In the second part of our menopause series, we’re exploring the relationship between exercise, or physical activity, and our menopausal symptoms.
Make no mistake. There’s an important relationship there – both with how aging and menopause impact our body and willingness to exercise, but then there is a lot of evidence that points to the fact that exercise can help us to reduce our symptoms & help us to feel better!
On today’s episode of the Done With Dieting Podcast, we are talking about the relationship that our menopause symptoms have with physical activity or exercise. And here’s the fascinating thing. That our menopause symptoms will impact our body, how we feel, and therefore our ability to perform physical activity. And in turn, our physical activity will impact positively our menopausal symptoms.
So, if you don’t love to exercise, this is an episode that you are not going to want to miss. Because maybe if you have just the right reasons to start exercising, it might help you to feel better.
So, let’s get started.
You are listening to the done with dieting podcast. The podcast for women in midlife, who are done with dieting, but still want to lose weight and feel good in your clothes.
You know that diets don’t work long term. But you feel like there’s this secret that everyone else knows that you just haven’t figured it out yet.
I am your host, Elizabeth Sherman. And I’ve helped hundreds of women get off the diet roller coaster, change their relationship with food, exercise, and their bodies.
Through this podcast, my goal is to help you too.
Welcome. Let’s get started.
Hey everyone, welcome to episode 112 of the Done With Dieting Podcast. And today, what we’re doing is we are continuing our four part series on menopause. In our first part, we just talked about general menopause symptoms and how the body is affected. And in episode 111, where in the second part of the series I talked about how eating and nutrition and menopause all go together. And in the third part of this series, today I’m talking about physical activity.
Now, let’s start out with the fact that many women who come to me have a really poor relationship with exercise. Not everybody, but many of us do. And the reason why we have a poor relationship with exercise is typically because when we were younger, we were taught that we needed to be thin, or we needed to be attractive no matter what the cost.
And one of the ways that we could be attractive is to be thin. That we needed to be a certain body shape or a certain body type. And so, many of us learned that we needed to eat less and exercise more. That was the advice that we were given when we wanted to lose weight so that we could look like the ideal.
What happened is we equated overeating or eating what we liked, eating desirable foods with exercise to work off that overindulgence. That it was simply a matter of calories in versus calories out. And if we balanced that equation, so meaning that if we took in fewer calories than we burned. Then what would happen is we would hit that ideal. And so, many of us did that, right?
What that did is it created this adversarial relationship with exercise. And so, we see exercise as a way of punishing ourselves. We see exercise as penance. While I overate or I over drank, so now I have to work off those calories.
If you’re listening to this episode, you’re probably experiencing perimenopause or menopause. And what happens is we do that, and it works for a while, right? It works for when we’re in our younger twenties, maybe even in our thirties. But once we start getting into our forties, our hormones start shifting. That calorie balance, that equation of exercising in order to work off the calories doesn’t work anymore.
Now, some of us were fortunate to be involved in sport when we were younger women. And by being involved in sport, what we found out was that exercise has so many more benefits than just controlling our weight. And so, for those of you who have not been involved in sport, who see exercise as penance, who see exercise as something that you don’t like, that you don’t want to do.
Hopefully, today I will help you to reframe your relationship with exercise so that it can become something that you do for you and you do for the purpose of feeling better because that’s really what exercise is all about. It’s not about burning off calories. Because I will tell you that if you are listening to this and you want to lose weight, that exercise is a terrible, terrible, terrible way of losing weight. It just is. You do not have enough time in the day to work off the calories that you consume.
And so, how we want to reframe exercise as we become women who are perimenopausal and menopausal. What happens is our bodies become more reactive to stress as we get older. So, as the hormones shift in our bodies and we are moving out of our reproductive years, what happens is our bodies become more reactive to stress. And exercise is a stressor. It is.
However, we do know also that even though exercise is a stressor, and we want to reduce stress. We also know that in the hours that we are not exercising, in the 30 minutes or hour that we are, that time that we’re spent stressing our body through exercise is actually helping us to manage stress in the hours that we’re not.
So, I really want you to start reframing how you think about exercise. And I remember when I was a younger woman that when someone told me, okay, we need to decouple exercise from the calories in versus calories out part of the equation that my head pretty much exploded. I was like, what do you mean? I don’t get it. I don’t understand.
And so, if you can do that, if you can do exercise for the purpose of managing your stress and not worrying about the time, the type, and the intensity. And really listen to your body and start to understand how exercise feels in your body and what your body needs. Then, what can happen is you can actually create a good, solid relationship with exercise. So, that’s just my preamble to this episode.
