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!)

3 Factors of the Fitness Summer Slump

3 Factors of the Fitness Summer Slump

While sunny, long days are a big part of what makes summer so magical, they’re also part of the reason many people fall of the exercise train in the summer.  Avoiding the fitness summer slump requires acknowledging three critical factors that influence your workouts.

The Sun

Depending on where you live, the intensity of the sun and heat (and humidity) may alter your summer workout options. Even if you are well acclimated, pushing yourself outdoors in hot, sunny weather day after day isn’t smart.

The summer sun has the potential to wreak havoc on your workouts in three major ways:

  1. Dehydration– extra heat from the direct summer sun means you sweat more than normal.  Staying on top of your hydration is critical to ensure your workout doesn’t take a quick turn for the worse.
  2. Increased heart rate and respiration– extra hot and humid days mean your body works harder even during its normal activities. You’re going to breathe more rapidly (and likely more shallowly), and your heart is going to pump faster, too.  Knowing your normal heart rate range and staying within it is advisable.
  3. Skin safety– while you may be able to get away with exercising outdoors without sunscreen in other times of the year, please don’t try it in the summer!  The directness and intensity of the summer sun’s rays are damaging to your skin. Find a sunscreen that is sweatproof, and use it regularly.

Long Days

The glorious extended daylight of summer seems like such a gift. Unfortunately, we can be seduced by the long stretches of daytime to do two things that upset our workout habits.

First, we can stay up way too late. Without the cue of darkness, it is easy to stay up later than intended. Loss of sleep affects almost all systems in our bodies. If you’ve ever tried to convince yourself to exercise when you’re tired, you know how unsuccessful that internal conversation usually is.

Also, long days trick us into thinking that we have plenty of time to exercise, so we’ll just “do it later.”  And then the hours slip away, no exercise happens, we stay up too late, and then it’s the next day and we’re too tired to move.  As with any other season, scheduling your workouts and sticking to it is the best way to ensure you’ll actually get your workout done.

Lack of Schedule

Even if you’re not in school yourself, if you have kids your life revolves around the school calendar. With the disruption of routine, we need to rethink when and how we can exercise.

For some, this may mean your favorite group class is no longer compatible with your summer schedule. For others it may mean that your usual cycle buddies are out of town on vacation so you need a new option. Whatever reason it is that has your schedule has been turned upside down, acknowledge that it’s a temporary situation and use this time as an opportunity to try something different.

Perhaps you’re going on vacation this summer. (Lucky you!) While it’s fun to let loose for a few days, consider how much work you’ve already put into your regular fitness program.  Don’t let a vacation take you all the way back to the beginning!

A lack of strict schedule, like the long days of summer, may also trick us into thinking we have plenty of time to exercise.  But that “do it later” attitude sets us up for failure.

The Sun + Long Days + Lack of Schedule = Fitness Summer Slump

While the thought of lazy days of summer seems appealing, to those of us who crave regular exercise it is downright upsetting. We need fitness in our summer schedule.  We want fitness in our summer schedule.  And with thoughtful reflection and planning, we’ll have fitness in our summer schedule.

It’s Time to Set New Goals

It’s Time to Set New Goals

Like the waves lapping onto the shore, tugged by the moon, the passage of time is certain.

You may not have noticed, but we slipped into the second half of 2017 last week.

How are you doing on your new year’s resolutions?

It’s never too late to set new goals.  Just because the first half of the year may not have gone exactly to plan—or perhaps, even, it was a total disaster!—that doesn’t mean you need to write off your good intentions.

Rather, think of this as a second chance. It’s a clean slate. It’s a renewed opportunity to center yourself.

One of the main reasons resolutions are unsuccessful is that we set ourselves up for failure. How? We make TOO MANY resolutions. But as creatures of habit, we aren’t good about changing everything all at the same time.

Although we want to make multiple changes—improvements!– at once, if we can focus on one change, put our best efforts in there, and then introduce a new change, chances of adherence skyrocket.

What’s the ONE secret to achieving the goals you set?

If you want to find greater health and wellness in the second half of 2017, choose ONE thing to focus on.  ONE change. ONE way you are going to prioritize your fitness. Laser focus is the key.

Want more thoughts about how you can set yourself up for success?  Check out my Facebook Group Well Balanced Women for my recent FB Live for some strategies set new goals…that you’ll actually achieve!