This is part 1 in a 3 part series about Weight Loss for Women After 40. Check back for part 2, Nutrition for Women After 40, next week at jennharalson.com
Let’s talk about how your hormones change as your age.
Bodies and hormones are strange and crazy and they’re always changing on us. I think there’s enormous strength in understanding the way your body works and that is why I love the field of health and wellness! Knowledge is power and there’s no need to use age as an excuse to not thrive. There’s little evidence that the body breaks down due to “time” or “age,” rather the sum of our lifestyle choices cause damage over time. Developing healthy habits is the key to longevity.
So…hormones. First, there’s this crazy thing called puberty. The shift in hormones cause all kinds of changes that I’m sure you are familiar with. Once you’re through that tumultuous time in life, you’re rolling along, and your diet, exercise, and other lifestyle factors can cause significant changes in your hormone function, so we see college students that are no longer to eat as they did in high school, or young adults that can no longer eat as college students, and 30 year olds that cannot eat as they did at 20, and so on. Then eventually, for women, menopause comes along with a drop in estrogen and just throws everything out of whack again! Some changes include muscle loss, weight gain, cravings, or stubborn fat around the middle.
So we need to rebalance the hormones, since menopause, by definition is a hormonal shift or imbalance. Knowing how your hormones operate and working with them is the key to sustained weight loss. I have done quite a bit of studying on hormones and how they effect our metabolism. The mistake many people make is assuming the same approach will work for both a 20 year old and a 50 year old. But the hormone balance in each of these women will look quite different! Diet books talk to us as if we are all the same, which you and I know is false. If that were true, then we’d have our magic bullet by now and we would have cured the obesity epidemic by now, right? This is why I think there’s value in consulting with a doctor, health coach, nutritionist, trainer, or other health professional to personalize your plan of attack. (Read: 5 Reasons You Need a Health Coach)
Conventional wisdom would have everyone doing Crossfit style workouts 5 times a week, but there’s some science behind why this works for some and not others, or why many people will see a significant amount of muscle built, maybe a bulkier look, without much weight loss or achieving the “lean” look they’re after. I think there’s some significant changes in the approach to exercise that women experiencing a change in their hormones due to menopause can make to look and feel their best.
- Rest – is this what you thought would be first on the list of changes in exercise? It may not be an exercise, but this may be the most important factor many are missing. When someone wants to lose weight, they immediately throw themselves into a rigorous training program, 5k or marathon running. However, exercise is stress (although it’s the good kind of stress) on your body that raises cortisol and forces your body to adapt and change. Too much cortisol, at a time when estrogen is lower due to menopause and not able to combat it, will result in the opposite of the desired effect – fat storage instead of fat loss. While psychologically it may feel like you’re getting more done by exercising more, biologically you are putting yourself at a disadvantage. Additionally, your body does the physical changes while at rest, i.e. sleep. Many women who are trying to lose weight are exercising 5+ days a week and not giving their bodies a chance to recover and change. You’ll want to stay active, but include a good amount of leisurely walking (NOT power walking), yoga, meditation and deep breathing in your routine to help lower cortisol and limit intense exercise to 2-3 times per week.
- Lift Weights – Lifting heavy weights will do a few things: sculpt the body into the shape you want, increase metabolism and fat burning potential, and improve bone density, preventing osteoporosis as you age. Aim for twice a week lifting HEAVY weights. None of this 5 pound dumbbell BS!
- HIIT – Include interval training for blasting fat, while minimizing muscle loss and boosting metabolism. It’s important to thoroughly warm up before doing this to prevent injury – then you can do sprints, use the stationary bike, or other high intensity exercises for 20-30 seconds and then rest for a period of 60-90 seconds. This should be HARD, but also short. If you feel like you could do it again after completing your work out, you didn’t go hard enough. 1-2 times a week should be sufficient.
Since diet and exercise work best in tandem, in part 2 of Weight Loss for Women After 40 I’ll talk about the diet shifts you can make to work with your hormones and reverse menopausal weight gain.