As nutrition and fitness coaches, we work with many women who are entering a new stage of life. Perimenopause or menopause brings noticeable changes for some women, and symptoms can vary.
For most women, menopause starts around 51, although there are instances of some women starting sooner or later. Menopause is official after one full year without a period. While some women will navigate this stage of life with few or no issues, other women will face hot flashes, moodiness, weight gain and loss of lean body mass.
As women age, estrogen and progesterone levels start to decline. These hormonal changes can increase the rate at which women store visceral fat, and they can affect insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism—which might increase the risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
These changes do not have to be feared. Research has shown that lifestyle can have a significant effect on how women experience menopause. Hormone therapy is also an option for some women—an option is best discussed with your physician, who can outline potential side effects.
So what lifestyle factors can we address to help navigate this change?
Exercise is good for us at all stages of life, but for women who face loss of lean body mass, it’s particularly beneficial.
Strength training under the guidance of a coach can help women maintain and build lean body mass as they move through their 30s, 40s and 50s. Training just 3-4 times a week for 30-60 minutes can have a significant effect on lean body mass. Combined with enough calories and adequate protein, smart training can help women gain muscle. Muscle loss is not inevitable at all!
Non-exercise activities such as walking, gardening, cleaning your house and so on are also important with regard to weight management. Movement is key. Research has consistently shown that as we age we move less, which causes many of the problems often attributed to age itself. In reality, many issues are caused by a simple decline in activity.
Be mindful of your daily movement and then add to your activity with training tailored to your stage in life, needs and goals.
Prioritizing protein intake is key. This doesn’t mean that you need to weigh and measure your intake, but making sure that you eat enough protein to stimulate muscle-protein synthesis will help you maintain and build muscle.
The exact amount of protein will vary for everyone, and this is where a nutrition coach can guide you to optimize your nutrition.
Another nutrition consideration: Make sure you’re building your diet with whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats. With a sound plan, there’s always room to include foods you enjoy, but a stable base of nutrient-dense foods will help manage some of the symptoms some women experience during menopause.
Think about it: If you start moving less at 50 and pass on protein for sugary, processed, fatty foods, you’re create a situation where muscle loss and weight gain are likely.
Physical activity, nutrition, sleep and stress management are all important when it comes to how we navigate menopause.
It can feel overwhelming to try and perfect these things while balancing a busy career, teenagers, aging parents and other factors. The goal is never perfection. It’s progress. Healthy habits help a great deal. Try to build routines that include grocery shopping and meal prep, scheduled family time, evening relaxation, reduced screen time, appropriate bedtimes and improved sleep.
Of course, you don’t have to do all that at once. Just pick one area of focus to start and work to make a few small changes. It can be as simple as turning the cell phone off an hour before bed time!
Menopause is not the end of life as we know it. Things will change, but getting older can be amazing, and we’ve worked with many women who have made incredible positive changes over 50. This includes achieving body composition and strength goals.
For example, one client did a pull-up for the first time—and now she’s part of our 204 Lifestyle staff! Others have seen body fat go down and muscle mass go up through a combination of training and nutrition.
Aging will bring new adventures and experiences, and with a great plan, you can enjoy life to its fullest and accomplish goals you might have been putting off for years!