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Muscle and Menopause

fitnessinmenopause menopausefitness muscle resistancetraining Nov 08, 2022

Are you still worried about getting too bulky if you do too much resistance training? I hope your answer is an emphatic NO because there is no truth to it. It’s an outdated women-should-not-have-muscle-because-it-makes-them-look- less-feminine mindset, hurting women on many levels. Maintaining and growing muscle makes you stronger and more resilient increases bone density, decreases the risk of falls, increases self-esteem and body image, decreases depression and anxiety, and improves metabolisms. As we age, a natural loss in muscle mass occurs; it’s called sarcopenia. It is normal, and everyone goes through this, but during menopause, this process is accelerated. Research shows that estrogens, especially estradiol, play a key role in muscle preservation. So when during menopause, estrogen levels are affected, and the loss of muscle is greatly affected, which is why it is so important to prioritize resistance training and muscle-building effort before, during, and after the menopausal transition. Muscles are essential for overall health. They are essential for everything, from getting up in the morning to the last thing you do before you go to sleep. The stronger your muscles are, the better your quality of life. There are three big categories of muscles: skeletal, cardiac, and smooth muscles. Skeletal muscles are connected to your bones and are the muscles that help you move your body. It is the one we can most influence with resistance training. Cardiac muscles keep your heart pumping and benefit from cardiovascular exercise. Smooth muscles are involuntary muscles, which means you don’t have much control over them. They include muscles in your digestive system, for example. Cardiac and smooth muscle doesn’t follow the same pathology as skeletal muscle and is not influenced by sarcopenia the same way, which is why I am only referring to skeletal muscle in this article.

A vast amount of research provides evidence that “physical strength or the processes of developing strength is intrinsically linked to healthy age.”  Studies indicate that women who strength train regularly tend to have significantly lower body fat percentages. Resistance training influences our metabolism by increasing muscle mass, which increases our Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR). RMR is the rate at which our body uses energy when resting. Because muscle has a higher metabolic rate and therefore uses more energy, it can increase the number of calories your body burns at rest. Dr. Len Kravitz uses the following example to highlight what it means: 4.5 lbs of muscle mass can increase your RMR by about 50 kcal. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it all adds up. Muscle is the gift that keeps on giving. Not only does it make you stronger, but it makes your body function more efficiently.

Resistance training has also been shown to be a powerful ally for women transitioning through menopause by helping reduce the severity and frequency of hot flashes. Resistance training also has beneficial effects on blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol levels. I could go on and on about the benefits of resistance training and muscle because there are so many. The fact is that resistance training and building muscle is lifesaving and has to be part of every woman’s exercise routine. 

How to get started

If you’re ready to get started, here are a few simple steps to keep you safe:

  • Always warm up! This is crucial. It could be a 5-10 min walk or a dynamic stretching routine. 
  • Start with bodyweight exercises and learn the proper form before moving on to adding resistance
  • Keep it simple. Don’t try to do technically difficult movements. Let your body adjust to the new workout, and always perfect the form first. 
  • Start with a 20-30 min workout and see how your body feels afterward. 
  • Always cool-down. Incorporating stretching and/or myofascial release (foam rolling)
  • REST!!! Give your body plenty of rest. At least 1-2 days between resistance training sessions. 

In conclusion, the majority of research I’ve seen on this topic shows that women who are physically active during menopause have fewer menopause symptoms, better sleep, less depression, and less anxiety.

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