I remember Sally emailing me. Her energy levels were at rock bottom and she felt bad because she didn’t have the energy or motivation to go out mountain biking in the forest with her husband.
They had both enjoyed this for years. Like so many women, Sally had no idea it was to do with her changing muscle density and loss of the number and density of her mighty-mitochondria. On top of not sleeping, it was the reason why her changing energy levels left her frustrated, exhausted and anxious.
I was thinking about Sally this evening. [You can read her story HERE]. Sally was on my mind because I was revising and updating the Circuit Breaker module called ‘Renew Your Energy’. It comes in as Step 4 of the MyMT™ Circuit Breaker programme – after the Sleep Management module, the Hot Flush Management module and after the Liver Lover module. As women progress through each module, they discover the menopause-specific solutions to turn around their symptoms. This includes their fatigue and energy levels. Many say that the programme is a ‘game-changer’ as it was for Sally too. Turning around our energy is the gateway to our happiness and health as we age and it’s why I teach women about our mighty mitochondrial cells and how to improve their function.
Your mitochondrial cells matter to you in menopause. Have you ever heard of them?
I know that I didn’t give them much thought when I arrived in menopause either. Yet I had lectured about them for years to Sport and Exercise Science Students as well as Personal Trainers.
As I sought answers to my incredible feelings of fatigue in menopause, I turned to this knowledge. But I didn’t look through the lens of exercise and sports science as I had done in the past. I looked at the mighty mitochondria in terms of our biological ageing – simply because menopause is the gateway to our ageing. And as we lose oestrogen in menopause then this understanding matters – especially for women who are physically active or those of you who are wanting to become more active as you age.
If you are feeling exhausted then you need to get to know your beautiful mitochondria.
Our mitochondrial cells are important and for too long their declining function as we age has been overlooked. These powerful cells provide almost all the energy that your body needs to eat, breathe, exercise, fight disease and age well. They store your precious oxygen which is why they are known as the power-house of our health.
Without properly functioning mitochondria we lose life-giving energy and our body struggles to maintain optimal levels of health, especially as we move through menopause. Because as we transition through menopause our mitochondrial cells are changing too. They are ageing.
Furthermore, without well-functioning mitochondria, women put on weight in menopause and post-menopause because they can’t burn fat.
This is partly why at both ends of the exercise spectrum (too much or too little activity) our body shape changes and many women put on weight. Lots of it. And yes, I did too. But this is concerning, because over time, the lack of sleep, increasing fatigue and weight gain changes our cholesterol, blood pressure and heart disease risk as we move into our post-menopause years. Not only is this because we often lose our energy and motivation to exercise, but also because our mitochondrial cells are not processing fats and storing oxygen as efficiently as they used to.
To lose menopause fat, we need healthy mitochondria – and the more mitochondrial cells we have the better.
When you hear about older women running marathons and doing athletics and remaining active as they age, this is because they have invariably enjoyed better mitochondrial health throughout their lifetime. This is also true in healthy ageing and longevity research as well. Researchers working in this area know that mitochondrial health matters as we get older. Women living long-lives in some of the world’s hot-spots of longevity, the Blue Zones regions, have well preserved mitochondria. Much of this is to do with the way they have lived their lives walking in alpine environments, working outside in the fields and eating foods that have not followed the types of processed foods heavily marketed to those of us living in many western countries over the decades.
The good news is, that we can turn around our mitochondrial health as we go through menopause.
But to do this, you must pull together all the strategies from the right nutrition, exercise, sleep and management of our liver and joint health. When you achieve this, then you also manage to turn around the build-up of inflammation that is tipping us over into more exhaustion and worsening symptoms in menopause.
In the Rebuild My Fitness 12 week Exercise programme, as well as the menopause symptom reduction programme called MyMT™ Circuit Breaker or the 12 week MyMT™ Transform Me weight loss programme, women learn how to turn around their mitochondrial health. All of these powerful programmes have a re-focus on renewing their energy to better match our changing hormones during menopause. Whilst there is a lot of information specific to menopause in each programme, the focus on turning around the deep mitochondrial cells is through some of these powerful strategies:
- Changing the diet to match specific anti-inflammatory nutritional approaches which I’ve evidenced from women’s healthy ageing studies. This is not the Keto or Paleo approach which are popular in the fitness and dieting industries. These diets have not been evidenced for women with changing muscle and liver function in menopause. The MyMT™ Food Guide is included in all of the programmes and provides women with a sensible, family-friendly Mediterranean dietary approach which I’ve modified so that women understand the specific nutrients they need to help to re-balance their hormones and improve their mitochondrial health as they move through menopause. Ensuring iron levels and Vitamin B12 levels are adequate is also really important as are ensuring adequate intakes of calcium, potassium and magnesium – all nutrients that women need as they age.
- Aerobic exercise (this is the type of exercise that stimulates your endurance fibres in your muscles – walking, cycling, rowing, swimming, slow jogging – anything that gets your whole body moving and doesn’t get you too out of breathe). As exercise workouts have become faster, harder and shorter in duration, aerobic exercise has been relatively forgotten. But it is through aerobic exercise that we improve the number and size of our beautiful mitochondria. Strength training does as well and I have plans for women to do some simple strength training exercises in the Rebuild My Fitness programme. These plans are body-weight specific. Stimulating our strength helps to save our muscle density during menopause. This is important because as we move through menopause, low oestrogen is shrinking our muscle size and changing our strength. As well, for any of you with pre-diabetes, new research also confirms that strength matters just as much as cardio to alleviate the diabetes that often presents later in life if women are overweight.
