Menopause changes the hormones and exercise rules. Exercise and nutrition that used to be “healthy” for you may not be working any more. Lifestyle habits that don’t serve you optimally are amplified. It’s why I’ve narrowed my focus and primarily work with women who Still Got It, Girl! but may not be feeling it right now! There are answers, they’re just in a different place than they’ve been before.
It’s clear if you’ve been in the Flipping 50 community for even a short time, the advice I give most women here is: perform primarily short workouts. Sprinkle them with longer hormone balancing hikes or sessions 1-2 times a week.
The optimal word is “most.” Most of the time this works, though sometimes we step back first before we do this. Most women at midlife do best with this exercise regime during hormone chaos. Then there’s women, like me, who may struggle with an incongruent desire to do more even while they’re thriving with this type of exercise schedule.
My Hormones and Exercise Discovery
I’ve personally tested and proven in the last four years that minutes of intense intervals, weight training to fatigue and less exercise overall gets as good or better results as hours of exercise. I have the science and the decades of clients to prove it. Yet, the one thing it takes for some of us with the “prove it to me” gene is seeing and feeling it for ourselves. I did.
There is clearly a hormones and exercise connection. Then there is the “joy factor.” You’ve got one: I’ve got one. I am personally most joyous training for something, a starting line, a goal, and a purpose, rather than a weight a size, or to accomplish a 20-minute interval session. I want experiences and for me they’re active and limit-pushing experiences. The joy factor is that 10-20% that is missing from simply results-oriented workout program. Avoiding the very thing you love to do because science says don’t doesn’t quite sit right with me. Knowing we can no longer separate mind, body, and soul if you’re incongruent about your thoughts and actions, you’re not going to fire on all cylinders.
So at a time when I have plenty of evidence that my hormones are changing, in fact, tanking as I’ll share more about soon, I’m going to pursue another Ironman.
The challenge I’ve set for myself is, (as if sharing it with you isn’t challenge enough), is designing a training program with less volume and more intensity. That differs from traditional endurance event training no matter where you are, and in Boulder Colorado, it may differ the greatest. Here the theme is more is more, another workout is the norm, and rest is the exception. When it seems everyone around you is pushing through another ride, run, or swim it’s tempting to get caught up in doing more.
Aging and the Hormones and Exercise Connection
The danger of long workouts is the potential aging effect it can have. I think we can all agree no one consciously wants to accelerate aging. “Long” can be relative to your or my current status, and definitely there is a line where repeated long endurance activity increases stress on the body and breakdown of muscles occurs faster than build up. Even in my 30s and 40s I pre and post-tested body composition and made sure I was lifting weights at a level most endurance athletes would not, so that along with proper nutrition, I would not lose muscle as a result of training. I don’t let the short term goal get in the way of long term health and fitness. Thus far, lean muscle has been maintained during training.
I wasn’t in any stage of menopause during those prior races however. Let’s be clear that I’m including peri, or before, menopause, and post menopause when I refer to menopause stages. These are times when both muscle and bone losses can be accelerated even if you aren’t reaching for additional exercise which can also breakdown muscle faster.
Smarter Hormones and Exercise Training
Keys in my training will include all of the hormones and exercise choices I make: the nutrition to repair muscle and keep inflammation down, attention to increased rest and recovery needs, and the reduced volume of training in exchange for quality HIIT sessions. I’ll be sharing with to you the results of these components along the way:
- hormone replacement & supplementation
- nutrition type and timing
- rest and recovery
- training with reduced quantity and increased quality
As of this month of July, I’m officially in training mode. Early phases are about base building and establishing good training foundation that will increase over weeks and months. Most programs feature 16 weeks of training that truly dig in. I’ve got slightly more than that right now.
The race is November 26th in Cozumel. There are a lot of things to love about this race. First the water is clear and warm, no need for a wet suit. Hello freedom of arm movement and buoyancy. Second, the island is pancake-flat. Training at altitude in a place where even your downhill slopes are going uphill, this is a good thing. The run is a monotonous loop that may seem awful at first glance but at this time when you need to see people more than ever, it’s perfectly lined with spectators the whole way.
The Emotion of Hormones and Exercise
Make no mistake, the Ironman requires physical training but the emotional component of an event like this is undeniable. You make it to the end of an Ironman not because of an optimal heartbeat on your Garmin, but because of heart. In every stroke and stride during an event it’s a celebration of life and the human body. I focus on gratitude and joy for every person and experience in my life during training and it is amplified during a race. You can see tears at the starting line as well as at the finish line of these events.
