In Exercise

This post about fitness lies about menopause in an article I found purely by accident one morning. I didn’t intend for this to be a post I was working on this month. Yet, as I publish this, and you read it, our thoughts turn to getting or staying moving optimally, during busy times or heading into a new season or year. And we are vulnerable. We want information, we want it fast, and that may mean you don’t scrutinize it the way that I do.

Lies about menopause, period (pun intended), run ramped in my opinion. You’re told to expect hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, belly fat, and cellulite. You’re told your vagina will dry up and you won’t be interested in sex.

You’ve heard that what you expect you tend to get?

So, stop it right now. (said in love and respect)

These things are common. They are not NORMAL. Could your metabolism slow down? Yes, especially if you’re doing all the wrong things, unknowingly. So let’s dispel all the lies about menopause that fitness related to start. Because trying to lose that belly fat and weight with more exercise more often will definitely kill your libido and make true those lies about menopause.

Those negative side effects of menopause? They don’t happen naturally, they happen naturally because of the habits you have. So let’s change them.

If you read anything online – even from what appears to be reputable sites – you’re vulnerable.

You are so very vulnerable to lies about menopause.

Because:

  • the information is going to refresh your memory and reinforce what you learned or read once elsewhere
  • it may be true and backed by science, even subject to a “medical advisory board”

But…

True science, does not make it good advice, for YOU. Unless the subjects in the research quoted and the data collected to create the position statements about exercise recommendations have been scrubbed to be sure that it is based on YOU (a woman in perimenopause, menopause, or post-menopause), you are reading TRUE science, pertaining to someone, just not you.

True science, does not make it good advice, for YOU.

And any author, advisory board, and publication can slap a title on a blog or article that includes the words menopause or “in menopause” and suddenly, Virginia-there-is-a-Santa Claus-effect is born and you don’t even realize it.

I read an article, completely by accident this morning, searching for something else. I call that the rabbit-hole effect. I’m sure you’ve experienced it. The article had so many false statements about losing weight with exercise during menopause that I was compelled to create a response (and did directly to the site as well as creating this post).

I want to point out here the reason this is such a problem.

There’s no intentional harm here. There’s no knowledge of the fitness lies being shared. I believe the authors, the site host, the board, have not intentionally provided false information or led you astray. They have, however, not got experience enough to know whether 1) general exercise guidelines pertain to specific people within the population or 2) if the sources from 5 years ago (when published in a book means it was research at least two years older than that) is still the current thinking or we’ve had enough additional research and practice to know more.

It’s easy to ask the wrong questions.

  • Is the author a certified fitness professional? She was. (Textbooks for certifications are not filled with research based on women in menopause. Only 39% of all research pertains to women at all, and a fraction of that on women in midlife).
  • Was it reviewed by a board? It was. (But not by a board of functional doctors current on recent research on hormonal balance and exercise influence on women in menopause).
  • Is the research source cited? It was. (That doesn’t make it current and true for you).

So dive in here and read these. My hope is you’ll have more awareness about what at first pass appears to be good advice and is just, in fact, a collection of broad information not necessarily intended for any individual. Namely, you.

8 Fitness Lies About Menopause (in ONE article)

#1 How much exercise you need

The Surgeon General’s recommendations of 2 hours and 30 minutes weekly (or 30 minutes of exercise at least 5 days a week) may not be enough said the author. You may need 4 hours a week to offset the effects of menopause. The older you are the more exercise you need to lose weight was the message.

I call B.S. In fact, better exercise, not blindly more exercise, is better. We all can stand to get more movement, but more exercise is not going to solve the real problem, in fact it will cause one for women in midlife often short on time, sleep, and prone to injuries. If you’re reading this and suffering at this moment from a muscle tear, a joint issue, plantar fasciitis, or any condition, you know who you are.

Truth: It varies according to your signs and symptoms. What’s happening for you?

#2 Cardio is your first line of defense against weight

One small passage or two in this section gave me hope. There was discussion of the need for high intensity exercise to boost fat burning.

The hope was short-lived. The paragraphs that followed outlined the exact opposite of a midlife woman’s hormone reality. 