- Have you heard of a supplement called CoQ10 [Ubiquinol]? All the women on my programmes do. I love getting them off all the expensive menopause-related supplements that clutter our pantry. Many menopause supplements are just marketing hype and have very little scientific research behind them. What works is changing our diet, ensuring that we have anti-inflammatory foods and adding Co-enzyme Q10 as a supplement is important (if women are on other medications then they must clear this with their Doctor). When my own energy levels were at rock bottom and I was also experiencing palpitations, attending a healthy ageing conference in America changed my life. The work of Dr Stephen Sinatra and others has been revolutionary in the area of cardiac mitochondrial health. As Dr Sinatra says, “this fat-soluble, vitamin-like compound is found within all your body’s cells and helps your body (and especially your heart) make the energy it needs to function and stay healthy.” But here’s the thing. Before menopause, we have produced enough of this compound naturally, but as we move through menopause and we age, our production of CoQ10 declines. We need to replace it as we age.
- If you are experiencing insomnia, then you need to get back to sleeping all night. The highest priority for improving our health and energy is turning around sleep quality. When we don’t sleep well in our menopause transition, then during women’s post-menopause years, (when your periods have stopped for a year or more), immune health or auto-immune problems such as arthritis or other joint/ muscular problems and cardio-vascular changes typically occur. If you aren’t sleeping, then please try to come and join me on the MyMT™ programmes. We all know how exhausted we feel when we can’t sleep and just getting through every day is a challenge.
Boost Melatonin Levels to Improve Mitochondrial Function:
Hormonal changes during our menopause transition are often the catalyst to decreasing mitochondrial function and one of the main hormonal changes is the reduction of melatonin, which is our ‘get-off-to-sleep’ hormone. When oestrogen begins to decrease as part of our normal biological ageing, the change in all of our hormones (remember that all of our hormones function together to keep us healthy), also changes our sleep hormone MELATONIN. This is why many of you experience poor sleep and increasing night sweats, hot flushes and depression.
When melatonin levels are low, then your thyroid and stress hormones are trying to correct the imbalance. Yes, sometimes taking HRT helps your sleep, but as many women who come into either of my programmes discover, [‘Circuit-Breaker’ for thinner women and ‘Transform Me‘ for overweight women], the secret to sleeping all night is to follow the powerful strategies that I have for turning around our underlying mitochondrial health.
For example, one of these strategies is to decrease our exposure to blue light from our work and home environments. Every month, there seems to be more and more research that comes out about the negative effect of blue light on our health.
A recent Harvard Health report states that artificial blue light and natural blue light from the sun are very different. Blue light from technology has four times the blue light that we get from the sun because blue light from the sun is balanced with red, green, infrared, and ultraviolet light.
Infrared and near-infrared light from the sun help repair and regenerate our cells and you don’t get that from artificial light sources. Excess blue light creates Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) and this creates inflammation, even during the day. It also diminishes the function of your mitochondria and then your body has less energy to do the things it needs to do on a daily basis. Many of us work in environments where there is artificial light all day, such as offices, hospitals, etc, and I know that we often can’t get away from these environments, because it’s our job! But what you do have to try and do, is to get natural light into your eyes at any time of the day and on your days-off. This means getting outside into nature as much as possible to balance up your exposure to harmful blue light and try to mitigate the effect of health changes caused by your work environment.
Reducing exposure to blue light at night is powerful for restoring your energy levels. If you can’t sleep, then I know what it feels like to wake up exhausted before the day even starts. But here’s the thing. For those of you wanting weight loss, your body isn’t efficient at burning fat when you aren’t sleeping. But as we age, we must remember that melatonin does more than help you sleep. It’s also an antioxidant that protects your brain and increases mitochondrial function. The research is now growing that lowered melatonin on a chronic basis leads to neuro-degeneration (nerve degeneration) as well as reduced energy production and output.
I love it when women on the 12 week MyMT™ programmes begin to sleep all night. Finally, they see a way through their menopause transition that gives them hope that their energy levels can pick up again. Even those like Iris, who is in her 70’s can turn around sleep patterns on this programme.
When I discovered through my women’s healthy ageing research, the power of turning around mitochondrial health for improved health and energy as we age, I made so many changes to my day-to-day lifestyle, that made such a difference to my overall health – this included the type and timing of food, the type and amount of exercise and all the other strategies that I have in the MyMT™ programmes. It’s why I also encourage women who are working inside all day to get outside. It’s something that we tend to forget about – getting outside to walk helps our mitochondrial health. I love this photo of Bev – she used to feel so tired with the juggling of work and family commitments but now she’s learnt the strategies for turning this around.
If your fatigue levels are at rock-bottom as well as your motivation and mojo, then join me on either of the MyMT™ programmes – They differ depending on whether you are putting on weight or not. When my own symptoms overwhelmed me and I put on so much weight, I knew I had to dig-deep into what was going on during our menopause transition. When you join me on either one of these powerful programmes, I know you that the 12 weeks of learning will literally change your life… and your (mitochondrial) health.
Bennett, S. (2016). Mighty Mito: Power up your mitochondria for boundless energy.
Sinatra, S. (2011). The Sinatra Solution. California: Basic Health Publications
Tarp, J. Stole, A. et al. (2019). Cardiorespiratory fitness, muscular strength and risk of Type 2 diabetes: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Diabetologia Online, pp. 1-14.
Wilmore, J., Costill, D. & Kenny, L. (2008). Physiology of sport and exercise. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics Publ.