Guest Blog by Irene McCormick, MS, CSCS
Looking for some wisdom on weathering "The Big M" ? I got you!
For so many women, menopause is entirely disruptive. Just managing all of the ups and downs in mood, fatigue levels, and lack of energy, she can become entirely missing from her own life, almost becoming invisible in the eyes of others, as so many women of this age group are in our American culture.
As a 30+ year professional fitness veteran and educator, I work exclusively as a women’s trainer and fitness coach, with a focus on exercise for women over 50. I tend to the needs of those who have moved into perimenopause, or who are already into it.
I see my role as a guide and facilitator to help her understand how to deal with these physical and emotional changes. Today’s blog is about the benefits of using exercise, diet, and meditation to support these life changes, and to offer her solutions that are as uplifting, manageable, and encouraging as they are relatable.
Any Menopause Exercise Programs Out There?
The importance of making exercise a priority during all the phases of menopause is as important as exercising through your pregnancy. Finding classes for specialty populations can be done by searching the programming offerings at a fitness facility. You will likely see many classes for older adults (those with frailty issues, have balance concerns, or are afraid of falling), and there are plenty of programs designed for individuals who are fit or young, with few limitations or injuries with a massive focus on intensity! Few if any programs out there are designed to deal with the physical issues of menopause. The needs of these women are vastly different, and as a result I created a program designed for this population called JUST START.
Consistency Over Intensity!
I meet so many women over 50 who tell me they used to exercise regularly, or try to fit in a regular fitness routine, but really struggle with finding appropriate programs for their changing needs. The desire to try, but without the ability to stick with a consistent fitness routine can feel defeating, overwhelming, and discouraging for a woman experiencing the compounding stress of menopause, along with the unexpected and seemingly uncontrollable changes that accompany this time of life. Additionally, joining programs that focus on impact and intensity over controlled, precisely performed strength training in a program that is not necessarily designed for her can be very demotivating and discouraging.
I observe few fitness facilities serving programming for this population. It’s almost as if the word 'menopause' is something to be ashamed of...It is not a disease condition, and it can be managed through diet and exercise, and possibly some hormone replacement therapy.
Women need specific support & information during this time, and frequently approach their physicians with the burning questions they need answers for. Here are the Top 5 Questions most frequently asked of physicians about menopause.
Important Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, so always refer to your physician for advice on treatments that are best for HER.
Q: Should I get Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)?
A: A medical professional would advise your best course here, but be sure to see a health care professional sensitive and empathetic to your questions and needs. Many western-influences medical professionals will not do HRT, but many more do! HRT has been happening in Europe and Australia for over 70-years. Keep in mind it is “therapeutic” hormone replacement series, not massive doses of anything that would make her muscles big or hurt her heart.
Q: Will menopause affect my libido?
A: Most definitely. Sexual desire and intimacy can really wane during this time of your life. Although it is not discussed, men also experience “man o pause” and they most certainly do experience a decrease in sexual desire. This DOES NOT have to be the case for men or women. Exercise, specifically strength training, will raise naturally occurring testosterone in both a male and female body, but certainly not in the same proportions, so do not worry about huge muscles. But you will have increased energy and ability to create lean mass, i.e. muscles!
Q: Should I take supplements to treat my menopause symptoms?
A: I am a huge fan of supplements just for that reason - supplementing an already good diet. I know I do not consume enough daily protein. It should be one ounce of protein for every kilogram of your body weight. So, you will have to convert your weight to kilograms by dividing your body weight in pounds by 2.23. Once you have your body weight in kgs., you can just consider 1 ounce of protein for every kg of body weight. Now I try to eat my protein, but sometimes I need to supplement with a shake.
Supplements during menopause may address low levels of certain vitamins or minerals, which need to be evaluated through a blood test. Ask her to request a full blood screen panel from the doctor. You may need to ensure that all the hormones are included (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, thyroid, etc.), and you might even need to pay extra for those. Do it. It’s worth the knowledge. When I had my hormone panel done once my testosterone levels were at a 2. Normal for women is 75 or higher. You can imagine how low my energy levels were, and I was gaining weight in unexpected places, despite my exercise.
