It’s like you wake up one morning and think, “Shit, what the fuck just happened, why does my body look like a melting candle… everything is heading south.” What’s going on? Well, for one thing, as menopause approaches our metabolism slows down. Okay, so can we blame our pesky hormones? Well, yes, to an extent, but really, let’s face it, we reached 40, we’re heading to 50 and even though we take care of ourselves, we exercise etc. we might have been a little bit naughty on the weekend more than we should have and we could quite possibly be a tad more sedentary that we know is good for us… BUT “I’m tired,” I hear you say, “I’m busy, life is full of stuff to do…” and so on…
So what’s actually going on? Our body composition changes – and what does that mean? As we become more sedentary and as our hormones change our body composition of lean muscle to fat changes. As we become more sedentary we lose lean muscle and we replace it with fat. There are plenty of resources for how much fat we pile on in place of our lean muscle tissue, but essentially what this means is that although we might be eating the same, the loss of lean muscles and the consequent lower metabolic rate leaves us feeling like we can’t even look at a cupcake without putting a stone on.
Panic not, help is at hand, we can prevent the problem in the first place, but if you’re in that place where the problem hasn’t just reared it’s nasty little fat laden head, but appears to have swallowed you whole and spat you out the other end feeling like your middle has a mind of it’s little own and refuses point blank to fit into anything you show it, then consider this…
As we age our bodies get a little bit over-sensitive to the stress hormone, cortisol. This is the belly fat hormone. Up your cortisol levels and your belly fat gets excited about increasing too. It’s why destressing yourself and getting enough rest are top priorities at any age, but particularly as you’re going through the changes of menopause. What’s most distressing (not destressing), is that our bodies don’t understand that our attempts to exercise our wayward bellies into submission are what we think are good for us. In fact, our bodies actually experience long workouts, particularly long steady state workouts as quite stressful and, as a result, increase the cortisol floating about which, yep, you guessed it, doesn’t help with the spread of our middle regions.
If you want me to be specific, long, steady state workouts, such as jogging on the treadmill, hours on that weird machine in the gym where your legs don’t do a circle, but kinda go in a long oblong with your arms doing something with handles, cycling long distances and so on and so forth… yep, all increasing the cortisol floating around your system. They also tend to be lower body based too, which means that your upper body, the bit that every female that I have ever met bemoans as not being strong enough or shaped right (think bingo wings)… but which every female I have ever met has never focused their attention on, preferring instead to pound away on a treadmill or weird doofer machine or bouncing up and down on a spinning bike… often because they’re convinced that the ‘fat burning zone’ is a thing – news flash, it ISN’T A THING – completing this never ending cycle of physical torture is overuse injuries, sore feet, bad knees, tight hips and a low back pain that won’t shift.
Begrudgingly I hear you ask – “So, smart arse, what do I do?” And here is where I tell you what you need to do and you panic because you think you’ll get bigger, not smaller, that you’re going to turn into Arnold Schwarzedoofer’s twin sister… so let me start by pre-empting that. Unless you’re some kind of Amazonian genetic mutation of an individual, you will not get big…
Yes, through resistance training, strength training, building lean muscle mass with shorter cardiac bursts. Does that mean you need to stop running? You know I love running and that I think it has lots of health benefits, particularly those of being outside with others, BUT it’s also important to intersperse running with other stuff that alleviates some of the repetitive stresses of pounding the pavements.
What can you do?
To start with and for a lot of people, body weight training is plenty – can you do 10 push ups or 5 pull ups? Well, if not, then you probably don’t want to be running around flinging massive weights about the place. If you’re already doing some resistance or strength training then it might (MIGHT) be appropriate to increase the intensity. Working with someone who can guide you appropriately with good form is really important or you’re potentially setting yourself up for injury (particularly if you’re new to this form of training), but once you know what you’re doing, then strength/resistance/body weight training can help you manage the belly fat and also injury-proof your running as well.
Proper Pilates on the large equipment is a good form of resistance training. There is a strong focus on building strength and integrating the back line of the body – the glutes in particular (but not exclusively – Pilates should work the body as a whole), which are just one (or three) of the muscles around the hips that should power your running.
Combining Pilates as a way of cross-training in a low impact way which focuses on the mind-body connection, helping you to develop better movement patterns and greater strength, balance, flexibility and stamina can be a fantastic step towards improving your running AND preventing the spread. But coupling running with Pilates that includes higher intensity intervals will work like magic.
Magic, however, can only be achieved by sorting out what’s in your fridge. You can’t exercise your way out of poor nutrition (and lack of sleep/rest for that matter), but that’s the subject of another post,