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Top Two Strategies To Boost Body Image In Menopause

body image fitness menopause menopausefitness outdoor workout perimenopause Apr 17, 2024

Body image has been a very personal topic for me, and I’m very passionate about sharing any tips that have helped me manage my own experience. When research helps me make that point, I’m even happier. So here are my top two tips to improve body image, but first, I will dive a little deeper into what body image is and just how prevalent it is in menopause.

What is body image?

Body Image is a term used to describe how people feel and think about their bodies, regardless of how their body actually looks.  It may sound like a simple description, but the fact is that body image is a very complex construct that is affected by many different factors. Some of those include physical characteristics such as body size and psychological traits such as low self-esteem, depression, low self-efficacy, low confidence, and the need to be perfect. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, “people with negative body image have a greater likelihood of developing an eating disorder.” Considering that the menopausal transition is marked by an increased risk for depression, it is not surprising that 60-80% of menopausal women report varying degrees of body dissatisfaction. The fact is that body changes that occur during menopause are normal, but they can increase body dissatisfaction and disordered eating. 

Strategies To Boost Your Body Image (the first one might surprise you)

Get Outside

Did you know that a walk outside can boost your body image? Exercise, in general, is a helpful tool for improving physical and mental wellness, but going outdoors can potentially alter body image and self-esteem even more.  Research shows that being outside is associated with a more positive body image, improved physiological health, decreased blood pressure, enhanced immune system resources, and reduced stress

Studies on the effects of outdoor exercise on body image and self-esteem in postmenopausal women showed that those who participated in outdoor exercise had higher self-esteem and body satisfaction than those who did not. In addition, outdoor exercise was found to be more beneficial than indoor exercise regarding body image and self-esteem, showing that walking outdoors was associated with improved mood, but walking indoors was not. The data gathered showed that, compared to those who exercised indoors, those who exercised outdoors had higher levels of body satisfaction, increased enjoyment of physical activity, and improved body image perception. Being in nature has been shown to improve cognitive functioning, lower rates of depression and anxiety, higher self-esteem, subjective vitality, quality of sleep, and happiness. And that doesn’t even mean that you have to exercise. The mere exposure to nature and the outdoors has positive benefits. One factor from that last sentence is the fact that enjoyment also increased in these studies. Especially in a world where many of us are stuck to our desk for our jobs, going outside for movement is inherently more fun than going back into another building to exercise. I love going to the gym and working out, but I you’ll never be able to snap a picture of me being this happy inside of a gym. 

Resistance Training 

Although regularly participating in any type of exercise can help improve body image, some types of exercise are better than others. One of those types is resistance training. There are different pathways by which resistance training helps body image:

Improves self-esteem, self-efficacy, and confidence 

Although all reasons to include resistance training are important, I believe that this one is the most crucial! After 20 years of working with clients, I have noticed one common denominator: regardless of the initial motivation for exercising, every single person has felt better because they felt stronger and more capable. There is something very empowering about being able to do things you weren’t able to do. Don’t just take my word for it. Evidence from a variety of studies indicates that resistance training is associated with improvements in self-esteem, as well as “self-efficacy, perceived physical strength, physical self-worth, and global self-worth.” 

Lowers anxiety and depression

I’m sure you’ve heard that walking is a great way to lower both anxiety and depression. The research supports that statement, showing a clear link between walking and improvements in mental health.  As little as 10 minutes per day appears to have benefits. The correlation between resistance training and mental health is less known but findings of multiple studies report that the “evidence supports the conclusion that strength training alone is associated with both large reductions in symptoms of depression.” Although all types of resistance training are beneficial in lowering depression and anxiety, research indicates that low-to-moderate-intensity resistance training has a higher anxiolytic effect, meaning it reduces anxiety. 

Improves Metabolism

While the previous two categories relate more to the psychological changes resistance training can bring about, improvements in metabolism are a more indirect way of influencing body image. It is a much more physiological aspect but still critical in improving body image. 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.

How to get started

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

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

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