I call B.S. on this one and it makes me furious. If you still believe that cardio is the way to burn fat, you are oh, so vulnerable when you read things like this which reinforce your thinking. It couldn’t be further from the truth. Strength training contributes to a greater fat burning immediately after exercise and long term as you actually change your body composition instead of burning calories (and not enough to matter) while you increase cortisol if done too much that makes you store more fat instead of burn it.

Do you need cardio? Yes. Very little doses of higher intensity and more of very low intensity. Ditch that middle of the road, middle intensity that actually adds inches to your middle.

 Truth: Amidst all the lies about menopause this one is big. More cardio can accelerate aging and have the exact opposite intended effect. Seek enough. But not too much.

#3 Tabata training is an entry-level way to do intervals

If this hadn’t been outright sad it would be hilarious. Tabata research was done on elite male cyclists who did interval intensities of 110% of their VO2 max. That is, they wanted to lose their cookies over a wastebasket after they were done. The motivated ones, at least.

How can we possibly think that what works for young, elite male athletes will work for middle-aged women in menopause?

It is hardly a beginner’s protocol. On this particular point, I find it a little irresponsible for a 16-year fitness professional columnist to make the statement that Tabata is better for a beginner to try.

Common sense in fitness teaches progression. To start using intense intervals, responsible progression would pair the interval duration with a rest interval equal or greater than the work interval. With Tabata intervals you work 20 seconds and recover for 10.

The second point to be made here is that repeating intervals of this type for 8 cycles (4 minute total duration) means that by the latter several intervals whatever exercise you’re doing you’re potential for poor form is likely. That is certainly true if as in many exercise classes, the 4-minute duration of intervals are repeated multiple times during a workout.

The instruction is often “do as many as you can.” Good luck if the instructor or trainer also tells you to do a burpee, where at 5 different points form could suffer and put undue stress on joints. Moving in a frenzy is not a good way to either elevate heart rate or create a higher metabolism.

Moving in a frenzy is not a good way to either elevate heart rate or create a higher metabolism.

Truth: Tabata intervals were originated from research on young elite male cyclists. Does that relate to you? ‘Nuff said. Do use recent studies on post menopausal women (and a different, more common sense protocol). Safe (not stupid) moves for intervals keep the risk: reward ratio optimal.

#4 Use a heart rate monitor and calculate your target zone

A math equation to determine your target heart rate zone will fail over 50% of the people over 40. It will under (in the majority of cases) or over estimate where your heart rate should be for optimal results.

Unless, you have me or another trainer give you instructions to self-test or test you in person, you can’t accurately “calculate” heart rate zones. Your body never lies. The how-you-feel measure is often a much better determinant of whether you’re working at the level for the purpose you have. You no longer want to be in what you learned once as “target heart rate” zone. The target is higher than that if you’re doing intervals and lower than that if you’re doing recovery. Every training session should have a purpose and the purpose determines the zone (I provide 5 for private clients) you should be in.

Interested? Reach out to me about how to test. You will need a treadmill or a stationary bike at a gym. You can do the test and interpretation alone or with a follow up 90-day plan. A six-month private coaching option is available right now with $2000 of bonuses if you hurry. There are only 5 spots available. Offer ends when spots are filled or Nov 27. Click image below to find out if it’s right for you.

Truth: You can exercise effectively without a heart rate monitor. After 25 years of testing and of training with a monitor, I don’t use one. I use my own talk and breathlessness scale. It never lies, though heart rate often does. I like to say, if you feel like you’re having a heart attack you probably better listen to that. If you feel like you could work much harder, listen to that too. Lies about menopause and exercise may suggest to you you have to be in “the zone” but more importantly, you have to know what your zones are.

#5 Add another day if it’s not working

More exercise tips the cortisol hormone into higher gear. If you’re not losing weight with a moderate level of exercise during menopause more exercise can make matters worse, not better. In fact, more exercise can make a woman in fair shape gain weight.

Take me for example. Following my current triathlon training schedule I’ve gained eight pounds. Why? When hormones set up a perfect storm for you anyway, like dropping estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone, you’re more susceptible to the negative effects of cortisol. More exercise is a source of stress.

A smarter alternative is to plan the time you do exercise better. Move more in your life, but don’t add more days of exercise. Recovery is the most often overlooked feature of exercise for men and women both over 40.

