confident working with free weights, you can use weight machines. Most of those have images on the side that show you how they work. I always recommend a session with a trainer so you know your form is correct. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!)

First of all, adding strength training to your workouts will help you build muscle. Adding muscle has lots of great benefits, including increasing your metabolic rate and helping to strengthen your bones.

Get off the treadmill!

There’s another reason you should stop slaving away on the elliptical: long periods of moderately-intense exercise may actually exacerbate unpleasant perimenopausal symptoms.

If you suffer from greater anxiety now that you’re 40+ than you have before, an hour long steady-state workout is sending the wrong message to your body. While you want your body to be hearing “Get Strong! Fight Fat!” it’s actually hearing “We’re still running away from whatever it is we’ve been running away from for the last hour. More adrenaline! More cortisol!” And that’s exactly what we *don’t* want!

So if you’re doing long, steady-state cardio and not seeing any shift in your weight, your body could be responding to your workout thinking you WANT to be running away from something. It produces cortisol, a stress hormone that triggers fat storage around the abdomen.

The good news is that exercise in perimenopause can (and physiologically SHOULD) be done in short, intense bursts. So if you’re drowning in responsibilities and struggle to fit in fitness, know that a 20-minute high-intensity workout (or two 10-minute bouts) will deliver positive results when done on a regular basis.

Just make sure you’re getting hot & sweaty.

Exercise in Perimenopause: 3 Reasons Meaningful Movement Matters

Exercise in Perimenopause: 3 Reasons Meaningful Movement Matters

If you are a woman 40+ experiencing hormonal swings, mood shifts, and weight gain, exercise in perimenopause may be the furthest thing from your mind.

In those rollercoaster years leading up to menopause, many women are just fighting to get through the day. And while you may not feel like you have the time or the inclination to exercise, it just may offer the relief you’re looking for.

Learn about three reasons movement matters and exercise in perimenopause should hold a spot in your schedule.

 

BUILD YOUR MUSCLES

Exercise helps you build lean muscle mass. The more lean muscle mass you have, the higher your metabolic rate.

Think of it this way:  when you move you stoke the fire of your internal engine. And when the fire is hot, it burns better. For you, that means when your metabolic rate increases, you burn more calories both when exercising and at rest.

So the more lean muscle mass you build, the more calories you burn. For women fighting perimenopausal weight gain, building your muscles is Reason One movement matters.

Even if you’re not experiencing perimenopausal weight gain, building muscles improves your functional fitness. Functional fitness is simply your ability to get through your regular life without feeling physically sore or challenged.

When it is easier to tackle the Everyday Olympics of your life, you have not only greater health but greater happiness, too.

STRENGTHEN YOUR BONES

You probably know that hormonal changes in perimenopause often lead to less bone density and brittle bones. As women age and move into menopause, they are at greater risk of bone fracture.

Weight bearing exercise in perimenopause is one of the best ways to support your bone health. Bone is composed of living tissue. Weight bearing exercise stimulates formation of new bone tissue, ensuring vital bones.

Exercise also promotes bone health because the living tissue of the bones respond to the forces placed upon it. When muscles tug on bones, they respond; in doing so, they become stronger.

IMPROVE YOUR MOOD

For women who have never had an exercise habit, it can be difficult to understand how getting hot and sweaty can actually improve your mood. Let’s start simple: increased blood flow = increased brain function.

Perimenopausal women who exercise regularly report greater mental clarity and less brain fog than when they do not exercise. Again, if the brain is being called upon to engage in specific, thoughtful movement, blood flow increases. More blood flow means the brain is stimulated.

Another mood-altering benefit of more exercise is that it often leads to better sleep. Deep, restorative sleep is critical for feeling your best. You may need to play around with what time of day you work out to reap the benefits of maximum quality sleep, but it’s worth it. Nothing beats a good night’s sleep.

Taken together, greater mental clarity and better sleep go a long way to improving your mood!

Another way of thinking about the benefits of exercise in perimenopause is my favorite mantra:

When you feel better, you feel better!

 

Quite simply, the overwhelming physical and mental benefits of exercise outstrip the unpleasant symptoms many perimenopausal women experience. If you can motivate yourself just to take the first step, I think you’ll find that building muscle, strengthening your bones, and improving your mood make perimenopause much easier to deal with.

What’s the Difference Between Perimenopause and Menopause?

What’s the Difference Between Perimenopause and Menopause?

Hot flashes? Hair falling out? Erratic sleep patterns?

No, you’re not going crazy. You’re likely in perimenopause.

Wait? What?

What’s the difference between perimenopause and menopause?

Perimenopause refers to the years (up to a full decade!) before menopause. Menopause is the phase of life that begins when a woman has gone a full year without a period.

So most of those unpleasant symptoms we associate with menopause are actually part of perimenopause.

Potato, potahto….isn’t it just semantics?

Sort of. But in an effort to better educate women about their bodies, how they work, and what is and is not normal, let’s start by using proper terminology.

Perimenopause, the years of declining fertility leading up to the cessation of menstruation, is often described as a hormonal rollercoaster.

And while so many mothers strive to send their adolescent daughters fully informed into puberty, there’s a dearth of information for women in perimenopause.

Want to know how much of a taboo perimenopause is? Every time I type perimenopause my computer underlines it with that red squiggly line because it’s not recognized as a word.

GAH.

(Note, however, that “squiggly” is a word recognized by our computer overlords.)

