If your muscles are aching for hours after exercise now that you’re transitioning through menopause, or your restless legs are keeping you awake at night, then you need to focus on reducing inflammation in your beautiful blood vessels too.
Like many active mid-life women, 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 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 explore whether our changing oestrogen levels affect our recovery after exercise – and yes, it does!
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. As one of New Zealand’s leading Personal Trainer’s, Sue Coleman mentioned,
“I’ve exercised and trained for decades and can’t thank Wendy enough for helping me understand the link between my symptoms in peri-menopause and how I receover from my exercise.”
My quest to explore what was really going on during menopause for those of us who have been regular exercisers for decades, began by looking at the women’s health and ageing research.
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 and the accumulation of inflammation as we age. 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. I talk about this in all my programmes, especially my 12 week exercise programme called ‘Rebuild Your Fitness’. Since we came through puberty, oestrogen production not only serves as a powerful regulator of our menstrual cycle, but it helps to increase levels of nitric oxide. This is a powerful 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. This keeps 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! However, we have also evolved to go through menopause and reduce our production of oestrogen. So, as I often say in my programmes and in my Masterclass on Menopause (now available online for you), menopause itself isn’t the issue. The issue with our symptoms, aching joints and muscles and our high blood pressure, is the effect that loss of oestrogen has on these structures. When you understand this, the type of exercise you do and how you look after yourself whilst your body is transitioning through menopause makes so much sense!
When oestrogen levels are declining, our blood vessels change too. In fact they don’t dilate as well as they used to. This is called age-related vascular stiffness and these changes begin as we go through menopause. These changes in our blood vessels account for increased inflammation which, for regular exercisers, causes them to feel stiff, sore. And if this is you and you aren’t sleeping, then too much exercise and not sleeping well, can head women into immune dysfunction, including fibromyalgia, because they aren’t recovering from their exercise sessions as well as they used to. This was Kaz as well.
How can we support our blood vessels in menopause and improve nitric oxide uptake to reduce vascular stiffness?
At the 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 Faculty. 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 beautiful blood-vessel boosting vegetables.
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 and not sleeping or if we have other health changes, such as IBS, or high cholesterol. Add this to the fact that our blood vessels are stiffening as we move through menopause, then this can contribute to poorer post-exercise recovery. Some women also experience this as restless leg syndrome or they find that their muscles ache for longer 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. I hear this all the time in women who have come onto my programme and have been regular exercisers but have been plagued by continual injuries.
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. 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 not recovering from more vigorous exercise, can readily become a problem for our ongoing health as we get older.
That’s why, included in all 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, whether or not they are regular exercisers. In this I have 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 all the protein shakes to the gym buffs. If you’re going through menopause and want to improve your recovery, then it’s all about helping your beautiful blood vessels to dilate and to reduce inflammation. It’s why I love my juicer!
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 please come and join me on any of the MyMT™ programmes. I’m passionate about you living your best life as you age. As such, improving your tolerance to physical activity is important for your cardiac and metabolic health.
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.
“Putting menopause into wellness, not sickness for over 2000 women around the world. Join me when you can.”
Each online programme is 12 weeks long (but you can take longer) and includes my personalised coaching as well as fabulous support in my private facebook group too. I also realise that all women are different with their needs so my individual support is critical to your success as well. Up until the end of June, 2020, each programme has NZ$100 off the pricing as this was my lockdown special. I hope you can take advantage of this before the end of the month. Please just use the promo code ATHOME20 when you purchase. And when you get time, I have a short video for you below which I made whilst in lockdown to explain how you can become part of the fabulous MyMT™ community. Even if you don’t want to come onto my 12 week programmes, you can also sign up for my weekly newsletter as well.