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Menopause Exercise: The Depression or Well-being Determinant?

Wonder if your menopause exercise prescription makes a difference? It turns out your hormone ride during menopause deems exercise more necessary than ever. Your hormones reveal more than your likelihood to store belly fat or hot flash.

Brand new research published in the Menopause Journal says your likelihood of being depressed or feeling positive lies in your physical activity level. The study addressed menopause, movement, and mental well-being.

One of 7 levels of physical activity was assigned to each subject:

  1. I do not move more than is necessary in my daily routines;
  2. I go for casual walks and engage in light outdoor recreation 1 to 2 times a week;
  3. I go for casual walks and engage in light outdoor recreation several times a week;
  4. Once or twice a week, I engage in brisk physical activity(eg, yard work, walking, cycling) that causes some shortness of breath and sweating;
  5. Several times a week (3-5), I engage in brisk physical activity(eg, yard work, walking, cycling) that causes some shortness of breath and sweating;
  6. I exercise several times a week in a way that causes rather strong shortness of breath and sweating during the activity;
  7. I do competitive sports and maintain my fitness through regular training.

Which level describes you?

Based on that you fall into one of these categories:

  • Low (1 to 3)
  • Medium (4 and 5)
  • High activity (6 to 7)

Subjects in the study with the highest level of activity had the lowest incidence of depression and the greatest sense of well-being.

That’s the bottom line.

What’s most interesting is that researchers measured not only self-reports of depression but hormone levels. So the study was both objective and subjective.

Given we’re in a time when positive mood, attitude, optimism are so important to how we get from day to day, this is just one more message to get moving.

There’s More

Menopause has historically been associated with negative feelings about aging and with greater incidence of depression than in younger women or same age men. The proper menopause exercise prescription, however clearly has the ability to change your well-being.

In fact, many women report that this is a time of great life satisfaction.

Menopause Exercise Rx

The high activity level word descriptions used in this study are exact descriptions of the High Intensity Interval Training and strength training to fatigue that are a necessity for women who want to flip 50 feeling not just well, but outright full of energy and vitality during and beyond COVID19.

Often when I talk about the After 50 Fitness Formula for Women, and a critical part of it – “Less Exercise, More Food” inevitably an audience member will comment. She may say something like, “I’m so glad you said women over 50 need less exercise.”

I get nervous with that simple statement. Because like a recent podcast I created about “Moderate Exercise,” that is too open to interpretation.

So let me take some real estate in this post to get clear:

  • You are not a flower.
  • You are not delicate.

You absolutely need to push limits in your workouts – for seconds at a time. That’s true when you’re in good times and when you’re in COVID19.

You need moderate amounts of:

  1. High Intensity exercise that gets you breathless
  2. High Intensity strength training that takes you to muscular fatigue
  3. Fill in with low to moderate exercise that you love

It is #1 and #2 above that have the best opportunity to change your hormones for the better, and in doing so changes your mental well-being, your visceral belly fat, your hot flashes and night sweats, and reverses the effects of 179 genes associated with aging.

Careful Clarification

Advice to do less exercise is often interpreted as advice to do “light” exercise or following a doctor’s vague advice to “walk.” It’s not enough. And walking 3 or 4 miles a day as many women do in an effort to overcome weight or fat gains in menopause only makes matters worse. Greater volume of the same ineffective exercise will not get you better results.

Yes, you want less exercise. Less than you think, and of the right type (of intense exercise).

It’s true that if you’re just beginning you start with habits. We get you hooked and regular first. Yet, yes, you can do interval training when you start. COPD patients and asthma sufferers often do best with intervals. If they can you can. We simply apply a progressive plan for you.

Before you start intervals it may be appropriate for you to “restore before more.” If you’re already exhausted, suffering from mood swings, your first step is to restore yourself with rest, sleep, nutrients and movement, NOT exercise.

Menopause exercise is not a generic prescription for all women in menopause. It should be based on your unique condition now, your current hormone status (assessed by a fitness specialist by your signs & symptoms), and your personal preferences and schedule.

Yet, menopause exercise has the power to make this second half better than the first.

For Fitness Professionals

Gain the information, tools, and resources needed to coach and train this steadily growing population with Debra’s 10-hour online course with MedFit Classroom, Stages of Menopause and Exercise Intervention.

Given the number of women who have not exercised previously, and the current void in proper hormone balancing exercise prescription, there exists numerous, lucrative opportunities for fitness professionals to positively impact the lives and health spans of a great many women still seeking answers.


Reprinted from flipping50.com with permission from Debra Atkinson.

