According to the World Health Organization (WHO), menopause is defined as the permanent cessation of menstrual periods that occurs naturally or is induced by surgery. According to studies on the topic, the average age of menopause is 51 years of age. 

Although the transition to menopause isn’t always easy, some find the transition to be even more difficult due to confusion around best practices from a lifestyle perspective. Some women simply aren’t sure of how to make lifestyle adjustments to help ease the symptoms that accompany changing hormones. 

One lifestyle adjustment that is often misunderstood relates to what we label as “metabolics” or what most know as structured exercise. The benefits of being physically active as a female are proven and well-known, but some feel like the only way to combat menopausal weight gain is to exercise more; however, more isn’t necessarily better, and actually can hinder your shape change goals. 

If you happen to fall into this hormonal category, and you feel that you have to do more and more exercise to maintain your weight, or achieve a particular physique, I’m here to share that most likely this will be counterproductive. Research backs this claim, and many of my female clients have learned that perhaps focusing on doing less exercise, with an emphasis on more movement (think leisurely walking), is key to feeling more in balance, mentally and physically. 

Since Dr. Jade has developed a reputation as an expert in female metabolism, particularly in the realm of menopausal weight loss, our Metabolic Living coaching team has been specifically trained in all of Dr. Jade’s methods. So what makes Dr. Jade an expert in female metabolism and physical fitness for those who fall into the category of menopausal? When he first entered the world of personal training, most of his clients were female. Being a keen observer of his clients, he soon noticed a profound difference in how his female clients over 40 years of age responded to diet and exercise compared to the younger folks who were 30 and below.

At first, Dr. Jade wondered if it was a matter of compliance, questioning if something was not being shared honestly with respect to their nutrition. But then, with the help of his mom, he started to key into one main reason why exercise for the menopausal female needs to be refined and reassessed as a weight management tool.

Dr. Jade knew that his mom had always been fairly lean and tiny – that is until she hit menopause and started gaining weight. Even while adding in metabolic conditioning workouts almost every day, she was struggling to change her shape. For those who don’t know, metabolic conditioning workouts are fairly intense and last for at least 30 minutes depending on the prescribed circuits.

Dr. Jade started to recognize that these metabolic conditioning workouts were not helping with his mom’s hormonal balance. Why? Menopausal metabolism, by very definition, is known as an imbalanced hormone state, and these workouts weren’t helping to bring things into better balance. In fact, quite the opposite appeared to be happening.

Insulin and cortisol levels weren’t stable or within a range that allowed for shape change. Hormones can be complicated, but let’s keep it uncomplicated for folks who aren’t familiar with insulin or cortisol. Insulin is a fat-storing and muscle-building hormone. When you have too much insulin around, you may lose weight; however, that weight is far less likely to be fat. 

Cortisol is a stress hormone, and along with insulin, causes fat storage around the middle. If you aren’t mindful of managing your stress, cortisol levels can remain elevated or spike often, making it more likely for you to burn muscle instead of fat, or muscle along with fat. In a nutshell, poorly managed insulin and cortisol levels lead to more belly fat storage. 

Now let’s look at the female sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone. Most people are aware that menopause changes hormone levels of estrogen and progesterone, but they may not understand why this matters. Estrogen is a hormone that works against insulin and cortisol. Progesterone has little impact on insulin but does fight against cortisol. Since these two hormones are around to buffer the effects of insulin and cortisol in our younger years, folks have an easier time staying lean after making one or two simpler changes to their lifestyle.

When estrogen and progesterone wean and fade, the female metabolism has the tendency to slow down and become more stress-reactive. As a result, working out too often and too hard, throws off cortisol levels. If you are still wanting to better understand more about estrogen and progesterone, this blog post is an amazing resource. And for a bit more information on cortisol, this blog post weaves in some education on why cortisol impacts weight and shape in a significant way.

So what’s the fix? Something simple, labelled as “The 4S Exercise model” was created by Dr. Jade. Let’s review.

Stress-reducing: This means focusing on rest & recovery exercises. At least 3 times per week, find a way to add in slow walking, massage, meditation, yoga, tai chi, or anything else that puts you into a more relaxed state. In this category, more is better – particularly if you need more help with managing your stress levels.

Strides: The goal here is to add in slow walking, aiming for 5,000 to 10,000 steps on all or most days. According to Dr. Jade, this is critical, and Dr. Jade realizes many people who have the dieting mindset will get caught up on numbers here. Yes, it will involve time and effort, maybe up to 1-2 hours daily, but some women will see results with less time involved. The point is to make walking a priority, even over your workouts.

Strength: Instead of focusing on cardio, focus on weight training. This helps to keep the body “tight” through the process of building muscle. It is best if your strength routine is more traditional in nature, such as the old-fashioned system of sets and reps. The goal is to strength train twice a week.

Sprints: Here we are actually encouraging some form of intense activity that gets the body breathless and burning. Think of activities like interval training, metabolic workouts, and short, intense runs. Choose an exercise that you are comfortable performing. The goal is to do this 1 or 2 times per week. It’s just enough to add some intensity without burdening your body with too much stress.

Hopefully, this 4S system of exercise seems less complicated rather than more complicated. Remember, this is just a recommended structure for you to follow as a female who is entering this stage of life, or well into the menopausal hormone stage. Please be sure to add in your own flexibility and don’t get stressed out by our recommendations as that will be counterproductive!

We hope this helps all of the menopausal folks, particularly those who have been struggling with weight or physique, to start to see some real changes. And while some of these changes may be physical, don’t forget to check in with yourself mentally, too. Remember, the goal here is balance, and that means not only helping to balance your hormones but helping you to feel your best, balanced self – mentally and physically!

Photo by Niklas Ohlrogge on Unsplash