I still remember the afternoon that I met Merridy. Living in Australia, she was attending my session at the Australia and New Zealand Exercise Conference in Melbourne. It was the first time I was talking to exercise practitioners about menopause and our symptoms, health, exercise response and more. I took the hundreds of attendees on a journey about poor sleep, hot flushes, cholesterol chaos, mood swings, depression, sore joints and muscles and more. As I told the attendees that we were the first generation of women to have so much emphasis on exercise and sports participation and go into menopause, there was so much that was ‘unknown’ about how exercise impacts on our symptoms in menopause.
As I rounded off my talk, I explained that the exercise and sports training and education institutes were not serving menopausal women very well. For decades, exercise professionals in sports and exercise science programming are educated in exercise and sports prescriptions that are mostly only suitable for the 18-35 year old markets. I used to teach this as well. To this day, here in New Zealand at least, there is no education given to exercise professionals or other health and sports practitioners about peri-menopause, menopause or women’s healthy ageing. The research hasn’t caught up with us yet! This means that as females transitioning through menopause we are still being told to exercise in ways that don’t necessarily correlate with our changing hormonal environment in menopause. For example, in a low oestrogen environment, our blood vessels constrict more. So, lots of high intensity activity causes our muscles and liver to hold onto lactic acid for longer periods and we don’t recover as readily. As well, our tendons contain oestrogen receptors, so when we lose these and we lose elastin and collagen as we age, then too much high intensity running or jumping, can cause higher rates of injury. When I said this at the conference, I noticed that there was a lot of ‘nodding’ by female exercise practitioners in the room, including Merridy.
Before I even had a chance to pack up from my session, Merridy arrived at my side. As she explained that nearly every symptom I had mentioned she also had, the tears started flowing. Feeling depressed, emotional, exhausted and confused about what was going on, I resonated with how she felt too.
So, I invited her onto my ‘Circuit-Breaker’ programme. She was the first exercise professional to come into the ‘Circuit-Breaker’ programme and I loved helping her to firstly, understand what was going on with her symptoms and why they were out of control and secondly, what changes to make to her daily life, including exercise. As a gym-owner, Merridy knew the toll that running a business was taking on her, but it wasn’t only that aspect – she was expending lots of energy looking after clients and with symptoms running riot, she was already taking Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and was on anti-depressants. It was a confusing and exhausting time and did not fit her identity which had always resonated with happy, healthy, motivated Merridy. Little did she know that up-skilling at my session at the Melbourne Health and Fitness conference would change all of that.
Having battled with bloating and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) for years, which had been getting worse during menopause (yes, our liver function changes during menopause), the first thing that Merridy discovered was how connected her gut health was to her circadian bio-rhythm. The gut is like the ‘second brain’ and it operates to a 24 hour circadian cycle as well. Turning around her sleep and gut health was crucial to being able to get off the anti-depressants she was on.
But just as important, was cutting back the volume and intensity of exercise that she was doing. From gym training to kayaking to running, Merridy was using exercise to help her feel better. But it wasn’t. In fact, with not sleeping, it was sending her into adrenal fatigue and over-training syndrome. But Merridy had done high volumes of exercise for years – even finding time to ride her bike – a very special Penny-Farthing bike! How cool!
When we exercise too much when we aren’t sleeping well, then or body builds up our chronic stress hormone, called cortisol. I talk a lot about this hormone in my programmes because when cortisol remains high all day long, then it ‘steals’ progesterone to keep up production. Too much exercise therefore, and not sleeping and poor gut health are all sources of inflammation and ‘stress’ for the body to cope with, especially as our hormones change throughout our menopause transition.
The hardest part of all was changing her beliefs about exercise, but as I said, ‘What has worked in the past, no longer works in a changing hormonal environment. You should only look forward now!’, so I was so pleased that Merridy trusted me and worked hard to change the way she was living her life.
“I can’t thank Wendy enough for her MyMT programme. I am now sleeping better, have more energy and living the life I always dreamed of. I was so pleased to have attended her session at the conference. It was life-changing.”
Merridy lives north of Brisbane now and I am so excited that she says that she will come to my seminar in Brisbane, hosted by Chef and Healthy Living proponent, Iris Windsor. I’m heading over to Brisbane in August and will be presenting my ‘Masterclass on Menopause’ to Brisbane women on August 14th, 2018 at the Kenmore Library Meeting Rooms. Tickets are only $25 and will be up on our event page this weekend. I would love to see you there and look forward to my reunion with Merridy.
Doesn’t she look fabulous now? She is off HRT and her anti-depressants and living and loving her 50’s. She is living proof that when you take on a new way of living your life to allow you to adjust to a new hormonal environment as your body ages, then you can feel healthy and energetic again.
Here she is with ‘Missy’ her beautiful dog.
It is such a privilege to be able to help women like Merridy navigate menopause and head them into their healthy ageing. My research not only changed my ways of living my life, but it’s changing hundreds of women’s lives too. If this sounds like you, then I invite you to visit the MyMT website and listen to my video when you have time.
Wendy Sweet [RN/PhD, Women’s Healthy Ageing Researcher and MyMT Creator & Coach]