Debra Atkinson is the #youstillgotitgirl who is flipping 50 and changing the way thousands of women think about their second half. She’s the host of the Flipping 50 TV Show and the Flipping 50 podcast. As a master personal trainer, strength and wellness coach with over 30 years fitness industry experience, she works with women who are pro-aging with vitality and energy. She is an international fitness presenter, author of hundreds of articles and multiple books. Visit her website, flippingfifty.com

 

Reference:

https://journals.lww.com/menopausejournal/fulltext/2020/04000/the_role_of_physical_activity_in_the_link_between.6.aspx

Debra-TedX-Screengrab

Truth About Women’s Fitness in Menopause | My TEDx Talk

Women’s fitness in menopause is a hot topic. This is what I shared in a recent post when I began to spread the word about my TEDx talk:

I think I just threw up a little bit.

That’s how I titled my post. Here’s why.

My TEDx Talk Story

Let me tell you what happens when you get accepted to do a TEDx talk… and have less than 4 weeks to prepare it.

While you’re training for an Ironman happening two weeks after. And the weekend before you’re at a Thursday-Sunday conference knocking out a huge block of time you needed to prepare.

Then you do the talk and walk off stage feeling like you just had an out-of-body experience. You have no idea if you even said all the important things that made you do this, on your own dime and time.

Then you wait, and wait, and wait… for 7 months to it to be published (almost unheard of). And it risks getting banned because it’s controversial and in spite of a dozen+ research studies quoted and the basis of it: it flies against tradition.

It’s released… exactly what you wanted… except then you have to watch yourself and your midget mindset says, “what will people think?” You wonder if you’ve done the women whose stories you told justice. You wonder how many fitness pros will hate it because, well, they’d rather keep doing what they’re doing than accept we might be wrong.

(and of course, I’m human… I think while watching… I definitely look like I had gained that 10 lbs in 2019 I hinted at – ugh!) Keep reading beyond the video to learn more.

Well, hence the original subject line. I opened with. My TEDx talk is wayyyyyy harder to share than I anticipated.

I’ve been talking about women’s fitness for 3 1/2 decades. I’ve been diving deep into the research and protocols on exclusively women’s fitness in menopause for 10-14 hours a day for eight years. And still…

The Resistance

Somehow in my head it went different, you know? It was going to be a huge celebration and something I couldn’t wait to share.

So if I tell you when it all goes peachy and smooth, I have to tell you when it’s a sh#* storm for me.

That’s just personal doubt coming up. And I have it too. So it is fair for me to tell you, when you think maybe something won’t work for you or you can’t do this, these feelings are going to come up.

This resistance is harder than any weight you will ever lift.

So, I’ve got to say to you and to I both… lift the damn thing anyway.

We have to honor what’s happening for us at the moment we’re in no matter what that includes.

Now, a humble ask.

Will you watch my TEDx talk? 

It may help you know you’re not doing anything wrong. It may help you realize you’re doing more than you need to right now. Fitness in menopause is tricky.

Will you share it if it will benefit a friend or a health coach or trainer? 

We need to have some change in the way we think about women’s fitness in menopause order to change women’s fitness and health for the better. You deserve energy and vitality and you’re not going to get there by starving or exercise that causes extreme fatigue.

You can share the link from my website, flippingfifty.com/tedx (scroll below the video and see share buttons to put it directly on your favorite social media site) or from the TED YouTube channel directly.

And know, I appreciate it so much.

Here’s News I Haven’t Shared

Literally, the day after my TEDx talk went live, while I was still pulling up my big girl panties to share it and stop second-thoughts, I got my body fat tested. Here are the results.

Pretty amazing for a woman in post menopause at 56. From walking…. And 2 20-minute interval sessions (start to end) and 2 strength training sessions (about 30 minutes each) AT HOME during COVID19.

Now, if I changed that sentence:

Pretty amazing for a woman in post menopause at 56. From walking…. And 2 20-minute interval sessions (start to end) and 2 strength training sessions (about 30 minutes each) AT HOME during COVID19

Still true.

If I change it again:

Pretty amazing for a woman in post menopause at 56. From walking…. And 2 20-minute interval sessions (start to end) and 2 strength training sessions (about 30 minutes each) AT HOME during COVID19

Still true. (even at gym where you might think it’s easier)

So…You Need to Know

Listen, girlfriend. Please do not let that nasty, second-thought voice inside your head say you’re too old, you can’t get results, or it takes time and effort you don’t have or don’t want to put in.

Women’s fitness in menopause, and let’s get personal, your fitness in menopause may come from far less exercise than you’ve been led to believe.

Had you seen the BEFORE numbers… back in December of 2018 when I tested before beginning Ironman training … I was at 127, 24% body fat. So now… the negative impact of a year full of cortisol elevating stressors – including endurance training – become much more apparent. At my highest weight just before the Ironman I saw 139 on the scale. A number I’ve only ever seen before this when I was when pregnant. On a 5’4” frame that’s not healthy, and it’s mysterious given the exercise I was doing and high quality diet I have. Or so you might think!

Endurance exercise… causes a spike in cortisol.