Now, menopause and exercise are so inextricably linked together. And what I mean by that is that menopause will impact our exercise, but also exercise will impact our menopausal symptoms. And I’m going to talk a little bit later about what constitutes exercise. And we’re also going to be addressing this in the next episode where I’m talking about sleep, stress, and recovery. But this topic is so large that I had to break it up into two different episodes.
Now, here’s the thing about exercise that as we get older, our body naturally takes longer to warm up. So, the way that you exercised as a younger woman is naturally going to change as you age. Some of that may be related to menopause, but some of it may just be related to natural aging. When we’re talking about aging and exercise, one of the things that you really want to make sure of is that you’re giving yourself more time to warm up because your body needs it.
The second thing is that you really want to give your body more recovery time in between exercise episodes or when you exercise. And then, we also want to give ourselves enough time after exercise to cool down. Meaning that after you go run, you don’t want to just stop. You want to give your heart some time to slow down.
And what that might look like is if you are running that you would walk around the block, for example. Or if you’re strength training, then maybe you do some stretching or you do some yoga or something like that so that you’re not just going from active to inactive.
First of all, be aware that when we go through perimenopause and menopause. That our estrogen in our body is reducing. Now, what that might look like is for your skin for example, you may find that it’s drier or it’s tighter. And so, the same thing is going to be true for your muscles. You may find that your muscles aren’t as supple as they used to be. So, they might be a little bit more tight, and they aren’t as flexible.
Now, everyone is completely different. So, if you’re thinking, well, I’m not experiencing that, that’s totally fine then. Again, when we are talking about menopause, I would love to say everyone is going to experience these symptoms and you’re not going to experience these. However, what we know is that everyone is so entirely different, and so your subset of symptoms may be different than another person’s.
Now, one of the ways that menopause can impact exercise is having physical discomfort. So, some women experience physical discomfort during menopause, such as joint and muscle pain which can impact her ability to engage in physical activity.
So, just be aware that if you are experiencing joint pain, there may be some things nutritionally that we can do about that. And take a listen to episode number 111. Also, hormonal imbalances. Hormonal imbalances during menopause, particularly estrogen levels, can cause some physical symptoms such as mood swings, which can impact your motivation and your energy levels.
So, where I was talking earlier about how lower estrogen can impact your muscles, it can also just impact your motivation and willingness to exercise, as well as fatigue. Now, this is something that a lot of my clients complain about when we are going through this process, when our body is adjusting to these new hormones that we feel a little bit more fatigued.
First of all, you may feel fatigue from insomnia, from waking up in the middle of the night, not having good sleep. But you also may feel fatigue from your diet. So, as we go through perimenopause and menopause, our body will react differently to the foods that we’re eating.
And even though you may not have felt fatigue before from eating a certain diet, you could not change your diet at all and not experience the symptoms that you’re actually experiencing today. That could be related to diet. So again, go back and check out episode number 111 for that.
And then, we also might be experiencing sleep disturbances as a result of going through menopause. So, sleep disturbances such as hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia can also impact your energy levels and motivation for exercise.
Now, despite all of these things, it’s super important to maintain an active lifestyle during menopause because exercise can help alleviate some of the symptoms associated with menopause. And I’m going to go through those, but it can also improve overall wellbeing.
We know that women who exercise just feel stronger and more confident. And so, if this is something that you want, it’s possible that doing something really super simple. Even just starting a walking routine can make you feel stronger and it can make you feel like you are doing something for yourself.
One thing that is so super important is to find the type of workouts or the type of exercise physical activity that is right for you.
Now, let me talk just briefly about physical activity versus exercise. I shy away from the term exercise. Because exercise means different things to different people. And if you are someone who’s like, I don’t have time to exercise. You know, what? That’s totally okay. But what I do want to share is that we want to make sure that we have physical activity in our lives. And I’m going to talk about this more in the next episode, in episode 113.
However, be aware there’s a really great study that was done on maids in hotels. And what they did was they went to the women who cleaned the rooms in a hotel, and they asked them, do you exercise? And they said, no, we don’t exercise. So, they actually split the women into two different groups. And they told one group that they were exercising as part of their job. And they told the other group of women nothing.
They looked at their diets, and they looked at their weights. And then, they told the women in the first group, hey, did you know that you are actually exercising.
What you are doing by moving around all day, by cleaning, by vacuuming, by sweeping, by changing sheets, doing all of that movement that you are actually exercising. And they were like, oh my God, I didn’t realize this.
They came back a while later. And what they found was that the women who then all of a sudden, decided that their work was exercising. They found that they had changed the way that they ate, and they had found that many had lost weight.
And so, I tell you this because exercise does not have to look like one certain way. We want to be active. We want to be moving. We know that being sedentary is actually bad for our heart. It’s bad for our health. And so, we do not have to be doing strength training.
So, if you’re someone who does not like going to the gym, you don’t have to do that. Am I going to tell you that not doing strength training is good? No, I’m not. Because I think strength training is amazing and I love it. But over the years, my strength training has completely changed from when I was a younger woman to where I am today. And I imagine that as I get older, it’s also going to change.
So, be aware that there is no one size fits all categories for how you should exercise. And I’m going to talk about this again. The upshot there is do what you can. If it’s walking, if it’s yoga, if it’s stretching, do whatever feels good to you.
Now, exercise can have a huge positive impact on your menopausal symptoms because it can address some of the physical and emotional challenges that are associated with going through this period of time.
One of the ways that exercise can help you is it can help you to improve sleep. Regular exercise can help improve your sleep quality, reduce symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats, and increase your feelings of relaxation and calm. If you’ve ever gone to bed and you’ve been exhausted from the day, you’re just mentally spent. But you go to bed, and you can’t fall asleep.
It’s probably because your body has not used up all of the energy that it needs to. And it’s like, okay, we’re still awake, we still have energy here, so let’s do something. I love the idea that when we go to bed if we are physically and mentally tired. That then the circumstance is perfect for us to get a good night’s sleep.
Now, in tandem with that exercise will also help us to reduce stress. So, if we are awake in the middle of the night, we’re probably thinking about all of the things that are happening in the world, right? Exercise is a fantastic way of reducing stress because when we exercise, we just work off all of that additional adrenaline.
I know that when I’m feeling anxious, or feeling angry, or feeling just a really strong emotion that I don’t want to feel anymore. Going for a run and hitting the weights hard is a really great way for me to burn off just that energy. And what it does is it just calms me down.
Exercise is a well-known stress reducer. And it can help reduce symptoms such as anxiety, mood swings, and irritability because you just don’t really care as much anymore. Additionally, exercise can then help you improve your physical health. So, engaging in physical activity can help to improve your physical health, increase your muscle strength and flexibility, and reduce symptoms such as joint and muscle pain.
Now, my exercise has completely changed as I’ve gotten older. And so, when we’re talking about muscle pain, just be aware that if you are a new exerciser, you are going to want to start really slow. And what I mean by that is we want to start with body weight only exercises and maybe some assisted body weight exercises.
So, if you are interested in learning more about that, I would definitely suggest that you hire a personal trainer. I’m also going to give you some resources that are on my website, a little bit later on the show that will allow you to ease into exercise. But what happens now for me is that after I take a week or so off of exercise, I know that when I come back to it that I’m going to be more sore.
So, you may find that if you aren’t a lifelong exerciser or if you just want to start an exercise routine, be aware that exercise, you may feel some soreness at the beginning. So, take it easy. Don’t jump head first into it and become over ambitious because you might pay the cost a little bit later.
And of course, there is some truth to say that when you exercise, you can manage your weight a little bit better. And that actually has more to do with how exercise impacts your blood sugar rather than burning off extra calories. So, just be aware that the reason behind why I’m suggesting exercise for weight management does not have anything to do with calories in versus calories out.
So, exercise can be a really helpful tool for managing your menopause symptoms and improving overall wellbeing. By engaging in physical activity on a regular basis, you can help to alleviate some of the challenges associated with your menopausal symptoms and maintain your health.
Now, I am going to suggest that before you start an exercise program that for sure you talk to your doctor. So, if you have any preexisting health conditions, definitely talk to your doctor about what is right for you.
Now, let’s talk about the types of exercise that are available to you and you get to decide what you want to do. So, when we’re talking about exercise or physical activity, we want to break exercise down into three different categories. We have aerobic activity, strength and resistance training, and then we also have stretching and relaxation exercises.
And again, we’re going to talk more about stretching and relaxation exercises in episode number 113. But as far as aerobic activity is concerned. What we define as aerobic activity is something that creates a repetitive motion in your body. For example, walking, cycling, or rowing, doing something that is a repetitive movement. And what that does is it elevates your heart rate.
And for many women, heart disease is a silent killer. And I know that I need to do a couple episodes on heart disease in women and what the signs and symptoms are. Because many women don’t know. And so, just be aware that we really want to take care of our heart because it’s the most important muscle in your body. It keeps everything going.
Of course, we want to do some aerobic activity. I have episodes that I’m going to link to about aerobic activity, how to decide whether you’re working at the right or the appropriate level for your fitness type. I will link to that in the show notes.
Now, strength and resistance training. I want to talk about that right now because I know that in my journey of exercise that I have completely changed how I exercise. And part of this also has to do with the fact that when I moved to Mexico, I do have access to a gym however, I hurt myself at one point. And I was exercising at home, and I loved it so much that I just kept doing it.
I also noticed that when I was lifting heavier weights and doing more of a traditional strength training routine at the gym where I would split the body up into different body parts. So, like chest, back, or legs. Then, what would happen is I would feel really super sore. And so, what I started doing a little bit more when I was at the gym was I started doing full body workouts. And I still do that today.
Now, what I do myself is circuit training. And I love doing circuit training because what happens is I use weights; however, I use them in a way that also combines strength training and cardiovascular aerobic workouts. What happens then is I don’t have to do my strength training and then go do my aerobic activity. And so, it all combines it together.
I’m going to link to my exercise library in the show notes, so that you can understand what the right form is for each of the different exercises. But I also have an amazing set of workouts that are all 20 minutes in length. And with those workouts, you will also be able to get the benefit of doing strength training along with doing the cardiovascular.
So, if you want to get those workouts. Again, go to the show notes or you can go to elizabethsherman.com/exercise-library. I’ll put that in the show notes and at the very top of the page you’ll see a link for 20 minute workouts. Go ahead and sign up for that and you will get all of them. They’re fantastic. They’re the workouts that I did today.
Now, here’s the thing. At the beginning of this episode, I talked about how exercise is a stressor, right? And I also mentioned about how as women going through menopause that our hormones change, and we become way more stress reactive.
Now, here’s the thing that I’ve noticed with so many of my clients. When we were younger, we used to go to the gym for an hour. And that worked for us, or maybe it didn’t work for you and that’s why you don’t exercise. But whatever the case, I want you to be aware that as we get older, we do not want to spend hours exercising anymore.
One, you don’t have the time. But two, it’s just not conducive. Because what I started noticing was that I would go for an hour run, and then I would go to the gym, and I would lift heavy weights. And what would happen is I was stressing my body out. By reducing all of that workout time to 20 minutes a day, what I found was that I could maintain my weight. I felt good. And I didn’t have the stress on my body that I had doing it the other way.
Oftentimes, when we start an exercise program, we tell ourselves I need to be doing it an hour a day. I am here telling you right now that as a woman in menopause, that is not the right strategy for you. I’m going to invite you to only do 20 minutes. But here’s the thing, you cannot do 20 minutes and do it half-assed.
What you need to do is be very pointed, be very intentional, but only spend 20 minutes doing your high intensity training. So, again, go to elizabethsherman.com/exercise-library and you can get the workouts there that will allow you to hit it hard and get on with your life. Like how awesome would be to not have to spend an hour at the gym. Right?
So, in closing. Before you start an exercise program, make sure that you talk to your doctor to make sure that it’s all safe for you. Number two, I want you to set realistic goals. I want you to think about where you are right now, what you’ve been doing. And ask yourself, how could I just lean into exercise a little bit more? And honestly, maybe you don’t need to. Maybe you’re already exercising. Fantastic. Good for you.
But if you’re not exercising and you want to start an exercise program, I’m going to invite you to really just do 10 minutes, maybe every other day, maybe every day. I don’t know. Figure out what is your bare minimum that you can do, and then do that. Now, your brain might be thinking, but that’s not going to do anything.
When we’re thinking about menopausal symptoms versus calories in, versus calories out, you don’t know. You don’t know that 10 minutes of exercise isn’t going to make a difference for your menopausal symptoms. And so, if you look at exercise through the lens of helping you to feel better, then it might be a habit that you keep.
So, start slowly, choose the right type of exercise.
All right. That’s all I have for you today. Have an amazing day, everyone. I’ll talk to you next time. Bye-bye.
Hey, if you enjoy listening to this podcast, you have to come check out the Feel Good Sisterhood. It’s my small group coaching program where we take all this material, and we apply it. We figure out what works for us, and we don’t ever look at another diet ever again.
Join me over at elizabethsherman.com/groupcoaching. I’d love to have you join me in the Feel Good Sisterhood. See you there.