“I’m tearful and haven’t got the energy to paint” she said. “I’ve been looking forward to the extra time in my life to paint again, and here I am, without the energy or motivation to do what I love to do.” [Andrea, Australia]
When I ask the hundreds of women whom I come across in my live ‘Masterclass on Menopause’ seminars [I’m with you next week Mackay and Cairns], if they feel like their energy levels have dropped since they went into menopause, nearly all the hands go up in the room. There’s a lot of surprise! Yes, a big part of this is to do with not sleeping, but there’s two other main reasons as well.
- When we lose oestrogen, we lose our precious energy-giving cells in our mitochondria. This is because we are losing muscle density and size during menopause and therefore, we lose mitochondrial density too.
- If our liver is always having to process high amounts of toxins, sugar, fats and proteins, then it becomes overloaded at a time of our lives, when it is also trying to remove oestrogenic compounds too. This means that vital energy-making nutrients may not be getting absorbed properly. With the changes in structure and function to our liver and gall-bladder, then it easily gets overloaded when we move through menopause as part of our body’s ageing process. This has a flow-on effect on our energy levels.
For too long, menopause has been looked at mainly in terms of our changing hormones, but as I show women in my live-events, it’s the biological gateway to our ageing.
As such, there are incredible changes to many of our organs, including our muscles and mitochondrial cells. If you haven’t heard of these cells, then you need to. These tiny organelles sit within cells and are known as the ‘power-house’ of the cell. They are the site of oxygen storage in our cells. And they are also where our healthy fats and Glucose from healthy carbohydrates get taken up and turned into our energy molecule, ATP. When we lose our precious muscle during menopause and if we have inflammation present in our liver, then our energy levels plummet. But there are other factors going on too …
It’s the reason, so many women feel like a ‘switch’ has gone off in terms of their energy levels when they reach mid-life and why they wake up in the morning and have no energy to start their day.
When it comes to energy production, the beautiful mitochondrial cells that are housed in our muscles, matter. Skeletal muscle accounts for approximately 40% of total body mass, and it plays an indispensable role in our movement, metabolism and even our immunity. But here’s the challenge for women in mid-life. As we move through menopause, skeletal muscle undergoes a gradual loss in size, density and function as a normal part of the ageing process. This is called sarcopenia. It’s why I also tell women in my live events that ageing, at least for women, begins in our muscles.
It’s easy to slip into more health problems when our energy levels are at rock-bottom. For many women, this means more auto-immune concerns such as more frequent colds and flu, or even fibromyalgia. It’s why I also say that when women aren’t sleeping and experiencing more joint pain and muscle soreness in mid-life, they need to back off the higher-intensity exercise, until they have turned around their symptoms in menopause. We need to be careful about the type and amount of exercise we do at a time when our hormones are changing.
Women’s physical activity participation research in Australia, New Zealand, America and the United Kingdom, consistently report that women in their 50’s are the highest cohort to drop out of activity. [The other highest cohort is girls going through puberty – so go figure that one … hormonal changes anyone?!].
As the first generation of women to come into menopause in the context of the modern fitness industry, there are also many women who have arrived in menopause who may well be doing too much exercise and subsequently their mitochondrial cells aren’t coping.
Too much intense exercise can lead to more symptom chaos and I’ve written about this before. Over-exercising when we aren’t sleeping and when our muscles are changing due to the loss of oestrogen in menopause can lead to increasing weight gain, sore joints, aching muscles, hot flushes and worsening insomnia and exhaustion. These physical symptoms then prevent women from doing the exercise they love to do. So their activity levels drop-off and over time, it becomes too difficult to get back to the levels that they used to enjoy.
This happened to me and I’m wondering if this is your experience too? I know that this is the same for lots of women in the MyMT™ programme who have been regular exercisers for decades. But here’s the thing. Whether you are doing too much or too little exercise in mid-life, both these ends of the spectrum have a powerful effect on your energy levels and can leave you feeling more exhausted than usual. With everything else going on in our lives, it’s not long before we feel stressed and burnt out.
If you are feeling exhausted then you need to get to love your beautiful mitochondria.
These cells provide almost all the energy that your body needs to eat, breathe, exercise, fight disease and age well. They store oxygen which is why they are known as the power-house of our health. Without properly functioning mitochondria, we lose life-giving energy and our body struggles to maintain optimal levels of health. And as we transition through menopause our mitochondria are ageing too.
Without well functioning mitochondria, we also lose the ability to manage our weight at this time of life. When you hear about older women running marathons and doing athletics and remaining active as they age, this is because they have invariably enjoyed better mitochondrial health throughout their lifetime and as they transition through menopause. Women’s healthy ageing studies now indicate this too.
The good news is that we can turn around our mitochondrial health and therefore, our energy levels as we go through menopause. Thousands of women who join me on the MyMT™ programmes now understand this too. Remember Andrea, the painter? Here she is on the steps to her studies … you can read her story HERE.
Restoring our energy needs us to learn how to look after ourselves differently in our mid-life years. Our hormonal environment is changing and we need to reduce the inflammation in our liver, heart, muscles and mitochondria that is tipping us over into more exhaustion. If we don’t do this, then we give up the life that we love to live. We are too exhausted!
In the symptom reduction programme called MyMT Circuit Breaker programme or the MyMT Transform Me weight loss programme, (and I have the Rebuild My Fitness online exercise programme too), I help women have a re-focus on renewing their mitochondrial health which includes learning to sleep all night, restore liver health, reduce hot flushes (heat damages our mitochondria too) and change our nutrition to better match our nutrient needs for menopause. All this has been resaerched through women’s healthy ageing studies.