You add that with many more major life stressors (I clearly got in the wrong line at some point in 2019) and you will GAIN weight. Add hitting menopause mid-year and you’ve got a perfect storm.

And no, many blessings to those who said, oh it’s muscle. Honey, um no. A girl knows. Muscle is more compact, not bulky. You can see the increase in body fat percent… 27% is not bad… just not something that makes sense with my lifestyle.

You Don’t Have to Go That Far (Please Don’t!)

I did an experiment in extremes here. You don’t have to be doing Ironman triathlon training to gain weight with too much exercise.

Please check your default thought pattern that more exercise is better.

Better exercise is better. Like walking…. Walking … for a woman used to running 3 hours, biking 4 and 5 hours… swimming for 1-1.5 hours … could also make you lose weight if it is the right Exercise is Medicine dose for you right now.

There will be a time when I can do some more of the endurance I love again. We have to listen to our bodies, adjust the exercise, as you would medication if your status changed.

For Fitness Professionals

Gain the information, tools, and resources needed to coach and train this steadily growing population with Debra’s 10-hour online course with MedFit Classroom, Stages of Menopause and Exercise Intervention.

Given the number of women who have not exercised previously, and the current void in proper hormone balancing exercise prescription, there exists numerous, lucrative opportunities for fitness professionals to positively impact the lives and health spans of a great many women still seeking answers.


Reprinted from flipping50.com with permission from Debra Atkinson.

Debra Atkinson is the #youstillgotitgirl who is flipping 50 and changing the way thousands of women think about their second half. She’s the host of the Flipping 50 TV Show and the Flipping 50 podcast. As a master personal trainer, strength and wellness coach with over 30 years fitness industry experience, she works with women who are pro-aging with vitality and energy. She is an international fitness presenter, author of hundreds of articles and multiple books. Visit her website, flippingfifty.com

menopause-woman-hot-flash

13 Reasons the Right Exercise Matters More in Menopause

During menopause, you’re more susceptible to negative effects of stress. Avoid the wrong exercise (that will worsen stress) and do the right exercise and you can reduce or eliminate symptoms of menopause. There are at least 84 symptoms associated with menopause. This short list of 13 pesky symptoms can be supported by the right exercise.

Hot Flashes (and Night Sweats)

Hot Flashes are potentially the most well-known and most-associated signs of menopause, affecting approximately 50% of menopausal women. They are a sudden sensation of feverish heat that spreads through your body.

Why they occur for some women and not for others, or why they may happen occasionally or for a time and then be gone, is not clearly understood. Vasomotor control is the reason behind why you might experience them when a girlfriend doesn’t when both your hormones may fluctuate.

Night Sweats are excessive sweat that occur during the night. They can contribute to sleep disruption and daytime fatigue or anxiety. That of course, is not the jackpot you want. Both hot flashes and night sweats are believed in part due to fluctuating or low estrogen levels.

Exercise can help this menopause symptom if it’s the right exercise. 

Women who are more fit, with better body composition, and who exercise with adequate intensity experience up to 62% less frequent and or intense hot flashes. What you need to beware of is your tendency to jump to conclusions about how to reach higher fitness levels. Longer and “more” exercise is not the answer. Due to this fast-paced life and your midlife status, the rules have changed.

In midlife, in 2020 and beyond, if you’re still playing the exercise game according to 1980 rules, you will lose.

Will You?

The variability of progesterone related to amount of estradiol had the greatest correlation with hot flash occurrence in more than one study. Increased progesterone variability was associated with decreased hot flashes. Though there’s not much that can be done to influence the variability in your progesterone levels. However, you can exercise to optimize your natural progesterone. Namely, keep stress (cortisol) in check.

Simply start with a smart plan according to your status right now. (More tips below). Ultimately,  include high-intensity intervals at the duration, frequency, and time of day that supports you instead of throwing you under the bus.

Did you know that if the only time you can exercise is late day and you push through high intensity, instead of losing weight you could set off a cascade of events that cause you to gain? The right exercise at the right time of day is a must.

Fatigue

Fatigue is that sluggish, always-tired feeling doesn’t go away with a good night’s sleep. You feel unproductive, moody and this fatigue can cause what’s known as wired-and-tired feeling. You desperately want to get a good night’s sleep and shake it but can’t. For some women, this is like period week fatigue only it doesn’t go away.

Extended periods of fatigue can be signs you’ve just been pushing through, using caffeine or sugar or both to serve you short term. If you rely on external substances too long, that false energy you borrow is going to catch up to you in the end and you will pay back that debt.

If you rely on external substances too long, that false energy you borrow is going to catch up to you in the end and you will pay back that debt.

So, what do you do when menopause fatigue hits and your calendar says HIIT? Or Long run? You rest. You can’t build fitness on a false foundation. Fake it till you make it doesn’t work with your midlife fitness. Plan the work. Work the plan. Override the calendar and rest if your workouts or your sleep, appetite, mood, or digestion is suffering.

