This is Sue. She is here with me after our presentation in Whangarei last week. It was such a fantastic week and at her invitation I was cruising around her beautiful Northland communities – Kaikohe, Kerikeri and Whangarei. Sue invited me into ‘her world’ because she knew that women needed to hear my story … which is also their story … and it was the story of my doctoral participants, which funnily enough, was also Sue’s story. It’s the story of how our changing hormones during our menopause transition impacts our response to exercise as well as our sleep, heat regulation, sore joints and more.
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 over the past 3 nights, “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 only last year that she began to realise that her body was changing. As so many of us active, sporty girls’ have found, 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 last night, I asked the audience, who had injuries that weren’t healing well. Over 50 percent of the room put up their hands! That’s when I told them that our tendons have oestrogen receptors in them as well, so peri-menopause and menopause affects our ability to heal. We don’t bounce back from our injuries, and this is worse, 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 (see the previous article in this newsletter). And with increased cortisol in her body throughout the day this affected how the rate of healing of her injuries. But she boxed on as we all 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.”
That’s why I’m so pleased that Sue came to my seminar a few months ago. You see, we are the first generation of women to ‘age’ and go into menopause in the context of the modern fitness and sporting industries. There is very little research on women in exercise and how their tolerance to exercise can change with age. And if we keep training in high-intensity activities as Sue was doing on top of a changing hormonal environment which is depleting our beautiful, restful sleep, then we can very easily tip over into over-training syndrome. That was Sue. She had no idea and nor did I.
Those of us who have come through the fitness industries have learnt to train hard. You know the mantra – ‘go hard or go home’. But 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 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! Last night Sue acknowledged the incredible changes she had experienced and how much better she now felt. She also acknowledged that once again, I had challenged her beliefs about her own resilience and how she needed to look forward into understanding how to exercise for her health as she aged. Her brain was still set in her past and as I continually say to women who I meet, either in my seminars or who come onto the MyMT programmes –