More Endurance Exercise, Less Muscle and More Fat with Age | Recipe for Disaster

Gaining more fat with age is not inevitable. But following the path of the 80s and striving to get an hour of cardio (or more in daily) just might make it so.

Prolonged aerobic exercise, especially at higher intensities, significantly elevates cortisol concentrations when compared to similar duration and intensities of resistance exercise. 

Higher intensities: includes both “moderate” and more vigorous activity 

Age, gender, physical fitness level, exercise intensity, training status, and modality are all variables that influence the production of cortisol. 

Elevated cortisol concentrations are highly indicative of muscle catabolism, increasing the loss of lean muscle tissue. This is a significant health concern for the growing elderly population. 

The rate of cortisol production changes as an individual ages and has been observed to have differing responses to exercise intensities in males and females. Cortisol production is correlated with exercise intensity and duration but does not increase the same across all exercise intensities. 

Higher exercise intensities and duration appear to be the main contributing factors that influence the production of cortisol, increasing the potential for muscle catabolism and muscle loss.

A pivotal piece of how well menopause goes for you is cortisol. 

It’s like a fork-in-the-road that you don’t see when you’re there. You may drive by it and be going down the road when you realize something isn’t working. It could be quick or it could take some detective work to discover whether it’s gut health, endurance training, skimping on nutrition or something else that is the culprit.

In 10 years, this may not be true for women as we identify this truth now. Then again, there are women who’ve been told for decades to lift weights, who’ve chosen not to, said, “no this is boring” and skipped it. The reality of an osteoporosis diagnosis, or a fracture that resulted in the x-ray, dexa and diagnosis, is the first wakeup call to the reality that you can’t “prefer and walk or Zumba” your way out of bone loss is what it takes to make them realize they can’t ignore health factors that apply to specific outcomes. A percent will realize strength training is paramount and others will avoid until there’s a health event.

Why More Fat with Age is Easy and Common During Menopause

In perimenopause, fluctuating high and low estrogen levels are a stressor for the body, which affects cortisol levels. 

Progesterone and estrogen work in a balance. Known for calming and restfulness, it balances out cortisol’s effects. Progesterone levels also decrease and are thought sometimes to be blunted by cortisol. That causes what is known as estrogen dominance, instead of this nice balance between them. Progesterone is good witch/bad witch in that it can contribute to higher glucose levels causing insulin resistance too.

Cortisol is actually your friend, if you let her be. It helps regulate energy, glucose levels, sleep-wake cycle, blood pressure. When you get too much stress however, (from all sources: allostatic load), your body’s adrenal glands shut down non-essential activities to help you handle the threat – or perceived threat. 

You can guess if this happens, sleep cycles get messed up, glucose isn’t regulated as it should be, and gut issues might occur too.

Cortisol levels tend to rise with age. But also, low estrogen increases cortisol. The symptoms of menopause and symptoms of cortisol imbalance are almost identical:

  • Weight gain
  • Cravings for unhealthy foods
  • Insomnia
  • Low energy/fatigue
  • Low libido
  • Aches and pains
  • Mood changes/depression
  • Skin and hair issues

Increased cortisol is directly correlated with menopause. 

Women have less cushion for stress and high cortisol when in menopause hormones fluctuate and trend downward.

If you’re exercising:

  • prolonged
  • high frequency
  • strenuously
  • and definitely doing these things collectively

…your cortisol levels are likely rising. You may notice weight gain, belly fat (or back fat) you never experienced before. Body composition changes, like decreasing muscle tone, more inflammation- sometimes showing up as water retention, also may show up.

That’s a deleterious effect on muscle due to the rise in cortisol. 

How Midlife Women Can Avoid Gaining More Fat with Age:

  • Monitor your cortisol levels.
  • Monitor your blood sugar levels.


Support a better balance in both with:

  • Less exercise, move movement
  • Shorter more frequent exercise “snacks”
  • Smaller conscious meals
  • Eat with a specific order
  • Try Apple Cider Vinegar before meals

Keep in mind these things:

  • A High glucose level (blood sugar) or blood sugar swings high and low causes physiological stress. (cortisol)
  • High cortisol levels cause physiological stress
  • Overtraining (it’s relative to your stress level not to your history of exercise) elevates both.

Above all, don’t try to lose weight. Focus on gaining lean muscle mass first. Then you can decrease body fat by being more active, lifting heavier weight and going faster in all current activity, while soaking up the pesky blood sugar that leads to weight gain.

Start lifting with us!

Stronger Tone and Define


Other Episodes You May Like:

Cortisol Hormone: Don’t let it derail your fat loss efforts

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It Takes MORE Than Hormones To Fix Your Hormones:



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