An entire chapter in You Still Got It, Girl! Is dedicated to Rest & Recovery. Oh, there are chapters on exercise and on sleep too but Rest & Recovery is something few of us learned to do well. Now? We have to pay attention.

The right exercise when you’re fatigued could be no exercise. We need to remember what it’s like to just move more and rest well.

Low Libido

Libido is your overall sexual drive or desire for sexual activity. It’s influenced by biological, psychological, and social factors. It’s not just that you may feel dry and a lack of interest thanks to hormone shifts. If you’re experiencing fatigue and other menopause symptoms like weight gain and belly fat, you don’t feel sexy or want to be seen or touched.

One of my first Flipping 50 TV episodes was dedicated to low libido and what you can do about it. It’s partially due to changing hormones. But a lot of midlife women don’t realize that the exercise they’re doing (or not doing) is also destroying libido.

The right exercise will boost your testosterone. The wrong exercise kills it and the mood, girlfriend. Simply said, from the boardroom to bedroom this hormone is important. Last, exercise that gets your hips moving increases blood flow there and so it’s not all intense. Whether it’s dancing for you or it’s Pilates or Yoga is up to you.

Make this flip: Stop the endurance exercise and get on the short, intense train. Plus? If your partner snores? You may need to just have play dates together and sleep separately or the libido will keep being a problem. Sleep deprived and sexy don’t belong in the same sentence.

Sleep Disorders & Insomnia

Sleep disorders & Insomnia are often brought on by night sweats. Anxiety & Depression (below) can also be to blame. If your mind just won’t shut down and quiet when your body is crying for relief from fatigue, there are things you can do. If you think of your symptoms as little messengers something isn’t quite right, it may not just be hormones. Or it may be that your hormones will be helped by some gentle shifts.

It may be a micronutrient deficiency showing up. After all, at midlife, several things may be catching up to you. Have you had a less-than-5-star diet? Are you pretty passionate about your coffee and your wine both? Have you neglected your exercise? Just review your last month and get honest. If “busy” got in the way of you exercising and your regular routine is now a random one, get back on it if only for sleep. Truth is just 10 minutes of exercise can boost sleep by 33% according to a poll by National Sleep Foundation.

It could also be exposure to EMFs (too many screens, electronics) in your lifetime or at least right now. Our bodies weren’t made to handle all of this.

There are about 20 different things you can do (and stop doing) to support sleep. Try them sequentially, not randomly and adjusting until you’ve eliminated each one or find it works is something most of us struggle to do on our own. “I’ve tried everything,” too often means I’ve randomly tried this and that for a while.

The right exercise to help with sleep depends on how you’re currently sleeping.

The Short List

Menopause Symptoms Lessened or Eliminated by (Proper) Exercise

  • Hot flashes
  • Fatigue
  • Night Sweats
  • Libido
  • Sleep Disorders
  • Weight Gain
  • Incontinence
  • Muscle Tension
  • Osteoporosis
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Belly fat

Weight Gain

If you’ve experienced weight gain, I have good and bad news for you. First, you can do something about it. Second, menopause is not to blame. Hormone fluctuation may have caused sudden weight gain. But often at a deeper level there is some behavior change that either did or needs to happen.

You may, as I did, find yourself in a perfect storm. Everything that happened for me in 2019 put me in a place of toxin exposure (hormone disruption), physical and emotional stress (hormone imbalance x 2), and related time and financial stress (hormone disruption). By the end of the year I’d gained 10 lbs. Now, at first glance, it’s possibly reasonable. However, I was training for an Ironman (that’s 140.2 miles of swimming, biking, and running in a day).

Endurance activity has the potential to throw women in midlife (and others) under the bus with adrenal fatigue and it certainly did me. I’d successfully trained for 7 prior to it, with excellent health (albeit, I modified my protocol intentionally for optimum training as opposed to volume).

During menopause, what you’ve been able to get away with until then, you may not.

Depression & Anxiety

Depression & anxiety are mood disorders more common among women than men. Dropping estrogen can negatively influence production of neurotransmitters (brain hormones) like dopamine and serotonin that regulate mood. Combined declining levels of progesterone and estrogen make it hard to restore happiness after incidence of sadness or anxiety.

During the pandemic if you’ve had a little more struggle with this, though perfectly natural and normal with a decrease in our social connections, as a woman in midlife you may struggle a bit more than you would have going through this say 10 years ago.

What can you do? Mood boosting exercise is a big part. Get outdoors and move and lift weights. Both are associated with increase in serotonin, and reductions in anxiety & depression.

Belly Fat

Belly fat didn’t make many “common symptom lists.” For over 90% of the women I’ve worked with belly fat is a big complaint, whether or not they’ve gained weight. Fat deposits tend to favor the belly.

There are two types of belly fat, visceral fat and muffin top or the pinch-an-inch type.