Truth: If a little of something is not working more of it is not going to get better results.

#6 Add intensity.

This is sometimes true, not always. In the article there was no explanation for when it is a good idea and when it is not. If you’re already “tired all the time” or exhausted but not sleeping, two common complaints of women, adding intensity may not be the best option for you.

You’ve got to do what I call “restore before more.” It’s part, in fact the first and most important part of the After 50 Fitness Formula for Women.

Truth: Yes adding intensity – to part of existing exercise time – may be a solution. It depends on your status.

#7 Add more time if it’s not working

Making each exercise session longer is not a good recommendation. It in fact will have the opposite intended effect. Cortisol tends to creep up after about 75 minutes duration. There’s a sweet spot where enough exercise is best and more is too much.

If you combine #5, #6, and #7 as many women would do – at once – in the middle of desperation because nothing they do is working? You have a recipe for adding fat, fatigue, and making matters worse). Of all fitness lies, the combination of more time, more intensity and more duration – all at the same time should intuitively seem wrong. Yet, it’s essentially what millions do in January. Every year. Statistically this is not working out well for us.

Truth: Who has more time? and P.S. lack of time probably saves you from yourself. More exercise often means more cortisol, more exhaustion, more need for recovery time.

A Sliver of Hope 

A section of the article dedicated to strength training restored my faith in the author (a trainer).  It focuses on reaching fatigue, targeting the whole body – especially large muscles of the body, and doing compound (multi joint exercises) instead of isolating body parts with exercises. This section nearly made my heart sing compared to the other fitness lies about menopause elsewhere in the article.

But then the author went on to discuss “Met-Con” workouts and suggested mixing strength in with cardio. And…. I’m out. Read on for why.

#8 Rapid movements done in short burst are the best way to burn fat.

Including but not limited to burpees (where at least 5 things can go wrong) and squats with overhead presses (40% of my clients over 40 have or develop a shoulder issue- often due to this type of movement), push-ups and jump squats.

Even the author recognized that keeping frequency of this type of workout to a minimum is best for reducing injury. If you’re lucky enough not to get injured the first time, that at least, is good advice.

These types of exercises are fondly (insert sarcasm) referred to at Met-Con workouts. They promise (because of the sexy-mysterious name) to burn more fat better, faster, and leap over small buildings.

Truth: If feeling like you’re “exhausted” gives you the impression that you had a great workout, you’re evaluating on a broken scale.

See a better safer way to do intervals here.

What Makes More Sense in Menopause

The best use of Met-Con (short for Metabolic Conditioning) exercise is intervals that are cardiovascular in nature, not muscular strength and endurance in nature. Why? Because you want muscular FATIGUE, not overall TIRED.

You can move fast doing any movement and get tired. But if you do strength movements (as lunges, squats, push-ups) rapidly, you fail to reach fatigue and therefore fail to create lean muscle that boosts metabolism. You may succeed at getting an injury. Speed increases injury rates that surpass that of increased resistance.

Any Exercise Can Make You Tired. Some Exercise Can Make You Better.

What’s Your Role in Lies About Menopause?

There you have it. This post was pure coincidence and unintended. That’s scary. Because I spend less time searching for articles on line than you do these days. I spend my time researching journals and primary research. So in 10 minutes of searching to stumble across such mythological (not in a unicorns and rainbows way) article dedicated to exercise in menopause, is alarming.

What role do you play? Are you following, spreading, starting to uncover clues about what’s happening. I leave you with this, question everything about your exercise. Is it making you feel better or worse? Are you healthy or injured? Are you energetic or tired? Do you have more stable moods or are you up and down? Are you sleeping better or worse? And don’t buy into those lies about menopause suggesting that it’s just part of it and you have to deal with it. You don’t!

A note about resources and references: It is not necessarily best practice to quote one’s own work. I acknowledge that here. In these works combined I cite over 200 research articles that pertain to women in perimenopause, menopause, and post menopause that are directly related. I hope you too will see the justification of listing these books.

Resources: 

Hot, Not Bothered: 99 Daily Flips to Slimmer, Fitter, Stronger, Faster So You Can Master Metabolism Before, During, and After Menopause. 

You Still Got It, Girl! The After 50 Fitness Formula for Women


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