Remember, you CANNOT exercise away from a poor diet. It all has to come together, especially at this time of life as little changes make bigger differences.
Q: Do I still have to get PAP tests and mammograms after menopause?
A: Yes, all women certainly should get annual physicals that include gynecological exams regularly. Screening is self-care.
Q: How long do these symptoms last?
A: It depends on her lifestyle, genetics, current levels of activity, diet, sleep cycles, and preexisting conditions. But remember, hormones act on the body in minutes, hours, days, months, years. They are powerful chemical messengers that signal for changes in the body. The symptoms of menopause including hot flashes, mood swings, premature fatigue, sudden issues with temperature (hot or cold), memory issues called “menopause moments.” This occurs when she is talking and forgets mid sentence what she was talking about. Yep, that happens too. Plan for these symptoms to be happening on and off for a few to several years.
I also get a lot of questions about exercise during menopause.
Let me share some of the questions I get from women regarding their fitness program options during menopause and my suggestions for science-based results.
Q: How does she lose her menopause belly?
A: Abdominal fat is called visceral fat, and lucky us, it’s the easiest to lose. Does it take work? YES! But it is totally possible. My JUST START VIRTUAL Fitness program offers 16-sessions divided into 8-weeks and 4 mesocycles and includes exercises and movements that will absolutely help you lose fat and gain lean mass. Visceral fat likes to be processed through the aerobic system, so moderate-intensity steady state exercise is best on her off days of her strength training sessions with me. Diet also plays a huge role here!
Q: Why doesn’t cardio work anymore, and why is she gaining weight in different areas of her body?
A: The decreased lean mass accompanied by the total loss of muscle (naturally occurring sarcopenia) accompanied by a low-fat & low-protein diets will literally make her fat. The ACSM recommends 150 minutes of aerobic activity a week for all healthy adults. That is 30-minutes, 5x a week. Low intensity (but not no intensity). I have an aquatic workout and a great treadmill walking workout for my clients that is perfect for meeting this need.
Body fat has a unique way of finding storage places, and she will never run out of storage space for fat! This is why the decreased lean mass is showing up in areas around her upper arms, neck, chest, shoulders, and back. The fat takes the spaces the lean mass did occupy.
Q: Can I control my menopause symptoms through diet & exercise?
A: She will definitely decrease the intensity of the hot flashes, anxiety, moodiness, and fatigue through changes in her diet and consistent (3-5 times weekly) exercise, but not entirely. Food can exacerbate inflammation, irregular sleep patterns which will influence all kinds of uncomfortable, moody symptoms. Number 1 is alcohol. This includes the one glass of wine at night. It creates a belly. Caffeine (keep coffee consumption to before 11 am and only 1 cup, no flavored creamers), refined sugar (think Oreos and sugary yogurt), highly processed foods (think Cheetos, Wheat Thins, granola bars) and soda pop, especially diet.
Q: What kind of exercise training is best during menopause?
A: Intensity without impact, strength based training, micro-bursts, nutrition counseling, high-volume training and a progressive program that increases in effort and intensity as you progressively adapt two times weekly for 8 weeks. JUST START Strength for Women by Irene McCormick, Life Times Dynamic Personal Trainer and Virtual Fitness provider.
I hope you found this content informative, empowering, and if nothing else, know that nothing — not even menopause — lasts forever.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Irene McCormick, is the former Senior Director of Fitness for Orangetheory Fitness. She is an IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year, a twice-published author for Human Kinetics, and an award-winning conference educator and keynote speaker. Irene holds a MS in Exercise Physiology from Iowa State University and serves as an SCW Fitness faculty member. Irene is also the creator of the SCW Foam Roller certification and presents several SCW Fitness certifications. She is the Lead Conference Educator for WaterRower®, Master Instructor for TRX®, and Master Trainer for Savvier Fitness. As a RYKA FitPro and Subject Matter Expert for Orangetheory, NASM, and ACE, her certifications include ACSM Fitness Leader, NSCA-CSCS, ACE CPT, ACE GFI ACE LWM;, NASM CPT, AFAA Group Ex, TRX, and AEA.
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