Aching muscles and restless legs – is this you as well? Perhaps your leg cramps are waking you up at night, or maybe you’re a regular exerciser and just can’t figure out why you aren’t recovering the way you used to …. now that you’re going into menopause.
Yesterday I was interviewed for an exercise podcast. “What’s one of the main changes that you have studied that affect women who are exercisers?” asked the interviewer.
“It’s that they don’t understand that peri-menopause and menopause isn’t just about hot flushes – nor is it ‘just’ about the declining levels of oestrogen from our ovaries. It’s the fact that because we are going through menopause, our muscles are ageing too and for women who exercise, this means that the uptake of calcium into their muscle fibres is slower. As such they can get aching muscles and restless legs that trouble them at night, keeping them awake. I hear about it all the time as a generation of Personal Trainers and women who have exercised all their lives, go into their 50s” I replied.
The Muscle-Calcium Connection in Menopause:
1200mg a day. Every day. That’s the amount of calcium we need from our 50’s onwards. But whilst we’ve all been told that it’s to do with our bone health, I beg to differ. Because if you are a women in her mid-life transition who either exercises regular or you are in a physically demanding job, then your calcium intake is not only about your bones, it’s about your muscles as well. And yes, I include your heart muscle and the tiny smooth muscles that make up your blood vessels in this comment. They need calcium too. I talk about this in my video below as well.
Calcium as a nutrient, is most commonly associated with the formation and metabolism of bone. With over 99 percent of total body calcium found as calcium hydroxyapatite in bones and teeth, it provides hard tissue with its strength. But whilst the emphasis for women in menopause and post-menopause has primarily been about calcium for bone health, there’s another reason that it’s important.
Your circulatory system, extracellular fluid, muscle, and other tissues need calcium as well.
Calcium is critical for mediating contraction and vasodilation of your blood vessels and it is crucial for muscle contraction because of it’s role in helping the nerve electrical current to ‘jump’ across the gap between the nerve and the muscle.
Bone tissue serves as a reservoir for and source of calcium for these critical metabolic needs through the process of bone remodelling. You can guess what happens to your bones if your calcium levels are therefore, low. Yes, that’s right. The bones deplete calcium to help to balance up the plasma levels so you can do all that exercise or activity that your muscles and nerves are demanding.
It’s not ‘just’ about calcium in food either. Optimal Vitamin D levels are crucial to maintain during your menopause transition too.
In the MyMT™ programmes, I talk a lot about Vitamin D levels and have specific information for women who join me. This is because Calcium metabolism is regulated in large part by the parathyroid hormone (PTH)-Vitamin D endocrine (hormone) system. A series of feedback loops help in maintaining blood calcium levels depending on Vitamin D absorption. This is why, during vitamin D deficiency states, bone metabolism is significantly affected as a result of reduced active calcium absorption into bones, muscles and in our nervous system. If you aren’t getting enought Vitamin D (and I’ve written how our skin is changing in menopause and Vitamin D absorption iis affected too), and you are experiencing weak muscles, porr rcovery after exercise or you have restless legs and muscles cramps at night, then have a serious look at your calcium intake and have a good think about your gut health.
Your colon is the main site of calcium absorption into your body. This means that poor gut health might affect your ability to absorb calcium from food. If this is the case, then one of your priorities is to sort out gut health. [If you need to learn more, then have I have a gut-health module that can be purchased separately from the 12 week programme as part of my Restoration Series).
Sources of Calcium:
Whilst I have a focus on the traditonal Mediterranean Diet on the MyMT programmes, typically this diet is lower in dairy products, especially milk. That’s why other sources such as small fish, nuts, legumes, cereals, and certain vegetables are an important sources of dietary calcium too. As I’ve just produced my new MyMT Food Guides for the women on the MyMT programmes, I want to share this list with you here.
There are numerous symptoms that women experience in menopause, including restless legs and sore, aching muscles. But as I always say in my Masterclass on Menopause, the ‘problem’ isn’t menopause – this is a natural event that all women go through. The ‘problem’ is that we need to change our lifestyle to accommodate this incredible stage of life. That’s what the 12 week online MyMT™ programmes teach you to do – these are differentiated according to whether you desire weight loss or not. I hope you can join me sometime if your symptoms and/or weight, is getting you down.
Astrup, A. (2014). Yoghurt and dairy porduct consumption to prevent cardiometabolic diseases: epidemiologic and expereimental studies. Am. J. Clin. Nutr., 99; 1235S-42S
Bronner, F. & Pansu, D. (1999). Nutritional Aspects of Calcium Absorption, The Journal of Nutrition, 129 (1), 9–12.
Kim YS, Hong KW, Han K, Park YC, Park JM, Kim K, Kim BT. (2020). Longitudinal Observation of Muscle Mass over 10 Years According to Serum Calcium Levels and Calcium Intake among Korean Adults Aged 50 and Older: The Korean Genome and Epidemiology Study. Nutrients. Sep 18;12(9):2856.
Preedy, V. & Watson, R. (2020). The Mediterranean Diet: an evidence-based approach. Elselvier Academic Press: London, UK.