As a personal trainer, this is one of the most common questions I’m asked. Everyone is fascinated by what exercise will transform them back to either their pre-menopause body or the best ‘shape’ of their life.
First things first, a few considerations:
- A reminder that it’s not abnormal for a post-menopausal body to look different from a pre-menopausal body. Menopause is often referred to as reverse puberty and it is a major hormonal shift. Like puberty, that means that our bodies do change. The distribution and way we store fat may be different. Add the natural ageing process and the natural decline of muscle mass, then it doesn’t seem quite so strange that our bodies also change, does it? I always like to point out that a post-menopausal body may look a little different. That’s not bad, it’s just different and beautiful in its own way.
- By the time we reach midlife and menopause we have decades of past lifestyle choices, possibly injuries, medical conditions and there is also a genetic factor to consider. Ie many women have limitations for whatever reason with regards to what their current body is capable of. However, one thing to note here is that most forms of movement are adaptable to almost every body – generally, there is always a variation that will suit you.
- How do you enjoy moving your body? No matter how well planned and ‘ideal’ an exercise regime is, if you don’t enjoy it, then it’s highly probable you won’t continue. For example, I sometimes find women not going for a long run even though they love this form of exercise because it’s been promoted as not ideal for post-menopausal women partly due to raised cortisol levels. However, they may then end up doing nothing because they really don’t enjoy more ‘optimal’ short sprint training. Movement should be enjoyed and generally, you can adapt any form of exercise to fit into an overall plan
So, given all that, what are the ‘best’ options for post menopause exercise that will help optimise body composition and health?
- Strength training (preferably heavy)
– Increases metabolic rate
– Assists body composition
– Helps bone density
– Strengthens immune system
- HIIT (High intensity interval training) or SIT (Sprint interval training)
– Burns more fat for energy
– Improves body composition
– Improves insulin sensitivity
– Time efficient
- Plyometrics (dynamic multi-directional movement)
– Improves bone health
– Assists with body composition
– Increases muscular strength
– Improves insulin sensitivity
But why are these forms of exercise more ideal now?
With the change in reproductive hormones and also general ageing, our biology changes post menopause. The way our body responds to exercise and the types of exercise that will optimise our body composition and health may therefore be slightly different than pre-menopause.
The old saying of ‘more is better’ is definitely not relevant for post-menopausal women.
With the loss of reproductive hormones, among other things, it becomes more challenging to manage cortisol levels. Ideally, training should therefore be shorter in length but possibly more intense to create a stimulus and then allow your body to recover and reduce overall stress. This is one of the reasons why longer, more endurance type training is often not considered ideal. (However, please note that doesn’t mean you have to give up endurance training. It may just mean that you need to structure your overall training slightly differently.)
Recovery also becomes just as important (or possibly more important) as the actual exercise, partly because of the cortisol issue and partly because one of our main goals is to maintain/build muscle (that is so much harder to do when our reproductive hormones have diminished) which can only happen with correct stimulus, fuelling and then recovery.
Being conscious of recommendations while also ensuring you move in ways you love is the key.
Moving is critical for good health – both for your physical health and also for your mental health. Move it or lose it has never been more important than in midlife. What you do now will impact how you live in the future. Moving (if you don’t completely overdo it and get injured or ill) in ways that brings you joy is better than not moving.
Perhaps the answer therefore, is to try not to focus solely on what is the ‘best’ type of exercise. Yes, understand that certain forms of exercise can help optimise your body composition and health but also remember to have fun. Find exercise you enjoy, as time out for yourself and also as time spent with your family and friends.
When exercise becomes a healthy part of your life and is no longer a chore but something you look forward to and enjoy, then you will have found the ‘best’ exercise for you.