Alas, I digress. (Hey, that’s another common experience of women in perimenopause: memory fog or forgetting where you’re going with a story.)

What I have learned in working with women for the last ten years is that even the most highly educated among us don’t really understand the difference between perimenopause and menopause. Furthermore, not many of us know how long it’s going to last, what the belly of the beast is going to look and feel like, and how to assess when our symptoms are not within the expected range.

And very few women realize there is a new normal of hormonal balance on the other side.

If you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired– or just ready to be better informed about your body– stick around. In upcoming posts here at Running on Balance, I will illuminate the role of exercise vis-a-vis bone health, heart health, and sleep during perimenopause.

And if you’re already convinced you want– no, NEED– more information about what is normal and what is not during perimenopause, I have good news. I am launching an online course to guide you through the hormonal changes and their effects on your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Fill out the form below to make sure you get all the details when the course launches in September! (No obligation!)

How to Use an Interval Timer

How to Use an Interval Timer

Are you ready to give interval workouts a try but are unsure of how to keep track of your intervals without interfering with your workout? I’m happy to tell you that using an interval timer is easier than you think.

An interval timer allows you to set two (or more) periods of time of differing lengths.  One period is for work (high intensity) and one period is for rest or active recovery (low intensity).  By alternating these two time periods, you’ve set up the intervals of your workout.

Yes, it’s really that simple!

If you don’t have an interval timer on your sports watch (my beloved Timex Ironman, cheap as it is, has this feature), grab an app for your smartphone. All of the interval timer apps are more or less the same, and many of them are free.  They allow you to set a high intensity period and a low intensity period, repeated for as many times as your workout requires.

Remember that you may want to have some transition time in between your intervals.  If you’re moving through various pieces of equipment or changing body positions (standing, prone, sitting), including an interval of transition time will make your workout run more smoothly.

Apps differ in how complex they get. Some allow you to set as many different intervals as you want, some add in warm up and cool down intervals, and others offer only the basic structure described above.  Some apps allow you to program what exercises you want into each interval, and with a text to speech function the app alerts you as to what exercise to switch to at the next interval. Other apps allow synching of music to each interval.  Dig around in the app store and see what features align with your needs.

One of the reasons so many people enjoy interval workouts is that using an interval timer takes much of the thinking out of the structure of the workout. It’s as simple as waiting for the timer to beep (or whistle or chime) and then moving on to the next activity.  For people who struggle with fitting in fitness, a good interval timer means a great workout can be had even while watching your favorite TV show.

How simple is that?!

There is an affiliate link in this post. I recommend only products I’ve used myself, either for personal use or with my Balance Personal Fitness Training clients.

3 Reasons You Should Be Doing Interval Workouts

3 Reasons You Should Be Doing Interval Workouts

perform interval workouts

Despite my lifelong-love of distance running, when I’m not in a training cycle, I’m doing interval workouts.

What’s an interval workout?

An interval workout includes periods of time or certain exercises that require high effort along with low-intensity exercises or rest periods.  The idea is that you want to work hard for a bit and then back off for a bit.  An interval workout will ramp up your heart rate and then give you a short recovery period.

An interval workout is sometimes called a circuit workout. A circuit is a group of exercises performed in a particular order.

How are interval workouts organized?

There are two basic types of interval workouts.  One requires you to perform a set number of repetitions of a particular exercise before moving on to the next exercise. The other is time-based, where you perform exercises for a certain amount of time before moving on to the next exercise.

Three reasons you should be doing interval workouts

  1. They’re short

If you want a workout that lets you know you’ve exercised but it doesn’t take all day, interval workouts are for you. Because the high intensity portions of the workout require intense effort, you cannot sustain that level of effort very long.  Even with the rest or recovery periods, interval workouts demand your all.  You can get a muscle-burning workout in less than 30 minutes.

 

  1. You don’t need any equipment or a gym membership

An effective interval workout can be done in your own home.  Exercises that use you’re your bodyweight can serve as the basis of your interval workouts. Check out my series of interval workouts I’ve posted here at Running on Balance.

  1. Interval workouts are flexible and adapt as you get more fit

If you’re doing a reps based workout, as your fitness improves you’re able to complete the workout faster.  To continue to challenge yourself, add another circuit of exercises to see if you can complete the workout in the original amount of time.

If you’re doing a time-based workout, as your fitness improves you’ll be able to complete more repetitions of each exercise in the fixed amount of time.  This increase in total amount of reps is known as “volume”- – your total workout volume should grow as you get more fit.

BONUS: Interval workouts are ideal for women over 40

Rare is it that we women over 40 get good news, but I get to deliver some right now!  Interval workouts, with their high intensity efforts and short overall time commitment are ideal for perimenopausal women.  The hard effort helps to burn cortisol (a stress hormone that can cause weight gain around the midsection) and keep balance in the adrenal glands. Furthermore, by getting hot and sweaty we boost production of the hormone that helps us burn more calories. Best of all, the short workouts fit with the time demands on those of us working, raising kids, tending aging parents, and generally running the world.

So if you still think you’re too busy to exercise, give an interval workout a try. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with how great you feel after working hard.

Good health and great happiness to you.

 

P.S. My six-week guided Balance Virtual Bootcamp is made up of interval workouts. You need a few pieces of basic equipment for some of the workouts, but you can do them all right in your own home. Plus, they’ll all get you hot, sweaty, and finished with your workout in less than 30 minutes!