Visceral belly fat is internal around your organs. Muffin top is that spare tire, often in front and back for women.

The two types of fat respond to exercise differently. The right exercise for targeting menopausal visceral belly fat is high intensity interval training. Altering exercise to include high intensity intervals a few times a week can be enough. However, the muffin top requires more. You’ve got to do intervals and cut out your extra-curricular carb intake.

Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis and osteopenia (less than optimal but not quite to the 2.5 Standard Deviations from optimal bone that is osteoporosis) are both growing concerns for midlife and older women.

For good reason. Bone loss on average can be between 1-3% of total bone density per year if you’re not doing something about it.[Resistance weight training has the greatest positive influence on bone density. High impact weight-bearing exercise is second. The emergence of vibration therapy also contributes to bone density. However, vibrational therapy has to be combined with function stability movement for optimal prevention of falls and fractures.]

During the 3-5 years around a woman’s menopause bone losses can accelerate to 3-5% loss annually.

What’s the answer, or rather, what’s the answer while you’re at home, opting not to go to the gym during the pandemic? At the gym using the leg press, chest press, and seated row for strength will help most to load your hips, wrists, and spine. At home focus on squats, lunges, bent over row and chest press.

You’ve been conditioned to believe any exercise is better than no exercise. During menopause the right exercise for each woman is unique.

For Fitness Professionals

Gain the information, tools, and resources needed to coach and train this steadily growing population with Debra’s 10-hour online course with MedFit Classroom, Stages of Menopause and Exercise Intervention.

Given the number of women who have not exercised previously, and the current void in proper hormone balancing exercise prescription, there exists numerous, lucrative opportunities for fitness professionals to positively impact the lives and health spans of a great many women still seeking answers.


Reprinted from flipping50.com with permission from Debra Atkinson.

Debra Atkinson is the #youstillgotitgirl who is flipping 50 and changing the way thousands of women think about their second half. She’s the host of the Flipping 50 TV Show and the Flipping 50 podcast. As a master personal trainer, strength and wellness coach with over 30 years fitness industry experience, she works with women who are pro-aging with vitality and energy. She is an international fitness presenter, author of hundreds of articles and multiple books. Visit her website, flippingfifty.com

 

References

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30502745/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22409782/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6459070/

https://journals.lww.com/menopausejournal/Abstract/9000/Depression,_anxiety,_and_fear_of_death_in.97144.aspx

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2018853/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3568069/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19211823/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3858421/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26676059/

pregnancy-heart

The Increasing Need For Trained Maternal Fitness Instructors

The need for trained maternal fitness professionals has greatly increased as a result of the number of fit women who desire to continue with their exercise routine once they become pregnant. The past several decades has provided a large body of evidence that supports the benefit and safety of prenatal exercise in uncomplicated pregnancies, and ACOG and other fitness and medical health organizations recognize the importance of fitness in a healthy pregnancy. Studies have shown that women who continue or even start an exercise program during pregnancy gain less fat weight, have fewer complications during labor and delivery, and return to their pre-pregnancy weight faster than women who didn’t exercise while pregnant.

Knowing what the current evidence based guidelines are for pregnant and postpartum women and being able to work with this population will open up opportunities to create a specialized program that fits their unique needs. Fitness professionals who have training in this field offer skilled support and guidance to pregnant and postpartum women and help them confidently include exercise as part of their lifestyle. Pregnant women are unsure of what exercises and activities they can continue throughout pregnancy and need guidance on how to monitor their routine for safety. As pregnancy progresses, women need strategies for modifying their exercise program as their body changes to maintain a comfortable and safe routine.

For more information on prenatal and postpartum exercise and our CE correspondence course, “Prenatal and Postpartum Exercise Design” please visit, www.ppfconsulting.com

Article reprinted from Catherine’s Maternal Fitness blog with permission.


Catherine Cram, MS, is the owner of Comprehensive Fitness Consulting, a company that provides pre- and postnatal fitness certifications and information to hospitals, health & wellness organizations and the military.

pregnancy-fitness-1

Can a Pregnant Woman Safely Continue her Pre-Pregnancy Workout Routine?

A regular exercise routine has become a way of life for many women, and many choose to continue their exercise routines when they become pregnant.  Research in the field of maternal fitness has shown that exercise during a non-complicated pregnancy is healthy for both mom and baby and may help prevent or reduce some of the physical problems associated with pregnancy, labor, and delivery.

Although exercise is a positive addition to a healthy pregnancy, there are established guidelines that help ensure that a woman’s exercise program is safe and effective.  First and foremost, it is important for a pregnant woman to consult with her healthcare provider before starting any exercise program.  She should bring a list of questions regarding her exercise program and provide an overview of what type, intensity, frequency, and duration of exercise she would like to do.  This enables her healthcare provider to accurately assess whether the fitness program is appropriate for her pregnancy.