I had planned to enter the Boulder Ironman last year and I was doing a final big weekend of training to confirm I was ready before taking one of the slots still open when tragedy hit my family. Losing Bill, and in such a sudden and tragic way, took all wind out of my sails. Honestly, I have not been on the road to ride since. He was a careful (and purpose driven about everything) rider hit by a drunk driver. The too-lenient laws that had put her behind the wheel again, the if-it-can-happen-to-him thoughts that amplified my already cautiousness about riding roads here kept my two wheels off the road. But it’s time. He would not want any of us sitting on the sidelines, avoiding something we love due to fear.
This feels like unfinished business. It feels like turning back on the burner for living fully rather than holding back or thinking some day. This particular kind of event may hold no attraction for you, yet I encourage you to find the thing you are leaving out of your life that is your “joy factor.” That is the point.
You and I can’t choose a logical goal and get our hearts excited about it.
It doesn’t work that way.
If it makes you smile spontaneously…
If it makes you think about yourself and “who” you are in a better way…
If it enriches your life and your loves…
Then it’s a worthy goal.
So, here’s the dirt.
Results that Impact My Hormones and Exercise Plan
My personal evidence that all things hormone have gone south:
- I love sleep, need sleep, am good at sleep! Until, that is, about 12 weeks ago. It’s as if a switch was flipped (not a good one) and I’ve woken up frequently during the night almost every night, woken up too early –even for me – occasionally and in general do not feel my best-rested in the morning. It was about this time 12 weeks ago had a period. Nothing since. Bingo.
- Then there’s the I’ve-never-had-skin-problems status I’ve held since my 20s. Until I do. Suddenly the breakouts most correlated with hormone fluctuation are mine. Another gift I don’t recall asking for.
- Last, there’s the ever-so-slight hint of hot flashes. It’s barely there such that I had a hard time making the connection. But it’s like, is that what I think it is? Oh, that’s what that is. OK, I’m over it, you can go away at any point. For me, it’s mostly at night or on these recent 90 degree days when with no a/c in Colorado mountain homes, the temps stay too hot for comfort – not helping my sleep status.
So into Boulder Longevity Institute I go, having had the requisite labs, to get more information about what we’re doing about the initial text about my hormones.
“You have none.”
It’s a good thing I like a challenge. If you’re at the bottom, the only way to go is up, right? So the good news is I don’t feel terrible. I probably should! I have muscle definition and I’m gaining strength easily. But estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, pregnenolone and melatonin are all tanking while cortisol is pumping out too much at times and dropping too low at others.
I’m clearly a hot mess.
It’s not as bad as that, according to Dr Elizabeth Yurth and my practitioner Tammy Cayou, who interpreted results and helped me form a plan of action.
I’m in for the long haul. Aging better, yes – I’m a little competitive, is the goal. I don’t want to be here existing or settling. I plan to be living it out loud. There is no controlling what genetics might have influenced, but there is choosing joy to offset stress of a meaningful life, and supporting your goals in the way you’re comfortable with doing. We’ll all be in this “post-menopause” state until we die. So beginning hormones I’m really taking them on knowing they may need adjusting up or down, but they’re for good. My new BFF.
As soon as they arrive in my mailbox I’ll be on estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, as well as the pregnenolone and melatonin I’ve already picked up. Whew! Yes, a lot of pills and creams.
There is an entirely different presence about taking something you know and believe makes you better than there is if you don’t fully believe and trust that to be true. Two years ago when I did similar testing and began taking some supplements (not nearly as many) I couldn’t get them down! Stuck! They got stuck in my throat. I wasn’t “in” is the reality.
I’m in. They haven’t bothered me a bit. Let’s do this.
The Hormones and Exercise Ride
So, I’m taking you along for the ride (and the swim and the run) with me. It’s a gutsy thing to do and feels vulnerable to share that this is outside what most of my clients should do, and the reality is it may be outside what is best for me. But my bigger incongruence would be an internal battle. I have to live with the girl in the mirror, in spite of science.
I’ll share my training schedule with you next post and compare it so you have an idea how it differs from traditional IM training. I’ll share my current body composition with you as well.
And I’ll answer questions. If you’ve got any now, share them.