How Menopause Affects Athletic Women

August 13, 2017

I recently read a great article by Bonnie Snyder Berkowitz called “How Menopause Affects Athletic Women.”

I’m sure you’ve all noticed that I’m very up-front about being of “that certain age” myself and although I’ve been Certified in Older Adult Fitness for many years, reading/studying about all the changes a woman’s body goes through is MUCH different from experiencing them firsthand so my personal “menopausal journey” has been a serious eye-opener (as well as an exercise in humility and compassion!)

And since the article resonated with me on lots of levels I’ve decided to simply share the most important points (and I know most of them ostensibly sound pretty bad, but don’t worry, there’s a “BUT” for each of them!)

1. Sleep quality suffers

Sixty-one per cent of post-menopausal women report insomnia symptoms, according to the U.S. National Sleep Foundation. Many things conspire to disrupt sleep: the decline of estrogen and progesterone, which help you fall and stay asleep; a dearth of melatonin, which regulates body temperature for sleep; hot flashes and night sweats, which wake you up; and the stress hormone cortisol, which estrogen helps control.

BUT physically active people have better sleep patterns which is good because a lot of muscle recovery and rebuilding occurs during sleep. Exercising early in the day promotes better sleep and try keeping your bedroom cool. And drinking a small frosty glass of tart cherry juice before bed may help cool your core and boost natural production of melatonin.

2. The engine slows

Aerobic capacity, which is your cardiovascular system’s ability to convert oxygen to energy, can drop 5 to 9 per cent each decade beginning in your 30s. (This happens to men as well.) Much of this is because your heartbeat slows a little each year. That means oxygen-rich blood is being pumped to working muscles a little less often.

BUT athletes of all ages have better aerobic capacity and blood volume than people who don’t exercise.

3. Heat is harder to handle

During hot flashes and whenever the body begins to get too warm, blood rushes to the skin surface to off-load heat — which is annoying for athletes, who’d prefer that the blood feed working muscles. In older adults, sweating, a key part of cooling, begins later in a workout. As if that’s not enough, the thirst mechanism dulls with age, so dehydration is more likely.

BUT good hydration and a little bit of caution can keep you from danger. And for 92 per cent of women who get them, hot flashes will go away.

4. 'Menopot' happens

Older women aren’t as efficient at processing carbohydrates, so they tend to store the excess as fat. And they tend to store fat in their bellies rather than in hips and thighs as they did when they were younger. This visceral fat is associated with higher risk of heart disease and diabetes.

BUT studies show that women who exercised four to five times a week have less total body fat than sedentary women of the same height and weight. And their visceral fat stores were similar to sedentary women a third their age.

5. Your stomach rebels

Because women become less efficient at processing carbohydrates as they age, female athletes may find that their beloved bagels and pasta can send blood-sugar levels soaring. In particular, the ability to digest fructose in processed foods declines. Popular energy gels many people consume to help make it through endurance events may suddenly begin to cause GI issues.

BUT eating more fruit and whole grains and less processed sugar can keep stomachs and blood sugar steadier. (Fructose in whole fruit is not a problem.) Look for whole-food fueling alternatives.

6. Bones get thinner

Estrogen works with calcium and vitamin D to strengthen bones. In the five to seven years after menopause, a woman’s bones can lose up to 20 per cent of their density, Sims said.

BUT athletes start out with denser bones because weight-bearing activity (running, walking, etc) puts stress on bones, which spurs the body to strengthen them. Regular strength training and a diet rich in bone-building nutrients can shore up key areas such as hips and spine.

7. Flexibility decreases

Age makes all of us less flexible, which means a greater risk for muscle pulls and strains. Runners get very tight hamstrings. People who sit a lot get tight hip flexors and lazy glutes, which can alter gait and range of motion.

BUT a little effort can make a huge difference. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends flexibility exercises two or three times a week while muscles are warm, such as after a workout or bath.

8. Muscles shrink

Testosterone and other growth hormones plunge along with estrogen, so building and maintaining muscle is tougher. Fat begins to marble the tissue, reducing its ability to generate power.

BUT exercise will help you keep muscle and build more. Strength training, interval training and consuming protein within half an hour of hard exercise will help. (And remember the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, even at rest!)

9. Mojo wanes

Fluctuating levels of estrogen can make you cranky, edgy and even at risk for depression until brain chemistry stabilizes after menopause. “Brain fog” can make it harder to concentrate and remember things, and sleep problems make you tired.

BUT exercise is a known stress reliever and mood booster. Research has found that people who exercise are better able to deal with the ups and downs of aging.

And now for the really good news: if you or someone you know is struggling with any of these issues I’ve not only been there but, more importantly, I CAN HELP…click here for my complete list of fall classes and sign up today (OR JUST CALL ME!)

Feel Free to Reach Out

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form