Are your muscles and joints aching for hours after exercise? What about restless legs during the night? Is this you too?
When women join me on my menopause symptom reduction programmes, the first thing I do is to read their health screening forms. At least every second screening form has a mention of sore joints and muscles. When I explore this further, I often find that they are regular exercisers which is great – I am one too and many of us have been exercising for years. It’s typically what our generation have grown up with – the knowledge that ‘exercise is good for us’! That’s why for so many of us, when we arrive in menopause, it’s a surprise to find that our response to exercise has changed too. Our legs ache, our muscles feel ‘heavy’ and yet, we aren’t doing anything different. Do you feel like this too?
Like many active mid-life women nowadays, I feel pretty ‘in-tune’ with my body. I know how it should feel after exercise, simply because I’ve been an avid exerciser all my life. But with women on my research studies telling me similar stories about how tired and sore they felt after exercise, as well as how their injury rate was escalating with the types of exercise they were doing, (me too), I knew I had to look into how our muscles and tendons change as we arrive in mid-life.
This is why one of the key aspects I explored was the link between our hormonal changes in menopause and recovery from exercise. Low oestrogen changes our exercise response and recovery more than we may think. This is all to do with the effect on our tendons, muscles and blood vessels as we lose oestrogen, but it’s also to do with the slower uptake of calcium into the muscles after exercise as well. This catches out so many regular exercisers as they go into peri-menopause.
‘ve Sue Coleman, Personal Trainer “I’ve exercised and trained for decades and can’t thank Wendy enough for helping me understand the link between my symptoms in menopause and exercise.”
Post-menopause heart disease is the number one health issue for women in the Western world. From the United Kingdom to New Zealand, Australia, America and many other countries, menopause is like a ‘ticking time bomb’ for changing cardio-vascular health. Like millions of women, I could feel myself slipping into this trajectory as well. It started with sore joints, sore muscles, poor sleep and then it developed over time into high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high temperature and high heart rate. Adding all these things together, along with the fact that I wasn’t tolerating the levels of exercise that I normally enjoy, I knew that something was going on that was linked to menopause!
So the question I asked myself was: ‘Is there a role for oestrogen in exercise recovery, and if so, what is it?’
I’m so pleased that I looked into this. Because when I revisited the normal role of oestrogen in women, I learnt that one of its major functions is to control BLOOD VESSEL DILATION. This occurs through oestrogen helping to increase levels of nitric oxide, which is a known vaso-dilator (blood vessel dilator).
Even more fascinating to me is that this role of oestrogen differs from men because in women, oestrogen provides an advantage to our oxygen delivery to our heart and muscles so as to keep us healthy for our biological role of reproduction and nurturing our young. Women have evolved to have lots of oestrogen, not only for reproduction, but to keep us alive!
This is why it makes sense that in our menopause transition, when oestrogen levels are declining, our blood vessels change too. In fact they don’t dilate as well as they used to. It’s called age-related vascular stiffness and these changes begin as we go through menopause. For women doing regular exercise this can cause muscles to ache more and feel stiff, especially if they aren’t sleeping. When women aren’t sleeping, then this is a double-whammy because they aren’t recovering from their exercise sessions as well as they used to.
So, here’s another question to ask yourself as I did too:
If we are in a low oestrogen environment and this is affecting the dilation of our blood vessels, then how can we help to counteract this before or after exercise, when we need our blood vessels to dilate the most (and therefore deliver oxygen to our muscles, heart and lungs for our recovery)?
At the same time that I was pondering on my poor recovery after exercise and my aching muscles and joints, I was working at the University of Waikato’s Health, Sports & Human Performance department. Some of my colleagues were researching athlete recovery and how to hasten this after training or competing using nitrates that naturally occur in some vegetables – beetroot is one of these.
Nitrates, or nitric oxide helps to dilate blood vessels. So, that’s when I started thinking about what we could do before or after exercise, or at any time of the day really, to improve blood vessel dilation so that we get beautiful oxygen delivered around our body to our stressed cells and tissues that are changing due to menopause.
Oxygen delivery to tissues is impaired when we do strenuous exercise (because of the build-up of lactic acid), or when we are feeling stressed as we are losing oestrogen during menopause. Add this to the fact that our blood vessels are stiffening as we move through menopause, then contributes to poorer post-exercise recovery. Some women also experience this as restless leg syndrome or they find that their muscles ache more following heavy exercise. With a low oestrogen environment preventing the usual dilation of our tiny blood vessels, our risk for injuries increases., especially around the joints.
But the other concern with our changing blood vessels during menopause, is that our risk for high blood pressure after exercise increases too. This can occur following the participation in heavy, high intensity exercise, including heavy weight training. Over time, not recovering well after exercise, especially more vigorous exercise, can readily become a problem for our ongoing health as we get older.
That’s why, included in both of the MyMT™ programmes, I have the MyMT FOOD GUIDE. I have specifically researched and tailored the information to the needs of women transitioning through menopause. It includes a list of foods that are high in natural nitrates which help to dilate our blood vessels naturally.
Three of these foods are:
- Green leafy vegies,
Menopause is a woman’s transition into her biological ageing. This means that all of our organs are ageing, including our kidneys and blood vessels. In a changing hormonal environment, we all need to have nutrients that help blood vessel dilation and assist in recovery.
It’s also why, after exercise, we need to boost our blood vessels with the right nutrients and leave the protein shakes to the gym buffs.
If you are struggling with exercise performance, or you aren’t sleeping well and have aching muscles and joints or exercise isn’t shifting your weight, then will you join me? Inside your personal learning hub on the MyMT programmes is all the fabulous information you need to help reduce your symptoms in menopause and get you back into the exercise you love.
Regular exercise is so important for our health as we age and I love that experienced Personal Trainers, such as Debbie acknowledge the benefits of this programme too. It’s my privilege to help them thrive as they transition through menopause so they can keep doing the job they love to do.