As we age, we lose muscle mass. It’s a natural occurring process known as sarcopenia, a diagnostic term derived from two Latin words, “sarco” for muscle, and “penia” for wasting.
For women, this muscle mass reduction and the overwhelming symptoms of perimenopause such as crashing fatigue, depression and hormone loss, can lead to weight gain. We don’t feel like ourselves, so activity levels may diminish while eating habits increase as we search for comfort. Sleep patterns may be turned upside down and stress over what is happening to our bodies can complicate a course of action that will get us back on track. Too many women accept that perimenopause and eventually menopause means that they have no control over their changing bodies.
My highly evolved and intellectual rebuttal: NU-UH! DO SO!
Well, we have some control. It’s precisely that which I can control that I plan on controlling.
As y’all know, I’m bare-knuckling this bitch Peri. If I can help it, I will be handling my business as naturally (read: no drugs/replacements) as I possibly can. This means I gots to get smart about not only fueling my body for maximum performance, but also what I can do for my body as a whole to help that process, in particular hanging on to every muscle strand I can.
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PERIMENOPAUSAL FUN FACTS
* Estrogen likes to store weight in your hips, ladies. Once the estrogen tap is turned off, that weight gets stored or even redistributed in your belly (btw: this fat is the evil fat heart docs hate). BOOO!
* Women typically exercise less as they age, translating into weight gain. How easy of a fix is that?! Either start an exercise regimen (check with your doc) or slightly increase the one you are currently practicing to fend of what most women think is the inevitable weight gain of perimenopause.
* High stress levels can cause us to crave junk food (man, I love me a corn dog). Specifically, it’s the high cortisol levels caused by stress that cause us to crave deep-fried Twinkies and M&Ms. Obviously, we need to cut stress. See? Simple! (who just threw that shoe at me?!)
* Most of us already know that lack of sleep can cause us to gain weight. Peri can cause night sweats, hot flashes, and insomnia, which makes getting that needed sleep difficult.
* Metabolism slows in the years preceding menopause, which may be in part due to waning estrogen levels.
WHAT’S A GAL TO DO?!
Well, I’ll tell you one of the most useful things I’m doing: strength training.
Actually, years and years ago, when I was 18-years-old, I started lifting weights. None of my girlfriends were lifting, but most of the guys I knew were, and I thought they were on to something. Who doesn’t want to go through life as strong as they can be? WHO?! Fine. Lots of people. But stick with me, I has a point!
I continued to lift throughout my entire life and as I did, I noticed that my weight rarely fluctuated, whereas my girlfriends could not stop dieting and moaning about my fast metabolism.
I knew then that I had stumbled onto a fix for their weight issues. When asked what I was doing, what was my magic mojo, I would answer: I lift. You should too.
Eye-rolls abounded. Scoffs even. No one wanted to be a weightlifter. I would point out to them that I wasn’t a weightlifter, simply toned and fit.
Few signed up for my magic mojo.
Here we are, all these years later and I still lift and I’m still reaping the benefits.
YOU SHOULD BE LIFTING TOO: HERE’S WHY
* Strength training (what I call lifting) builds muscle mass. Muscle mass = higher metabolic rates (up to a 15% bump!).
* Post-menopausal women can lose 1-2% of their bone mass annually. Results from a study conducted at Tufts University, which were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1994, showed that strength training increases bon
* Regular exercise translates into better and prolonged sleep.
* Strength training is important to heart health. A leaner, well-running body reduces heart disease risks.
* Those with arthritis see a reduction in pain. The effectiveness of strength training to ease the pain of osteoarthritis was just as potent, if not more potent, as medications.
* It is never too late to start a strength training routine. Do a bit of research and you’ll find all kinds of encouraging studies of weight training effect on the elderly. Not that you’re elderly, I’m just pointing out that if they can do it…SO CAN YOU!
WHERE TO START
The best place to start is with your doc, especially if you have never done weight training before.
I do cardio three times a week and lift two times a week. My lifting day routine is simple and incorporates a bit of core work, yoga moves and streches along with weight work. I focus on large muscle groups for the best overall results. I also incorporate exercises that simply use my own body weight, such as push-ups, jumping jacks, walking lunges, planks (I think this is technically a yoga move), wall squats, tricep dips (chair dips) and regular squats. Just because you aren’t using any weights, doesn’t mean these exercises aren’t gonna kick your behind.
SO MUCH KICKING!
The thing to remember about lifting is that you do not want to work the same muscle group two days in a row. When you lift, muscle growth and strength comes from repairing the microscopic tears in the muscle fibers, caused by lifting the weights, by laying down more muscle mass. It takes a rest day to do that. If you work legs one day, do arms the next. I simply do a full body weight session on one day because it fits into my schedule better that way.
GYM or HOME GYM?
I have done both and I love both, but right now I do all my training at home. Since I work at home, my schedule is flexible and I’m able to go from writing to weight-lifting in 5 minutes. Easy!
I use free weights for arm, back and shoulder work, then get down on the floor for stretches and my yoga moves and finish off with rolling with my foam roller of terror! Takes me about 45 minutes from start to finish.
I don’t use any machines and try to change things up every few weeks so my body has to work for it.
If you are headed to a gym, you can do free weights or machines.
The simple message here is that it doesn’t matter how you lift, just that you do.
Figure out what you want to work on, try to balance the muscles you choose (you don’t want all bicep exercises…think arms, back, legs, core). Choose one exercise for each to start. As you get stronger, add a few more, or mix thangs up.
The greatness about the regime you construct is that you can’t go wrong and you’ll get stronger each week. Stronger = more muscle mass = higher resting metabolism! (more corn dogs!)
It’s true that we can’t stop all muscle mass reduction (sarcopenia) that is a natural by-product of aging, but we sure as Pete (Hey, Pete!) can slow the process down and retain and build calorie-burning muscle mass by doing something as simple as picking up a 5-lb dumbbell and doing a few sets of curls (don’t worry, you’ll soon be using bigger weights and feeling stronger).
Soon, women will be asking you what your magic mojo is and you can tell them what I tell them: I lift. You should too.
Perimenopause can SUCK IT.
* Disclaimer: All information in this series is based on my personal experience and is not intended to take the place of your doctor’s advice.
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