MyMT™ Blog

Love your Lungs in Menopause: Why your changing oestrogen levels affect your breathing too.

bending over backwards on red yoga ball

“I didn’t sleep well last night. It seemed as if I struggled to breathe and I could feel my heart racing as well. The Doctor can’t find anything wrong and I feel exhausted. I know it’s something to do with menopause, so I’m wondering if your programme will help me. I saw it featured in the Daily Mail last month.”   [Diane, United Kingdom].

The emails I receive every week feel like deja vu. I used to lie in bed and feel that my breathing was a bit out of sync too. I don’t have asthma and yet, I felt that I wasn’t able to breathe in deeply enough to fill my lungs. I also felt I had more phlegm building up overnight. Once again I trottled off to my long-suffering Doctor. We did lung function tests (normal), she took my blood pressure (a bit high) and nothing seemed wrong with my heart. I was already on menopause HRT but it didn’t seem to be making the difference to all the symptoms that were arriving in my 50’s. I felt that it wasn’t working … certainly not for my weight. I only seemed to get bigger and my boobs got tighter and more sore. The list of symptoms making me feel miserable and defeated were growing by the week. So when I got Diane’s email this week, I knew that I had to convince her to at least try my 12 week programme, because everything in it helps women to un-tangle the misery, confusion and frustration that arrives when so many of us experience so many health changes as we approach mid-life. 

At the time of my late 40’s and early 50’s, and as I trudged along to my Doctor yet again, I had no idea of the powerful effect that lowering oestrogen had on my already tired body. 

Insomnia, sore joints, weight gain, emotional ups and downs, heart palpitations and now my lungs. Who knew that our lungs are affected by lowering oestrogen too? I certainly didn’t. I also didn’t realise that my body was accumulating inflammation from eating the wrong foods that were being promoted endlessly in my beloved fitness industry (Paleo, Keto and anything else that was high protein and high fat), and doing the wrong exercise (usually high intensity and heavy weight training) which I now know,  wasn’t supporting my hormonal changes in menopause. I now better understand that all this exercise and nutritional advice is for the younger generation and athletes. It’s based on performance and is not intended for women who are entering their biological ageing and already feel exhausted. Mary-Anne used to feel the same. 

I never gave my lung function a thought when I went into menopause. For decades I’ve been a regular exerciser and one of the known benefits of regular exercise is that it stimulates our breathing. But when I began to experience more breathlessness in my early 50’s, especially during all the high intensity exercise that is promoted to us, I began to get more curious about my lung function and the connection to menopause. Afterall, menopause for women and andropause for males, is the biological ‘gateway’ to our ageing. As such, our tissues and cells inside us change. 

Researchers have discovered that the lungs play a far more complex role in mammalian bodies than previously thought, especially in middle-age females.

It seems that our lovely lungs don’t just facilitate respiration – they also play a key role in red blood cell production and platelet function, along with bone marrow. They also contain oestrogen receptors too. This means that our lungs are also affected as we move through menopause. But the real issue is our ageing.

I always explain to women that our menopause transition is heralding in a number of changes in tissue structure and function which are related to ageing (although we still feel young, our body is changing with age). One of these age-related changes is how our lungs age as well. As we get older, lung function reduces. This means that we have to purposefully focus on deep breathing every day.

Lung function reduces with age.

But there is another cause for poor lung function in mid-life as well. Many women work in sedentary jobs, hence lung function may also change when we sit hunched over computers or we are sitting at desks throughout our day. At the time I was doing my doctoral studies, so sitting was preventing my lungs from performing to their best. My back was rounded, and my anterior, or front thoracic cage was squashed. The tiny inercostal muscles in between each rib cage were therefore, not able to do their job properly and because these smaller muscles lose oestrogen too, then they don’t function as well as they used to. 

If this is you today, then can you focus on standing up every hour, pulling your tummy muscles in tight and lifting your arms above your head and really getting some function in those ageing lungs of yours? You can even go somewhere quiet in your break or this evening, and try this stretch in the image below. It’s from the stretching programme I have in the Rebuild My Fitness 12 week programme, This programme is designed for women to get back into exercising again or to understand the best exercise for them in mid-life.

I’ve packed over 30 years of knowledge into this online programme, and many women go on to do this after they have turned around their symptoms and/ or weight in either the Circuit Breaker or Transform Me menopause programmes. Rebuild My Fitness is everything I needed to know about exercising as we move through peri-menopause and I love how many Personal Trainers are using it to provide them with the information that they are desperate for to help their mid-life female clients as well.

[The video is at the end of this blog and I explain what’s in the Rebuild My Fitness 12 week programme].  

home stretching

The role of the lungs and how they contribute to our circulation and more importantly, tissue oxygenation and energy levels, is more powerful than previously thought. And not only is this important for our ageing lungs, but also for losing fat too. When I was trying to lose my menopause belly fat (and in post-menopause, it continues to be work in progress for many women, because we also produce some testosterone in ageing ovaries if we still have them), I began to focus on the physiology that I had taught students for years, and that is that when it comes to tissue oxygenation and fat-loss, our breathing matters. Because fat is ‘burned’ in our lovely mitochondrial cells.

I’m always talking about our lovely mitochondrial cells in my coaching groups. These cells store oxygen. Located deep inside our muscles, lungs and heart, mitochondrial cells are the ‘power-house’ of your cell, because this is where fats and glucose are turned into energy.