Each woman’s level of fitness and health is different, as is each pregnancy. There are several points to consider when choosing to continue a fitness program during pregnancy.  Some types of exercise are more easily continued during pregnancy, and common sense, safety, and comfort all play a role in deciding whether an activity should be part of a prenatal fitness program.

Choosing the type of exercise that will be safe and effective during pregnancy can be determined by reviewing the following points:

  • What activities does she enjoy or are skilled at doing?
  • Does the activity pose an increased risk of falls or blunt abdominal injury?
  • Is she able to do the activity without being compromised by balance and center of gravity changes?
  • Can the activity be easily modified as pregnancy progresses?
  • Does common sense conclude that this is a safe activity to continue during pregnancy?

Research on prenatal exercise has suggested that greater benefits are achieved by including sustained, weight-bearing exercises such as walking, running, stationary stepping/elliptical machine, or dance classes in a prenatal fitness program.  However, some women may not tolerate weight-bearing exercise during pregnancy and are more comfortable with non-weight bearing activities such as swimming and stationary biking.

There are several activities, such as scuba diving and water skiing, that are never safe to do during pregnancy.  Other activities, such as downhill skiing, horseback riding, and sports with a chance of abdominal impact may also be too risky for most women to continue during pregnancy.

Here are a few tips for keeping a prenatal exercise routine safe:

  • Pregnant women need to add 300 calories to their daily food intake to meet the needs of pregnancy. If she is physically active, she may need to increase that amount if she’s not gaining weight normally. The number of extra calories needed depends on the intensity and duration and frequency of the exercise program.  It is important to drink 8-10 cups of water each day and increase that amount during hot and humid weather.
  • Exercise in heat and humidity can be dangerous. It is safest to exercise in an air-conditioned facility during the summer months. If she does choose to exercise outdoors during warm weather, she should avoid the high heat times between 11:00 am and 4:00 pm and reduce intensity and duration to prevent overheating.
  • She should frequently monitor herself during exercise for signs of overheating, such as dizziness, faintness, or nausea. Drinking plenty of water before, during, and after exercise to replace the fluids lost will help prevent dehydration and overheating. Hot tubs and saunas may cause core temperature to rise to unsafe levels and should be avoided.

A simple method for monitoring intensity level during prenatal exercise is to assess how hard the exercise feels.  A pregnant woman should feel that her exercise level is moderate to somewhat hard.  If she feels out of breath or is unable to talk (termed the “talk test”), she is working at too high a level and should decrease intensity or stop and rest. Her exercise level should feel challenging but not so difficult that she feels exhausted during and/or afterward.

Self-assessment is one of the best ways for a pregnant woman to monitor her exercise program and assure herself that her activity level is safe. A pregnant woman should review the following questions several times each month and follow up with her healthcare provider if she experiences any problems.

  • Do you and your healthcare provider feel that you are gaining weight normally?
  • Do you feel well physically and mentally?
  • Are you able to comfortably follow your exercise program without pain, exhaustion, or problems following exercise?
  • Do you experience chronic or extreme exhaustion?
  • If you are at the point in pregnancy where you are consistently feeling fetal movement, have you noticed any change in the pattern or amount of your baby’s movements?
  • Does your baby move at least two times within 20-30 minutes following exercise?
  • Was your last abdominal fundal height measurement (a measurement of fetal growth) or ultrasound assessment within normal limits, and is your baby progressing normally at each medical check?
  • Does your healthcare provider have any concern regarding the health of your pregnancy?

Pregnant women who continue a challenging level of exercise need to be aware of signs or symptoms that indicate overwork, such as an elevated resting heart rate, frequent illness, lack of weight gain, depression and chronic exhaustion.   She should decrease or stop her exercise program during illness, when fatigued, under excessive stress or if experiencing any complications with her pregnancy.

Prenatal exercise should enhance pregnancy and help to make a woman’s postpartum recovery smoother.  The best advice for the athletic woman who wants to continue her fitness program during pregnancy is to use common sense, listen to her body, and enjoy all the challenges and changes this incredible experience offers.


Catherine Cram started her company, Prenatal and Postpartum Fitness Consulting, in order to provide current, evidence- based guidelines maternal fitness guidelines to health and fitness professionals. She was a contributing author for the textbook, Women’s Health in Physical Therapy and co-authored the revision of Exercising Through Your Pregnancy with Dr. James Clapp.  Her company offers the certification course, “Prenatal and Postpartum Exercise Design” which provides continuing education credits for over 30 health and fitness organization, including ACSM, ACE, ICEA, and Lamaze.

Pregnant-woman-at-gym

Building Strength is an Important Component in a Prenatal Fitness Routine

You may have heard people warn that pregnant women shouldn’t raise anything over their heads or lift objects that are heavier than ten pounds when pregnant. These are warnings that still make the fitness trainer rounds when working with pregnant clients, yet these warnings aren’t based on science.  In fact, there’s no evidence for warning pregnant women to avoid lifting over their head unless it causes discomfort or balance issues, and the ten-pound limit is even more questionable, as ten pounds would be too heavy for some women and as easy as a feather for others.

