WOMEN ARE STRONG!
The performances of women weightlifters have improved over the last 25 yr and even more drastically in the last 5 years! Therefore previous research publications do not reflect the current physical capabilities of women.
Ladies, YOU ARE STRONG and research needs to catch up with just how strong you are!
Did you know the number of women competing at the World Masters Championships is closer to approaching the number of men? In the 1990’s women only comprised 10% the number of men who were entered to compete.
So more women are lifting heavy weights, which is fantastic. But, what happens in our 40’s & 50’s when many may not feel as strong or capable or confident or motivated with lifting weights.
Thanks to people like Dr. Marianne Huebner, research is changing in regards to strength training and the menopause transition.
Heavy lifting helps menopause symptoms
From the late 40’s to late 50’s there is an accelerated decline in performance coinciding with menopause. One reason is the decrease in androgens and estrogens that cause a decline in strength, muscle mass, and bone mass.
However, the decline then levels off, meaning it doesn’t have to be downhill forever! Strength training during the menopausal transition years is extremely beneficial for your health. (Scroll down to ready why)
An online survey was taken in 30 countries for female master weightlifters (ages 30 to 79 yr). Participants included 868 women, and 178 postmenopausal women.
1. Worse menopausal symptoms were associated with lower performance
2. A higher level of performance (you can lift heavy relative to your body weight) was associated with reduced menopausal symptoms.
3. Symptoms were less prevalent in weightlifters than in the general population
4. There is simultaneous feedback between sport performance and severity of menopausal symptoms
5. Athletes must balance training intensity and menopausal symptoms to achieve training goals.
In summary, resistance training has been shown to reduce the frequency of moderate to severe hot flashes in postmenopausal women.
In another study from 2019, hot flashes were almost cut in half in postmenopausal women after 15 weeks of resistance training. The resistance training was performed three times per week with 8 exercises for 2x 8–12 reps.
Play the long game with your athletic goals while navigating this time of life. Keep engaging in resistance training if you want to, you will come out stronger in the end and the health benefits far outweigh the risks both during perimenopause and postmenopause.
Reasons to strength train during menopause
Regular physical activity is proven to prevent and manage heart disease, stroke, diabetes and certain cancers. It also can prevent high blood pressure, promote healthy body weight and improve mental health, quality of life and well-being.
The World Health Organization guidelines of physical activity in adults (including the menopause years) are:
- 150–300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity per week
- or 75–150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week
- and strength training moderate to high intensity of all major muscle groups 2 x per week
That’s the activity baseline for improved health and and quality of life. The type of exercise is determined by your own personal enjoyment and goals. Strength training is any kind of exercise that causes your muscles to contract against against outside resistance. So, exercising beyond body weight.
We discussed above how strength training benefits menopausal symptoms; it also makes significant improvements in strength, physical activity, bone density, hormonal changes, and metabolic changes during menopause. It reduces the risk for fractures and osteoporosis. For example, heavy lifting, 70-90% of 1RM, performed 2-4 x a week is effective in improving strength, function, and bone density.
Strength training in postmenopausal women can reduce total body mass, body mass index and body fat percentage thus contributing to metabolic and cardiovascular health. Exercise during menopause improves vagal tone, parasympathetic activation, and thermoregulation (temperature control). As well, it can enhance mood and menopause-related quality of life.
Since we know overall strength declines as we age, why not give yourself a buffer to stay as strong as possible for as long as you can. Perimenopause can last anywhere from 7-10 years. During this tumultuous time, you may not feel like exercising. As shown in the survey above, more severe symptoms reduce your athletic performance which can be really frustrating and at times demotivating. Your sleep may be off. Your stress may be high. Your ability to go hard may change on a daily or weekly basis.
It is so important to listen to your body doing this time. Choosing a form of exercise that is both challenging and enjoyable is a win win here. So stay consistent because you are setting yourself up for success, both now and in the future.