Now that you’ve officially entered the menopause years, you may find that your regular fitness routine is no longer enough to keep unwanted pounds at bay. As estrogen levels drop, the brain tells the body to preserve fat so it can extract needed estrogen elsewhere- in our fat cells. To make matters worse, our male androgen hormone increases and redistributes the fat to our abdomen. Hello, menopausal muffin top.
The good news? The right fitness training can help decrease fat and lessen distribution to unwanted areas, like the abdomen, breasts, and thighs. Exercise can even help manage other menopause symptoms by restoring balance to the body, boosting mood, energy levels, and sexual health.
“My mom is a wonderful example of fighting the good fight of menopause and post-menopausal symptoms” says Rebecca R. Rodriguez, an Osteopathic Family Medicine and Sports Medicine Physician specializing in women’s and female athlete health. “She’s 68 and currently takes a high-intensity interval-training (HIIT) class called Ripped three times a week, does Zumba once a week, and walks with free weights twice a week. She’s lost a significant amount of weight and experiences higher energy levels. She does not have diabetes or heart disease, her levels of glucose, vitamin D and lipid panels have improved, and her bone density has increased, all through a healthy diet and regular weight-bearing high-intensity interval training, and low impact exercises.”
Dr. Rodriguez has worked with a broad range of athletes and weekend warriors, from overseeing the high performance medical center at the Olympics in Rio to the San Diego Ballet. She says that while every woman’s body is different and will require varying degrees of intensity for their exercises, she recommends the following for women managing menopause:
1. Weight-Bearing Workouts: Because bone density is affected by reduced estrogen levels in menopause, Dr. Rodriguez says weight-bearing exercises are critical. “Not only does strength-training help improve bone density, it also has a huge effect on your metabolism, endocrine system, and pituitary gland, helping to boost energy levels, improve sleep, lower fat and weight, reduce length and intensity of hot flashes, and increase testosterone.”
2. High-Intensity Interval-Training (HIIT): One of the best ways to burn calories and fat, moderate to high-intensity intervals rev up heart rate, then bring it back to a heart rate of mild intensity. Dr. Rodriguez recommends HIIT workouts of 30-45 minutes three to five times a week.
3. Endurance Exercise: Sports like swimming and other cardiovascular exercises can lower heart rate over time, regulate blood pressure, decrease cholesterol, and help maintain a lower weight, all reducing the risk of a heart attack and stroke. “As an osteopathic physician, we know mental health is as important as physical health,” says Dr. Rodriguez. “Exercise helps boost mood and energy levels and lowers anxiety.”
4. Yoga: A recent study by the Physical Fitness Research Institute in Japan found that just 10 minutes of daily stretching decreased menopausal and depressive symptoms in middle-aged Japanese women. Because many symptoms of menopause involve the autonomic nervous system, as well as the decrease in estrogen, researchers found that stretching before bed helped manage symptoms like hot flashes, sleep disturbances, muscle or joint pains, and irritability.
Dr. Rodriguez recommends sitting down with your osteopathic physician or doctor to personalize a plan that’s right for you during this new chapter. We all want to look and feel our best, and with the right fitness training, we can take on the challenges of menopause.