It’s important to always remember that each pregnant woman has a specific fitness level and ability, so setting arbitrary limits is an ineffective way to provide guidelines for this population. In addition, when confronted with statements such as these, always review the research that supports the claim before implementing the information into your training guidelines.

Many women choose to continue their pre-pregnancy strength training program while they are pregnant, and most women may safely start strength training during their pregnancy as long as they are cleared for exercise by their healthcare provider. When developing a pregnant woman’s fitness program, you should take into account her current level of fitness and strength and pay close attention to how she feels during and after exercise. The key to maintaining a safe and effective routine is through consistent modification of the exercises for comfort as pregnancy progresses.

Strength training is an essential prenatal fitness component, providing the muscle power needed to compensate for posture adjustments and weight gain that occurs with pregnancy. Women who continue or even start a strength training routine during pregnancy can help prepare her body for all the lifting done with a new baby and reduce the risk of low back pain. Strength training has not been shown to pose any harm to either the fetus or the mother as long as these general guidelines are followed:

  • A gradual reduction in weight loads from pre-pregnancy will likely occur as the pregnancy progresses.
  • Women may continue their pre-pregnancy strength training routine (wt/reps/set) as long as they modify the exercises for comfort as pregnancy progresses.
  • If training causes muscle soreness during the pregnancy, it is recommended that overload be progressed by increasing the number of repetitions versus the resistance/wt.
  • Monitor exercise techniques carefully by mirror observation or supervision in order to correct for progressive postural changes that occur with advancing pregnancy. Improper lifting techniques may aggravate back problems and increase soft tissue injuries.
  • Avoid maximal static lifts. They may cause a sudden increase in cardiac output and blood pressure and employ the Valsalva maneuver. During the Valsalva maneuver, there is a significant diversion of blood from the internal organs (such as the uterus) to the working muscles.
  • Maximal lifts may also place extreme stress on the lumbar spine and other joint areas. Never overload an unstable or weakened joint.
  • Modify supine positions after the first trimester of pregnancy by using an incline board or wedge.
  • A strength-training workout involving all the major muscle groups should be performed three times per week, with a rest day between each muscle group training bout.
  • Machines, free weights, resistance bands, and body weight
  • are all options for building a strength training routine.
  • Remind client that she should exhale with the lift and avoid holding her breath or bearing down and straining as she lifts.
  • If a particular exercise continues to produces pain or discomfort are modification, it should be discontinued. If pain persists, the client should consult with her healthcare provider.

As always, all pregnant women should check with her healthcare provider before starting or continuing an exercise program during pregnancy.


Catherine Cram, MS started her company, Prenatal and Postpartum Fitness Consulting, in order to provide current, evidence- based guidelines maternal fitness guidelines to health and fitness professionals. She was a contributing author for the textbook, “Women’s Health in Physical Therapy” and co-authored the revision of “Exercising Through Your Pregnancy” with Dr. James Clapp.  Her company offers the certification course, “Prenatal and Postpartum Exercise Design” which provides continuing education credits for over 30 health and fitness organization, including ACSM, ACE, ICEA, and Lamaze.

physical-therapist-and-client

Why Physical Therapy is Good for Women’s Health

Women’s health concerns are much more complex than men’s and with the help of physical therapy (also called physiotherapy in many parts of the world), many of these issues can easily be remedied or addressed. There are main factors that greatly differentiate men from women. Of these, it is important to highlight three: menstruation, pregnancy and lactation. These bodily changes in a woman are mostly influenced by hormonal fluctuations and can also be a reason for mood swings and differences in behavior.

Feet on bathroom scale

The Dreaded Menopod – Menopausal Belly Fat

The most common concern I hear from women in their 40’s and 50’s is increased belly fat. It isn’t weight gain that they are mostly upset about but where it’s deposited…right around the belly button.

Even women that don’t gain weight, see changes in where the fat is deposited. Is it an evil magic trick? I’ve heard it being called the belly bagel, spare tire, jelly center, and my favorite the menopod. Regardless of its name, it’s unwanted and you want to know how to get rid of it. Can you get rid of it or are you doomed to everlasting belly fat increases? Well, let’s break down why it happens and I’ll give you some ideas on what you can do.

Aging 

As we age, it is normal to see some weight gain. This is not something unique to women but women do see a larger increase in abdominal fat. In fact,  the prevalence of abdominal obesity in women in 2008 was 65.5% for women aged 40-59 years. So you’re not alone in this experience. Many different factors play a role in this. Changing hormone levels, loss in muscle mass, decreased activity level, and increased caloric intake, are just a few.