Each 12 week programme also focuses women on thriving again and restoring their energy. So here are my FOUR TOP FACTORS for you to focus on which I want to share with you too:
- Aerobic exercise (this is the type of exercise that stimulates your endurance fibres in your muscles – walking, cycling, rowing, swimming, slow jogging – anything that gets your whole body moving and doesn’t get you too out of breathe). With all the emphasis on high-intensity exercise in the fitness industry these days, aerobic exercise is being forgotten, but our mitochondria are stimulated to improve oxygen uptake through aerobic exercise. And yes, some strength training exercises are important too and I have body-type toning workouts in my Rebuild My Fitness programme for you. For women with pre-diabetes, new research also confirms that strength matters just as much as cardio to alleviate the diabetes that often present later in life, when women are overweight. When I went into menopause, I was so tired, over-weight, sore and grumpy! I would never have been able to do this 4-hour hike in beautiful Austria this year, without having turned around my mitochondrial health.
2. Anti-inflammatory nutrition with adequate amounts of healthy fats and low-glycemic (energy sustaining) carbohydrates. The MyMT™ FOOD GUIDE is packed full of food information that is based on women’s healthy ageing nutrition research. some healthy fats (not too many) and carbohydrates that don’t spike our insulin levels are important as these sources of food are broken down and move into your mitochondria to give you energy. Ensuring iron levels and Vitamin B12 levels are adequate as we go through menopause, is also really important.
3. Have you heard of a supplement called CoQ10 [Ubiquinol]? All the women on my programmes do. I love it when they begin to understand that many menopause-related supplements are just marketing hype and have very little scientific research behind them – plus they are expensive and don’t work for the length of time that it takes to go through menopause (5-8 years). What works is changing our diet, ensuring that we have anti-inflammatory foods and adding Co-enzyme Q10 as a supplement, (if women are on other medications then they must clear this with their Doctor). When my own energy levels were at rock bottom and I was also experiencing palpitations, attending a healthy ageing conference in America changed my life. The work of Dr Stephen Sinatra and others has been revolutionary in the area of cardiac mitochondrial health. As Dr Sinatra says, “this fat-soluble, vitamin-like compound is found within all your body’s cells and helps your body (and especially your heart) make the energy it needs to function and stay healthy.” But here’s the thing. Before menopause, we have produced enough of this compound naturally, but as we move through menopause and we age, our production of CoQ10 declines. We need it as a supplement but not the high doses that are in health-food shops and pharmacies.
4. You need to get back sleeping all night, if you are experiencing insomnia. Hormonal changes during our menopause transition are often the catalyst to decreasing mitochondrial function and one of the main hormonal changes is the change to melatonin levels (our sleep hormone). When oestrogen begins to decrease as part of our normal biological ageing, the change in all of our hormones (remember that all of our hormones function together to keep us healthy), also changes our sleep hormone MELATONIN. This is why many of you experience poor sleep and increasing night sweats and hot flushes, as your thyroid hormones try to correct the imbalance. [I discuss how this happens in my webinar here]. The secret to sleeping all night is to follow the powerful strategies that I have for turning around our underlying mitochondrial health.
For example, one of these strategies is to decrease our exposure to blue light from our work and home environments.
Every month, there seems to be more and more research that comes out about the effect of blue light on our health.
A recent Harvard Health report states that artificial blue light and natural blue light from the sun are very different. Blue light from technology has four times the blue light that we get from the sun because blue light from the sun is balanced with red, green, infrared, and ultraviolet light.
Excess blue light creates Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) and this creates inflammation, even during the day. It also diminishes the function of your mitochondria and then your body has less energy to do the things it needs to do on a daily basis. Many of us work in environments where there is artificial light all day, such as offices, hospitals, etc, and I know that we often can’t get away from these environments, because it’s our job! But what you do have to try and do, is to get natural light into your eyes at any time of the day and on your days-off. This means getting outside into nature as much as possible to balance up your exposure to harmful blue light and try to mitigate the effect of health changes caused by your work environment.
But melatonin does more than help you sleep. It’s also an antioxidant that protects your brain and increases mitochondrial function. The research is now growing that lowered melatonin on a chronic basis leads to neuro-degeneration (nerve degeneration) as well as reduced energy production and output. This is why you can sleep for eight hours and still wake up feeling tired and heading for the coffee pot!
It’s also why, if you aren’t sleeping, I would love you to come onto the programme. It’s so important for our heart health as we age to sleep all night again.
I love it when women on the 12 week MyMT programmes begin to sleep all night. Finally, they see a way through their menopause transition that gives them hope that their energy levels can pick up again.
When I discovered through my women’s healthy ageing research, the power of turning around mitochondrial health for improved health and energy as we age, I made so many changes to my day-to-day lifestyle, that made such a difference to my overall health – this included the type and timing of food, the type and amount of exercise and all the other strategies that I have in the MyMT™ programmes. I love this photo of Pauline – she used to feel so tired with her work as an aged-care nurse and now feels like she has her life and energy levels back – I love that!
If you aren’t sleeping well and you are going through your menopause transition and you just feel so damn exhausted all the time, then I invite you to join me on either of the MyMT programmes – 12 weeks will literally change your life… and your (mitochondrial) health.
Bennett, S. (2016). Mighty Mito: Power up your mitochondria for boundless energy.
Sinatra, S. (2011). The Sinatra Solution. California: Basic Health Publications
Tarp, J. Stole, A. et al. (2019). Cardiorespiratory fitness, muscular strength and risk of Type 2 diabetes: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Diabetologia Online, pp. 1-14.
Wilmore, J., Costill, D. & Kenny, L. (2008). Physiology of sport and exercise. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics Publ.