When a study arrived in my in-box this week, comparing blood lipid profiles (blood fats) between a group of younger women who still have oestrogen and a group of women who have recently gone through menopause, I took notice. In a world whereby the population is ageing and over half of the world’s population are women, it’s about time that we had more research about women, especially women in post-menopause who have the highest risk for weight gain and heart disease as they age.
Yes, this heart disease risk can be due to not sleeping, a poor diet, smoking, or high stress levels, but it can also be due to the wrong exercise choices for their health as they age, or conversely, because they aren’t doing enough exercise – and we all know the struggle of having no time, energy or motivation when symptom chaos in menopause hits us as well. The combination of many of these factors is why I always say that our menopause transition is the time of our lives, when it’s a ticking time bomb for our health as we age, so we need to understand what to change with our lifestyle before it’s too late.
Women are in post-menopause when their menstrual cycle has ended and there has been a time-frame of 1 year or more, without a period. The ovaries have done their dash and don’t produce and secrete enough oestrogen to maintain the monthly menstrual cycle. The average age of this transition into post-menopause world-wide is between 51 and 53 years old. However, with women choosing to have children later in life and for those who have had a later puberty, their transition into post-menopause may occur past 53 years. I know some women still menstruating at 57-58 years old.
The general assumption, as mine was too, is that we don’t produce any oestrogen as we go into post-menopause, but for those of you who still have your ovaries, there is continued secretion of another form of oestrogen, called oestradiol from the ovary. As well, there is another complex action occurring with the conversion of a type of testosterone called androstenedione, to oestrone in fat cells. This all sounds rather complicated but all you need to remember, is that if you still have your ovaries, then they are still capable of producing some oestrogen which undergoes conversion to different forms. The difference is, that these different forms of oestrogen, aren’t required for reproductive purposes any more, so they are sent to fat cells instead.
Your fat cells love storing your excess oestrogen and this is often the cause of your post-menopause weight gain especially if you aren’t sleeping. When we don’t sleep at night, you can go on all the fancy diets that you like, but you won’t lose your menopause fat, until you sleep better. It’s what I target sleep as a priority in my 12 week Transform Me weight loss programme.
There’s a problem with post-menopause production of oestrogen however. It increases lipids or fats in your blood.
Now don’t get me wrong – some fats are good for you and are necessary to move your fat-soluble vitamins around your body to tissues where they help your body to function (Vitamins A, D, E and K). But too many lipids in your blood can be dangerous for your heart health – especially if you are a women in your post-menopause years.
That’s why I loved this new study which came out of India this week.
The study investigated the blood samples from younger women (25-45 years) who were still menstruating and compared these with older women (46-60 years) who were in post-menopause, i.e. not menstruating. In the younger women, where oestrogen production was still high, serum lipids (blood fats) were normal. In the older women, where oestrogen production was low, serum lipid levels were significantly increased. This increased the post-menopausal women’s risk of heart disease.
I’m often talking about heart disease in my coaching forums and in my live Masterclass on Menopause events as well as in my 12 week online exercise course, ‘Rebuild My Fitness’. I’s designed just with mid-life women in mind, so we all get the right exercise back into our lives, so we thrive in menopause and our years beyond. I love this photo Kaye sent me from the top of Mt Taranaki in New Zealand. By this time she had completed the MyMT™ Transform Me weight loss programme and lost 16 kgs and then followed this up with the Rebuild My Fitness 12 week exercise programme to improve her fitness, joint and heart health too.
To me, women’s heart disease it’s the forgotten factor in discussions from exercise, nutrition and lifestyle practitioners when it comes to women’s ageing.
Just this week, I viewed an exercise professional in Australia on my facebook feed, who was in her early 40’s, obviously very image conscious as she peered at the lens of the camera wearing only a bikini, extolling the virtues of only doing weight training and not doing any cardio at all – “If you want a body like mine, you mustn’t do cardio” she shouted into the camera, “only weight training!” All I could think to myself, was how wrong and un-scientific these messages were for women in post-menopause. Especially those with a family history of heart disease on their mother’s side. As the recent study stated,
“Natural menopause confers a 3-fold increase in Cardiovascular Disease risk and post-menopausal women account for over 30% of the female population at risk for CAD in India alone.” (Shrivastav et al., 2019, p. 142). It goes without saying that most Doctors in Australia, the UK, America and New Zealand might be nodding their heads in agreement too. All of these countries have the highest rates of post-menopause heart disease.
If your blood lipids are high, then your ‘good’ cholesterol called High Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol (HDL-Cholesterol) may well be low, especially if you are sitting at work for most of your week and you are getting the increased belly fat that arrives in post-menopause. “Post-menopausal women have more degradation of HDL when compared to reproductive women, so the HDL levels are decreased in post-menopausal women. HDL cholesterol is significantly decreased in post-menopausal women.” (Shrivastav et al., 2019, p. 144).
This knowledge begs the question,which I asked myself when I arrived in post-menopause with a family history of heart disease too, and that is,
How do we increase our lovely healthy HDL-cholesterol (the ‘good’ cholesterol) using exercise?
Fortunately, since teaching university-level sport and exercise science for years, I’ve been following the research from the Cooper Aerobic Institute in Dallas, Texas for decades. Whilst much early research was undertaken on males and athletes, this has been broadened to accommodate women as well. Thank goodness!
That’s why if you are going through menopause or you are in post-menopause, then I want you to ignore the facebook-fiction, because the Number 1 exercise you need to do every week is some good old-fashioned cardio. It will help your heart health, your weight and your moods. Oh, it might even help you sleep better too.
Aerobic Exercise helps to increase HDL-cholesterol levels and decrease blood triglyceride levels. It also helps to insulin to work better too. Insulin is a hormone that also gets out of balance as we move through menopause, especially if belly-fat is increasing in our post-menopause years.
With all other factors being equal regular exercisers tend to have higher HDL-cholesterol levels and for women in menopause this is a good thing! It helps our heart health. This in turn leads to a lower risk of Cardiovascular Disease as we age.
So this weekend, get out and walk, jog, swim or cycle – at least 30-60 minutes will help your heart health and boost your HDL levels too … and yes, if you’ve been suffering from menopause-related depression, it will help to boost your mental health too.
But if you find you can’t exercise due to low energy levels, poor sleep, your increasing weight or joint problems or other concerns, then get in touch with me and look at the foundation MyMT™ programmes which I’ve designed to help you sort your menopause symptoms out first.
Eapen, D., Kalra G. et al. (2009). Raising HDL cholesterol in women. Int. Journal of Women’s Health. 1, 181-191.
Laakso, M. et al. (1993). Lipids and lipoproteins predicting coronary heart disease mortality and morbidity in patients with non-insulin dependent diabetes. Circulation. 88:1421-1430.
Shrivastav, D., Akshay, B. & Parekh, P. (2019). Study of serum lipid profile in reproductive and post-menopausal women. Int. Journal of Medical & Biomedical Studies, 3(9), 142-145