Sep 24, 2021
What's the right menopause exercise intensity?
Life can be intense right now. This podcast is as the title suggests, about the exercise intensity for optimal aging for women in menopause. It’s not just regurgitating position statements and guidelines written inclusive of all ages and both genders. It takes into account your unique journey, as well as the collective needs of women in menopause knowing the trend of hormones during peri to post menopause transition (and beyond).
Our episode sponsors
This episode is sponsored by STRONGER, my 12-week strength training program designed for women in menopause, and by the Flipping50 Advanced Fitness Specialist for fitness professionals. I’ll put links to both in the show. Be sure to visit the website if you need a strength training program proven to work for women in menopause, or you’re a fitness professional who needs better solutions for her clients.
You’re Making History
You’re part of the first generation of adults who have been exercising the majority of your adult life.
You influence 85% of buying decisions in your household.
But not just yours.
You influence 3 generations.
What you learned when you began to exercise all those years ago is not what will serve you now.
What you learn from any living human with a PC who chooses to post online or author their own self-published book, blog, or videos may not be based on science about women just like you.
Can Instagram influencers in their 20s and 30’s inspire you? Maybe. You’ll tell me.
Can they give you the science of how to exercise optimally in your 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70s?
About YOU or About Them?
Even early 40-something trainers who are not yet aware of the hormonal differences during menopause that influence and are influenced by exercise, will fail you.
Until, at least, they begin to experience it. Or they’ve spent years training women beyond 40. Fitness professionals are often first motivated to become active themselves because they want to look, feel, or perform a certain way. (Which is hardly personal training if they’re only sharing what is working at the moment, for them).
But the way of one is not the way of masses. There is no one way for masses. There is a blueprint. No two women, for instance, experience the same menopause. Some symptoms are common among women. Yet, some women experience some of the 34 symptoms others never even know exist.
HIIT and Menopause
While HIIT can produce results, too much of it without proper recovery can lead to overtraining. “Too much” BTW is far less than you think it is. [45 minutes a week – a week – after which injury rates climb dramatically, especially a concern for midlife women.] For this reason, it is important to include other types of metabolic conditioning.
However, what is often recommended is not always best, either. Steady-state training (your 80’s exercise friend) features a high volume of work to enhance aerobic capacity. The red flag there? “High volume” of work. For women in midlife amidst hormone fluctuation (and beyond) steady state for too long too often is the most likely to cause cortisol issues. Move more, yes. Take walks, but not with a “must get in target heart rate range” slant. Avoid “moderate intensity” exercise for the most part.
You’ll also be told, by some very popular brands today, even led by soon-to-be midlife women, that exercise at a low intensity burns more fat.
(A small lesson in fat burning is necessary here).
Burning Fat in Menopause
Here’s what the studies show. Visceral belly fat is most influenced by High Intensity Interval Training. Second to that, is lifting weights, the heavier the better. Muscles must reach temporary muscular fatigue.
Old: Get moderate intensity exercise.
New: Get moderate amounts of low and high intensity exercise.
Let’s describe all the tools in your intensity arsenal.
Low-intensity interval training (LIIT) uses low- to moderate-intensity intervals combined with periods of active rest to improve the efficiency of the cardiorespiratory system to deliver oxygen to working muscles.
[Pete McCall’s new book, Ageless Intensity, introduces these intensity labels to you well. I interpret them here for you with more commentary on how they influence menopause fitness and the midlife woman. If at the time of this post Pete’s Flipping50 podcast, isn’t yet published, it soon will be.]
Variable (duration) interval training (VIT) alternates between short, intermediate, and long periods of work to challenge the body to work efficiently for different lengths of time. In addition, variable-intensity interval training (VIIT) alternates between periods of low-, moderate-, and high-intensity exercise to provide an overload. For instance, in advanced interval workouts for our Flipping50 members, I will include sets of HI with short LI recovery, longer duration HI intervals with moderate recovery, and long moderate intensity intervals with short LI recovery.
The following is an example of combining VIT and VIIT. (VIIT is generally present in any HIIT workout that includes alternating high and low intensity intervals since it also includes a progressive warm up.
Interval Training Workout (treadmill)
1:00 LI walking 4mph
:30 MI jog 6mph
1:00 LI walking 4mph
1:00 MI jog 6.5mph
1:00 LI walk 4mph
1:30 MI jog 7mph
1:00 LI walk 4mph
1:00 MI run 7.5mph
1:00 LI walk 4mph
1:00 MI run 7.5mph
:30 HI run 9mph
1:00 LI walk 3.5mph
To modify for yourself:
Change speeds to begin with your “easy walking speed.” Adjust to a moderate level and progressively climb during warm up intervals. This interval set manipulates speed. It can be performed doing a vary of exercise modes. Substitute walking only, biking, elliptical, or swimming for instance. You can use the same time sets and try using hills or incline or resistance added to elliptical while maintaining speed.
Interval Training, AKA, Metabolic Conditioning
Not all metabolic conditioning training has to be high intensity; using a combination of HIIT, SST, LIIT, VIT, and VIIT to vary work intervals between different levels of intensity and time durations can help ensure that you are not using any one energy system more than another when you exercise.
“Current exercise programming has two inherent problems: some movements are performed too frequently or with too much intensity and movements are performed too infrequently or with too little intensity.”
Common injuries like tendinitis or impingement syndrome that restrict joint motion are more likely as a result of doing the same exercises too often. For midlife women, who have a higher frequency of injury this is an important lesson to learn, before it occurs.
It’s also important to realize, when you begin an exercise program, injuries often surface. Not because the exercise caused them, necessarily. But because a chronic repetitive stress you’ve had there is now stressed just enough more, that it makes you aware of it.
The Question of Safety
In his book, McCall echoes what I and a few other voices have been saying for a decade.
“Not only is High Intensity Interval Training and Strength Training with heavy weights or power, safe, it is necessary to mitigate the effects of aging, and any losses of muscle and bone that has occurred due to menopause.”
Lady, you’ve never needed intense exercise more in your life. You will until you’re not waking up in the morning.
If you’re not exercising, start.
But Not Just Your Mama’s Exercise
Well to be honest, this is totally dependent on your birth order. My mama is 95 and any exercise she did only happened later in her life. She enjoyed walking with friends but it wasn’t a regular habit. She and I began walking while I was still home before college. I clearly kept going. She did not. For her in young adulthood, there was no need for exercise. There were chores. Life was active then.
Regular exercise at low to moderate levels provides numerous health benefits.
There is however a limit to what it can do. For optimal mitochondria, ATP, strength and efficiency in activities of daily living and avoidance of:
…use of strength to muscular fatigue, the addition of power when ready, heavy weights is the most powerful non-pharmaceutical tool available to you. You may recall a recent post quoting a scientific study relating this same message. This isn’t opinion. This is now science.
If you’re not lifting weights, you’re choosing to age older, fatter, and sicker.
Blunt. But truthful.