Cardio training is great but resistance training is even more important in combating menopause muscle loss ?
Experiencing menopause and perimenopause changes how your body feels and behaves. If you’ve reached this stage, you’ve probably already read and heard many different approaches to dealing with the effects. Perimenopause and menopause can impact muscle strength and bone density.
Here’s what’s happening in your body and how weight training and exercise can help you through the changes.
How menopause affects your muscles and joints
When you experience menopause and perimenopause, you feel the effects of your hormone levels reducing. This process doesn’t just affect your mood and cause hot flushes. It affects your musculoskeletal system too. Your oestrogen levels drop and also impact the oestrogen receptors in your muscles and cartilage.
Before menopause, these receptors have a background anti-inflammatory effect that reduces the aches and pains you experience. When your oestrogen levels are lower, you can feel increased pain and joint stiffness. Around 50% of menopausal women experience more joint and muscle soreness.
You could feel pain in your neck, jaw, shoulders, rotator cuff, wrists or elbows. Gluteal tendinopathy, where the pain goes over your hip and deep into your buttock, is also very common.
Long term, you might also experience osteoporosis, where your bones become weaker and more prone to breaks. Again, it’s because oestrogen also protects our bone density and helps us to put down mineral deposits for stronger bones..
How exercise can help
Everyone loses muscle mass as they age, but exercise can help minimise the effects. It helps usmaintain or build muscle strength and supports bone density. The main difference between men and women is that the hormone drop can make women feel as if their muscle strength has fallen off a cliff, while it happens more gradually for men.
We have two different types of muscle. Our red muscle is like Usain Bolt. It’s the big, powerfulmuscle that leaps into action when we need to sprint. By contrast, our white muscle is more like Mo Farah. It has endurance and helps us to keep going. Unfortunately, we lose red muscle as we get older. It’s why you see 90-year-old marathon runners but not sprinters.
Exercise, particularly weight-bearing exercise and resistance exercises, helps to maintain and build muscle. This could be walking, running or something fun like Zumba. Choosing something that increases your heart rate is also good for your overall health.
" Weight bearing resistance exercise helps to maintain and build muscle "
What type of weight training can you do ?
Weight training doesn’t have to mean turning yourself into Arnold Schwarzenegger with massive muscles. There are different types of weights, each with its advantages and disadvantages. Free weights are great as you can easily adjust your movement to your body type. You can start with a bottle of water, although small hand weights are more ergonomic and comfortable in your hand.
You can build up to heavier weights gradually. Free weights don’t have a fixed range of movement, so it’s essential to get your form checked to reduce your injury risk. Resistance bands are simple and portable, although the resistance you get isn’t as even as with hand weights.
Weight machines are fixed and offer good support, although they’re less flexible than free weights. Most people don’t have enough space for them at home, and they can be costly, so you’ll need to join a gym to use them. If you go to a gym you could also try a class such as body pump that includes some weights.
When you get started, you can use your own body weight. Squats are weight-bearing; you can add a weighted bar when ready.
How to get started
Any exercises that use your muscles can have a beneficial effect but it’s a good idea to include some impact too. For example, swimming helps because your muscles pull on your bones and have a strengthing effect. However, weight-bearing exercise increases this. As with any other form of exercise, starting slowly and building up is essential. Our bodies aren’t great at adapting to sudden change, so little and often is best. Do a couple of sessions a week, and remember to have rest days in between. You’re more likely to get injured when you heap stress onto your body without giving it time to recover.
If you’re already exercising, keep going. Introduce weights gradually if you don’t already use them regularly.
Weight training and other forms of exercise can help to reduce the impact of menopause and perimenopause on your bones, muscles and joints. Start slowly, build up, and keep yourself feeling fit and strong in the coming years.