The image above is Kaye. Previously living in Cairns, Australia, she now lives in New Zealand and this photo was taken when she ran her very first marathon. Amazing! 16kgs down and slow jogging her way around the 42km course. I still remember her email to me when she first joined the MyMT™ weight loss programme. Confused about her weight gain, she was doing a lot of high-intensity exercise. Whilst this type of exercise is readily promoted in the fitness industry, it may not be quite so ideal for women like Kaye who have a busy, active job and who aren’t sleeping during menopause. These factors, combined with lots of high-intensity exercise, can send numerous women into adrenal fatigue, higher cortisol levels and daily exhaustion. I was the same.
We all know that a little exercise or activity makes a big difference in our day. However, the type of exercise we do as we move through menopause shouldn’t just be focused on ‘hard-out’ exercise that tends to dominate the sports and fitness industries these days. After working in the fitness industry for much of my career after leaving nursing, I know how confusing exercise-messages can be. I also know from the research on mid-life women and physical activity, that this is a time of life when we feel too exhausted and time-poor to do the exercise that will benefit our health as we age.
That’s why, as part of my newsletter this week, I’m having a shout-out for good old-fashioned aerobic or endurance exercise for all of us during menopause … especially those of you who want to halt your belly-fat and look after your heart health as you get older.
When women come into my MyMT™ Re-Build My Fitness programme as well as the MyMT™ Transform Me programme, I love it when they understand that to lose weight, we need to be sleeping all night, turning around our liver health AND backing-off too much high intensity exercise until we restore our energy levels again. But what I do encourage them to do is to increase their slower, endurance exercise, and if their joints aren’t sore, I get them to walk more or try some slow jogging.
There is a reason for this – it’s to do with how our changing oestrogen levels cause changes to our blood vessels as we age. They become ‘stiffer’ as they lose some of their elasticity. The way to help reduce the effect of this is to change our diet and increase certain vegetables which help our vascular network (celery and beetroot are just two favourites that I promote in the MyMT programmes) and increase our aerobic exercise.
SLOW JOGGING is an exercise method elaborated by Professor Hiroaki Tanaka (Fukuoka University, Japan). He chose the term “slow jogging” to emphasise that jogging doesn’t always have to be done at pace. “Slow is a perfectly good way to do it”, says Professor Tanaka and I agree. The key he says, is to maintain ‘niko niko’ pace. It is a an efficient, healthier, and pain-free approach to running for all ages and lifestyles. Professor Tanaka’s work on vascular stiffness and exercise is also important. As he mentions,
‘In sedentary humans, arterial stiffness in the central (cardiothoracic) circulation increases with advancing age even in healthy men and women. Elevations in arterial stiffness are believed to contribute significantly to the pathophysiology
of the age-related increase in CVD and, accordingly, have been identified as an independent risk factor.’ (Tanaka, p. 1, 2019).
Women’s heart disease is the forgotten factor in discussions from exercise, nutrition and lifestyle practitioners when it comes to women’s ageing.
With so many Personal Trainers doing online workouts over the lockdown period, I viewed an exercise professional on my facebook feed, who was in her early 40’s, (and perhaps 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 menopause and post-menopause. Especially those with a family history of heart disease on their mother’s side. As a 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 and this is another argument for aerobic exercise, because it is evidenced to improve cardiac health and cholesterol levels.
Aerobic exercise helps to increase HDL-cholesterol levels (the ‘good’ cholesterol) and decreases blood triglyceride (fats) levels. It also helps 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. When we increase our ‘good’ HDL-cholesterol, this binds to the ‘bad’ LDL -cholesterol which, during menopause, can build up in the liver and our blood vessels, and the HDL-cholesterol effectively helps to remove the harmful LDL-cholesterol. If women have a fatty-liver and/or are putting on more and more weight as they move into post-menopause, then helping to boost HDL-cholesterol levels is crucial for your improved health as you age.
If your blood lipids are high, then your ‘good’ cholesterol called High Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol (HDL-Cholesterol) may well be low. If it’s under 2.0 mmol/L then you need to boost it until it is over 2.0.
Increasing your HDL cholesterol will also improve your heart health.
“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).
Menopause is the time of our life when we need to change how we look after ourselves, including with our exercise. That’s why I have designed the Re-Build My Fitness programme, which women are doing after they have either completed Circuit-Breaker (for thinner/ leaner women) or Transform Me (for women wanting to lose weight).
Re-Build My Fitness is a 12 week programme which teaches women how to get the right exercise back into their lives so it can also be completed without doing the other programmes. The first module begins with understanding how to improve aerobic fitness – I’ve called it ‘Fitness Foundations’ and it’s got your aerobic exercise programme for you to down-load. This can be undertaken inside the gym on the treadmill or outside braving the elements, and teaches you why longer-duration aerobic exercise is necessary for our health as we age. It’s the type of exercise that makes you smile. If you want to get exercise back into your life, I hope you can join me sometime on this powerful programme too. And if you aren’t sleeping or you are experiencing increasing symptoms, then please look at doing either of my other 12 week programmes too – all are on sale still.
Eapen, D., Kalra G. et al. (2009). Raising HDL cholesterol in women. Int. Journal of Women’s Health. 1, 181-191.
Kodama S., Tanaka S., Saito K., Shu M., Sone Y., Onitake F., Suzuki E., Shimano H., Yamamoto S., Kondo K., Ohashi Y., Yamada N., Sone H. (2007). Effect of aerobic exercise training on serum levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol: a meta-analysis. Arch Intern Med. 167(10):999-1008.
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
Tanaka, H. (2019). Antiaging effects of aerobic exercise on systemic arteries. Hypertension, 74, (2). 237-243. https://doi.org/10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.119.13179