This is Sue. She is here with me after a presentation in beautiful Northland in New Zealand. As a leading Personal Trainer, Teacher and Athletics Coach for her local community, Sue had invited me to do some presentations for women whom she knew would benefit from learning about menopause.
For over 20 years Sue has been a stalwart in the small northern communities she engages in. Not only has she worked as a secondary school teacher in physical education, but numerous teens owe their athletic prowess to Sue’s incredible commitment to coaching athletics and promoting sporting activities in her communities. Sue lives and breathes sports! So much so that she retrained as a Personal Trainer. That’s how I first met her. She was a student in the personal training courses I was teaching at Auckland University of Technology (AUT) over a decade ago. She wanted to understand how to bring more women into the gym or go out to their homes and take them through exercise sessions. As a mobile Personal Trainer, as she told the audiences before my presentations, “I’m so passionate about getting women exercising, because it’s changed my life and I knew that it would make a difference to their life as well.”
With jam-packed days, running from teaching and coaching athletics to doing some personal training and then home to a busy house-hold with busy, sporty kids, Sue never stopped. Fitting her own training into the mix was always a challenge but that’s also why she wanted to become a Personal Trainer, because it enabled her to exercise with her clients and get her own work-outs in.
It was when she began to experience more injuries, that she began to realise that her response to exercise was changing. The injuries started to appear. It was a broken collar-bone which floored Sue. Playing field hockey for her local team, she ran into a player. In the past, she would have bounced off and avoided the collision. But her reaction time was slower and she fell onto the hard ground awkwardly. The medical experts told her to take it easy for 6 months. Like many women, she thought she could do it in 3! But it wasn’t the case. It took nearly a year to get full range of movement back.
When I took my Masterclass on Menopause seminar that night in Whangarei, I asked the audience who of them had experienced sporting or exercise injuries as they arrived in mid-life. Over 50 percent of the room put up their hands! That’s when I told them that our tendons have oestrogen receptors in them, so peri-menopause and menopause affects our ability to heal. We don’t bounce back from our injuries, especially when we can’t sleep.
And Sue wasn’t sleeping. With so much going on in her life and having had a baby at 42 years, it was no surprise that Sue was feeling challenged with her sleep. She had no idea that this was increasing her hormone called cortisol. With increased cortisol in her body throughout the day this affected she healed. But she boxed on as many of us do. In 2017, she entered the athletics events in the Masters Games. Athletics was her world and she had been a top athlete back in her teenage years and she loved being back in the competitive environment again. But afterwards, she didn’t bounce back. She felt tired and constantly fatigued and despite all the exercise the weight was beginning to stack on. As she said,
“Here I was supposed to be the role model for women in my communities, especially those wanting to come to me to lose weight. But I realise now that I had no idea what was going on as I got older and my hormones began to change.”
Sue is one of the first generations of women to ‘age’ and go into menopause in the context of the modern fitness and sporting industries. There has been very little research that is specifically targeted to women during peri-menopause and many find out the hard way how their tolerance to exercise can change with age. Sue’s identity with exercise and sports was aligned with always training hard and doing higher-intensity exercise, but as she entered peri-menopause and wasn’t sleeping, she wasn’t recovering from the harder-effort exercise. When this happens, women very easily tip over into over-training syndrome and adrenal exhaustion. That was Sue.
During menopause, less intensity is better, especially when we feel tired and aren’t sleeping. As I discovered myself, we are a generation of women who have learnt to tolerate high levels of exercise and in menopause we need to be careful about how much high-intensity exercise we do. Only 1-2 times a week is sufficient. On the other days, we can do some strength training, yoga, stretching, or some lighter aerobic exercise such as swimming or cycling. Aerobic exercise also helps to improve our resilience to changing cardiac health as we age. A ‘must’ for women’s healthy ageing.
Sue is not alone in how fatigued she felt with all the exercise she was doing. But it wasn’t just the exercise, it was the accumulation of everything else she was doing in her day as well. The energy demands and constant stress she was putting on her body was causing her cortisol to increase, her blood sugar levels to be inconsistent and then not sleeping on top of all this, was leaving her frustrated and exhausted.
That’s why I’m so pleased that Sue trusted me and came on the MyMT Circuit Breaker programme. It gives me such pleasure to be able to give female Personal Trainers who are entering this stage of life, some guidance about how to improve their sleep and energy levels in a changing hormonal environment. They need their energy to help others! Her beliefs about her personal resilience and capabilities were challenged but understanding that she needed to change things up a bit as she aged was key to her healing. As I continually say to women who I meet, either in my seminars or who come onto the MyMT™ programmes –
“Don’t look back – you’re not going that way now!”
Wendy Sweet, PhD/MyMT™ Founder/ Member: Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine.