27 Jun 2023

Why resistance training in menopause and midlife is so important

Why is resistance training in menopause so important as we age, and how can we fit that into our busy lives with so much else to juggle? 

Katie spoke with personal trainer Kate Oakley on the podcast about how we can increase strength and protect our bones and joints in midlife, as well as find ways to fit it into our day, even with only 5 minutes to spare. 

Kate explains why we need to change the way we exercise at 40 plus and how the right kind of training can do more than just help you “get through” the challenges that come with menopause but also be empowering and totally change your outlook on life.

Listen to the full conversation in The Latte Lounge podcast episode above.

Some of the key information from this episode:

Why do we need to change the way we work out?

Post 40, our muscle mass is declining. We feel less strong naturally, through no fault of our own and our posture and balance are affected.

With our hormones changing, it's something we have to think, ‘This is the way it is,’ and change the way we exercise.

I experienced firsthand that I needed to stop doing the HIIT exercise and move into resistance training. 

Keep some cardio in there, and if you can, keep some restorative exercise in there too. Something for agility, flexibility and calmness, like yoga, but resistance training is the big shift that we need to make once we're into our forties and into perimenopause.

RELATED: How exercise can power you through menopause

resistance training menopause

What is resistance training, and why is it so important in midlife?

Before I became a personal trainer and before I knew what it was, strength training to me meant going to the gym. Great big, heavy barbells like you see the men doing and weightlifting competitions.

And it really isn't that if you just break it down. Resistance training means working the bones against a resistance, such as your own body weight or resistance bands or dumbbells can just be done in your own living room or your garden.

We need to be working those bones against that resistance because, unfortunately, they're starting to break down faster than they're repairing. And resistance training is what can change that.

RELATED: How to look after your bone health in midlife to prevent Osteoporosis

What are the other benefits of resistance training in menopause?

Firstly, to increase muscle mass. People start to describe themselves as ‘going soft’ or ‘wobbly’ and feel less able to do things like picking up shopping bags, gardening, lifting heavy bags of compost, or putting heavy things away in cupboards because they have a decline in muscle mass.

Research also points to resistance training helping with some of the menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats and migraines. I've had a few clients recently who used to suffer regularly from migraines, and I'm pleased to say that they barely ever have one now.

Another benefit is the endorphins and the serotonin that we hear so much about. I think people used to think you can only get that kind of exercise high from cardio, from something that really gets that heart pumping.

That isn't the case. Resistance training really can have that impact, and I really see it make a huge change to women's self-esteem in menopause.

Start small, and then you'll start to just notice that you feel a little bit stronger and a little bit stronger, and that is such an empowering feeling. It doesn't matter whether you are lifting weights a fraction of the size of other women. It's about you feeling that you are stronger than you were.

RELATED: Why women need weights

resistance training menopause at home

HRT is great and is a life changer for many women, but it’s important to build strength too.

Absolutely. And equally, if you are not able to take HRT or don't want to, it's important to know that HRT isn't the golden answer to everything, either.

If you take HRT but don't do the strength training and don't look after your stress levels, and don't look after nutrition... we all have to look at all of these different things to thrive in this life stage.

Please start strength training; you will see a difference. You will feel different. And if that even sounds too overwhelming, start with walking.

Even then, build that up because there's so much overwhelming information out there. You hear these great big numbers that for you to make an impact on your health, you need to be doing 45-minute workouts three or four times a week or 10,000 steps a day minimum. 

That sounds so unachievable. It could just be a simple case of doing a bit of this and a bit of that before you get in the shower in the morning. You don't even have to be in workout gear. You could just do it in your pyjamas.

Or, if you're working from home and you're in loose-fitting clothes rather than a smart blouse and skirt, you can do it when you've got a five-minute break. 

I'm a personal trainer; I need to be strong and fit, and healthy. I’ve got lean muscle mass, I've got muscle definition, and I never do an hour ever; you just don't need to be doing 45 minutes that many times a week. But there are definitely ways that you can find time.

 

When you're brushing your teeth, you can do something like a wall sit where you take your lower back against the wall, almost as if you're sitting on an imaginary chair, using the wall as the back part of your chair. Try and hold that for as many seconds as you can while you're brushing your teeth, and that will work the front of your thighs or your quads. 

Or you could do some bodyweight squats while you're brushing your teeth. If you did that twice a day, that's 28 minutes a week. That's a full workout, and you didn't have to find any more time.

When the ads come on tv, you can drop to the floor and try to do some sit-ups or some press-ups against the sofa. Do lunges across your living room when you go and put the kettle on; all these little things do add up. 

Things like walking up the escalator. I live in London, there are a lot of escalators for the tube, and I never stand still on an escalator because there's an opportunity for me right there to do a couple of minutes of exercise. Think of it as going in the exercise bank across the week.

Maybe you've only done one workout, but if you add the bits and bobs when you're brushing your teeth, going up the escalator, walking the long way round and lifting that bag of compost at the garden centre, they all add up. 

I share short workouts on my Instagram, 10-12 minutes long because everyone can find 10 minutes. If we can find time to scroll through Instagram or Facebook, we can find 10 minutes.

I would try and urge you to think about how many times in the last month you've thought to yourself, ‘I've got 10 minutes, but that's all I've got, so it's not worth bothering with.’ Multiply that across the month. If that's seven or eight times, you're heading towards an hour and a half there.

Multiply that across the months, and it's gonna add up into hours and hours and hours of exercise, so those 10 minutes are absolutely worth bothering with. 

RELATED: Returning to exercise after a long break

resistance training menopause using weights

Are you ever too old to use weights, and how heavy should they be?

It's going to depend on your starting point, so without assessing someone; I would advise a pair of three kgs for the upper body and a pair of five kgs for the lower body as a starting point. If the threes are too heavy, start with twos.

Ideally, if you’re doing a bicep curl, for example, then you want to aim for 12 repetitions of that, with the 11th and 12th being really tough. Then you'll know the weight's heavy enough for you.

Is it too late to start in your sixties? Absolutely not. I'm 53 in July, and I'm stronger than I've ever been. There are some great women on Instagram in their seventies who are super strong. There are some great accounts.

RELATED: Different ways to get fit in midlife

Is resistance training in menopause enough, or should we change our diet or lifestyle too?

It's important in midlife to look at the whole picture. I'm doing plenty of resistance training, but I have to work on my stress. So I do breathwork. 

I have to make sure I'm eating well. The strength work is not enough on its own, but once you start, it can be a bit more motivating to make some of the other changes. You feel a bit more inclined to then look at your nutrition.

We do need to be eating more protein to build lean muscle. And it also means that you feel fuller. Women have more energy on it, but that doesn't mean at the expense of other foods.

I try to get my clients up to 80 to 100 grams of protein a day in small increments.

We need carbs to fuel us. I'm talking about good carbs, whole foods. So brown rice or whole wheat pasta. I try to eliminate all of the white, refined carbs. 

In terms of getting enough protein, one chicken breast is 35 grams. That's a lot. A mackerel fillet is 20 grams; three large eggs are 18 grams of protein. 

I used to be a porridge person, and now I like Greek yoghurt with berries. So I'm getting my fibre in because that's another key thing, and it's 18 grams for a small pot of Greek yoghurt.

RELATED: Nutrition essentials for your 40s and 50s

protein powder

Do you recommend protein powders as a supplement?

I think so. Of course, we'd rather things came from real, non-processed food, but that's not always possible. There are lots of good brands out there for protein powder. Form is a good one and recommended by nutritionists.

You can also add flax or chia seeds or put oats in there for a bit of bulk. Protein pancakes taste just the same as normal ones with vanilla protein.

I would recommend it, especially for vegetarians. It's harder to get the protein amount up as a vegetarian.

RELATED: Lignans for menopause: How flaxseed helps with hot flushes

Why resistance training is so important during menopause with Kate Oakley

Why is resistance training so important as we age, and how can we fit it into our busy lives? In today's episode, I'm talking to personal trainer Kate Oakley, about how we can increase strength and protect our bones and joints and midlife, as well as finding ways to fit it into our day.

Watch the video version of the podcast.

Discover more: Listen to more of The Latte Lounge podcast episodes - and don't forget to subscribe / follow to be notified of future episodes!

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