Estrogen

This is the queen bee of all hormones and sadly, this is the one that you’re being robbed off during menopause. Why is this such a big deal? Because she controls everything!! Estrogen plays a role in endocrine, immune, and neurologic systems. That’s why when it’s taken away, many women feel symptoms ranging from hot flashes to forgetfulness, depression and insomnia. One of the biggest connections of estrogen on increased belly fat is its relationship to cortisol. Ahhh, there it is, one of the biggest baddest buzz words in the health industry right now.

If you believe what you read in headlines, this is the one to blame for everything. If it’s out of control, you lose, but to control it seems impossible. Is it? How is estrogen related to it and how does it play a role in belly fat?

Cortisol deserves an entire article by itself (which will come soon) so here is the condensed version on why cortisol is so important to your menopod.

Cortisol is:

“Cortisol regulates energy by selecting the right type and amount of substrate (carbohydrate, fat or protein) that is needed by the body to meet the physiological demands that is placed upon it.” (5)

  • Energy production, exercising, eating, and under stress.
  • This chronic stress can cause excess fat storage deep in the abdomen (visceral fat).
  • Deep abdominal fat has greater blood flow and four times more cortisol receptors. That’s why when there is too much cortisol in your body, it goes right to your belly.
  • It naturally is higher in the morning when you wake up and tapers down as the day goes on.
  • When the body remains under constant stress, cortisol levels remain high regardless of time of day.

Estrogen – Cortisol Connection 

Estrogen has anti-cortisol properties, which helps the body counteract some of the negative effects of cortisol. So as estrogen starts disappearing, so do its cortisol-fighting superpowers. This means that if your body was able to handle some of the excess day-to-day stress before, it may not be able to handle it quite as well now, which translates into excess belly fat.

What can you do?

Chill out!!

  • This is the most important thing you can do
  • Eliminate little, unimportant things that drive you crazy. This is unnecessary stress.
    • In my case, every time I feel like getting stressed out over some inconsiderate driver on the road, I say to myself “menopod alert, menopod alert…not worth it!!” It helps 🙂
    • Stress will always be a part of life. Learning how to cope with it, is essential to controlling weight gain, belly fat, and overall health and well-being.

Resistance training

  • Don’t wait!
    • It is easier to maintain than to try and lose weight during menopause
    • Nobody knows exactly when menopause starts. It can be as early as mid-30’s to late 50’s.
    • Being active before midlife has advantages as it can contribute to entering menopause with lower BMI, higher bone density, lower fat mass, higher lean body mass.

Muscle mass decreases with age for every person, not just women. However, this decrease is accelerated in women as they transition through menopause.

Mindful exercises such as yoga, Tai Chi, meditation.

  • It can help with stress reduction as well as other psychological symptoms, such as anxiety and depression

Eat healthy and adjust your caloric intake to your energy output.

  • If you’re not working out as much as you did before, you can’t eat like you did

As we age, we are faced with many physical changes that affect us not only physically but also psychologically and emotionally. As women, those changes are exacerbated during menopause. Understanding these changes is a key factor in being able to overcome these challenges and transition happily through menopause. In regards to increased belly fat, you must remember that weight gain doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t start with menopause.

Don’t wait until you’re unhappy with your body… live healthy now!

Exercise, eat well, find a good balance between work and personal life, and enjoy the smaller things in life. Most importantly, don’t let inconsiderate drivers give you a menopod! 🙂

Have a comment or question? Tweet me @doctorluque

Republished with permission from doctorluque.com


Dr. Maria Luque is a health educator and fitness expert that specializes in helping women take charge of their own wellness. A native of Germany, she pursued a career driven by a passion for health and fitness. Dr. Luque currently teaches at the College of Health Sciences at Trident University International, in addition to conducting workshops, group/personal training, and writing. She’s an IDEA Fitness Expert and has been published in the IDEA Fitness Journal as well as appeared as a guest at local news channel to talk about quality of life and menopause. Visit her website, doctorluque.com

References

  1. Davis, et al. (2012) Understanding weight gain at menopause. Climacteric 15;419-429. doi: 10.3109/13697137.2012.707385
  2. Sammel, et al (2003). Weight gain among women in the late reproductive years. Family Practice, 20: 401-409. doi: 10.1093/fampra/cmg411
  3. Lovejoy, J. C., Champagne, C. M., De Jonge, L., Xie, H., & Smith, S. R. (2008). Increased visceral fat and decreased energy expenditure during the menopausal transition. International Journal of Obesity, 32(6), 949-58. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/ijo.2008.25
  4. Epel, E. S. (1997). Can stress shape your body? stress and cortisol reactivity among women with central body fat distribution. (Order No. 9930948, Yale University). ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, , 96-96 p. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/304388219?accountid=28844. (304388219).
  5. Maglione-Graves, C., Kravitz, L., Schneider, S. (no date). Cortisol Connection: Tips on Managing Stress and Weight. http://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/stresscortisol.html