If we can breathe better, then the exchange of oxygen is enhanced into these mitochondrial cells. This is important in the lungs because one of the factors that contributes to the effectiveness of our breathing are the small intercostal muscles that lie between your rib-cage. These muscles are losing elastin and collagen fibres too, so they need to be stimulated and stretched. Especially, when we are sitting most of the day.

If you are hunched over a desk all day or you are in a job that is always making you bend forward (e.g. housekeeping or nursing jobs) then those lovely muscle fibres between your ribs (your intercostal muscle fibres) become lengthened at the back and constricted at the front. When they are constricted at the front, your lungs don’t fill up as effectively as they should as we move through menopause. 

But there’s more to deep breathing too – and that is that when we focus on our breathing techniques, we also improve fat loss. For women with lots of belly fat and diaphragmatic fat, lung expansion can be reduced up to 40%, because of the location of our fat. That’s the power of the information that I’ve researched for you. 

That’s why in the MyMT™ ‘Transform Me’ programme,I have lots of information about better breathing for women wanting to lose their belly fat. When we move more oxygen into mitochondrial cells this means that fat-burning mechanisms are improved too. This process is known as lipolysis, or simply, fat oxidation. 

In this day and age of continued emphasis on high intensity activity, we are often forgetting about the role of aerobic exercise. I find this in the fitness industry as well. But it’s really important for our changing health, including respiratory health, to improve oxygen getting into our mitochondrial cells. It’s why my exercise programme commences women on their ‘fitness foundation’. Aerobic, endurance exercise is needed for improved mental health, cardiac health and respiratory health as we age. It’s more powerful than any Boot Camp or Cross-fit workout has to offer … and yes, I had to re-learn this as well. 

This powerful programme also has my BONUS Joint Restoration module in it for all of you experiencing the sore joints that have arrived in mid-life. And yes, this often has nothing to do with arthritis, but all to do with menopause! 

When we have more mitochondrial cells, this improves fat burning too. Some of you will have had children who trained in competitive swimming or have been rowers. Over the years, improved research in sports training has led coaches towards doing ‘Long Slow Distance’ training, especially over the years when young athletes are going through puberty. There’s a reason for this. As young athletes move through puberty, they are developing larger muscles. These muscles hold the key to the fitness of young athletes because they hold mitochondrial cells.

So when coaches build up long duration aerobic activity, it helps the muscles to develop more and larger mitochondrial cells, therefore, allowing the muscles to hold more oxygen and improve fitness. With aerobic training, we also build up our lung function capability too. Nice steady-state breathing that helps to boost our immune health and our energy levels too. When we do rhythmic activities and these activities are not too intense, then we get more OXYGEN into our lungs and we feel more energised.

We also improve our fitness. It’s why I love promoting more swimming to MyMT™ members. It’s so fantastic for our overall health and cardiovascular system as we age.

MyMT Client

When we are busy and concentrating more, or rushing around doing everything that we do in our day, we forget about the efficiency of our breathing. Not only do we need to focus on this throughout the day, it’s also why I promote aerobic activity to women in the MyMT™ programmes. 

If we are always doing anaerobic (without oxygen) higher intensity activity such as HIIT [High Intensity Interval Training], every day, then this makes us breathe faster. When we breathe faster, we also breathe more shallowly. So high intensity exercise, needs to be balanced up with lower to moderate intensity activity that focuses on better breathing. I love this photo of Julie in Canada, who did the MyMT™Circuit Breaker programme and realised that she wasn’t doing enough aerobic exercise to help reduce her anxiety, depression and improve her sleep. When she sent this photo of her undertaking her very first 10km walk/jog event, I was so stoked for her.

Aerobic activity stimulates the production of more mitochondria in our muscle fibres.

If you are mainly sedentary in your working week, then it would be great if you made a plan to do some aerobic, steady-state exercise over the weekend and focus on your deep breathing. Breathing better is something that we all need to do more of.

For those of you wanting an abdominal workout, then the added bonus is that if you pull in your deep belly muscles when you breathe, your abdominal and lower back muscles will thank you too.

 

Have a wonderful weekend and I’m always at the end of the email if you have questions about the programmes and how they might help you [my email address is on the Contact page on the website].

If you’ve been inside for most of the week, then get outside with your exercise too. Whatever the weather! It’s colder in the Northern Hemisphere but don’t let that stop you either. 🚴‍♀️🙂🧘‍♀️

Have a listen to the video when you have time. It’s about the Rebuild My Exercise 12 week online programme, where you get my knowledge and experience through my private coaching community too. The cost of it is NZ$249 and there are three monthly payments as an option. You listen to my webinars, download my exercise plans, view my 30 minute strength workouts which are Body-Type specific and discover the power of exercising for pleasure and your health, not athletic performance. 

Dr Wendy Sweet [PhD/ NZ Registered Exercise Specialist/ Women’s Healthy Ageing Researcher & MyMT Founder & Coach]

“If you have ever wondered if there was a clear easy plan to follow to sleep all night, reduce hot flushes and prevent or reduce your weight gain during menopause, then ‘welcome’ – you’re in the right place now.”

Discover how either of my two Menopause Transformation programmes might help you too or take my Symptoms Quiz below… 

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