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Strength training and the menopause

The not-so-secret diary of a perimenopausal woman

13 June 2023 - strength training and the menopause

Screenshot of Fitbit exercise log showing walk, strength training, walk

Well, that was a sweaty one today. I generally don't sweat very much (too much information I know). A half hour walk in full sun and 26 degree heat through the hilly streets of Brighton to get to the gym followed by an hour long strength training session and then a half hour walk home is enough to make anyone sweat.

I feel alive, really alive. Proud of my commitment to my physical and mental health. Strength training and the menopause rocks!

The road to exercise

Turn the clock back five years and structured exercise wasn't really my thing. I would walk everywhere and was fit enough, but I wasn't strong and I wasn't toned. I thought I would try running. Along came Marianne - triathlete, swim and running coach. She got me running for the first time since school. I laughed, I cried (mainly when she made me run up the many Brighton hills!). It felt great, I committed to it, ran alone, with my partner and his dad (said family members below after 5K run on Christmas day) and even did a couple of 10k races. I got fitter but I still wouldn't say I was strong or toned.

Photo of Kirsten with her Dad and father in law after running 5K. In West Bay Dorset with the sea and cliffs behind them.

The decision 'to run or not to run' was taken out of my hands when my knee blew up for the second time. I'd had a dodgy knee for years and it turned out running just made it worse. Along came Zeina (referred by Marianne) - physio, runner and passionate about strength training. She helped me completely rehab my knee. The next time it happened she sent me to A&E which resulted in surgery for a torn meniscus. Didn't really fix it. Eventually she told me that if I wanted to get mobile and stay mobile then I had to start strength training. I'd just turned 50.

PT in the park (and on Zoom)

Kirsten in the park doing swinging a kettle bell in the air

Along came Sally (referred by Zeina) - interior designer, triathlete, spin trainer and personal trainer. It was June 2020 so indoor training was a no go. We met in my local park. We weren't alone, it was PT central! I was very nervous. I was still rehabbing my knee following surgery. When I look back now I can't believe where I started. Basically we were doing simple stretching and using body weight to build strength and flexibility. Gradually we introduced the dumbbells and kettle bells and my confidence grew. Sessions in the park moved to Zoom as COVID reared its ugly head again.

Hooked on strength training

I was hooked. I loved the improvement I could feel in my knee and I loved the change I could see in my body. I was toning up. I was getting stronger. I felt empowered, like I could do anything. I was taking back control at a time when my hormones were reeking havoc. I recognised that my body was naturally ageing and that my muscle strength was deteriorating. This was a way to work with the ageing process and build muscle strength.

I had a complete mind shift. Never once did I hesitate about going to a session. Come rain or shine, wind or snow, I was in the park, attracting attention from dogs wanting to play, school kids and other passers by. I couldn't care less. I was focussing on me for the first time in a very long time and it made me happy.

Graduating to the gym

Eventually Sally moved her business to a studio in the gym and introduced small group sessions. This coincided with an increase in perimenopause symptoms for me and my underlying anxiety made this a terrifying prospect. I had no choice. I put on my favourite leggings and turned up for my first session. Now, don't get me wrong, I have been to a gym before. In the year 2001. I think I mainly used the running machine and lasted about two months.

Sally's studio was small and friendly but she was suddenly speaking a language I didn't understand. Hip thrusters, bench presses, back squats, deadlifts. Didn't do those in the park. I was like a fish out of water. But I did it. I learnt. I took a lot of reminding - brain fog is not conducive to remembering and following instructions!

The perils of cortisol

I was Sally's second oldest client. I tried to keep up with the younger ones but soon realised that wasn't going to work. A part of me kind of liked the full on cardio elements of the training, although I don't think I'll ever fully make friends with the SkiErg machine or burpees! Cardio didn't like me though. My cortisol would skyrocket later in the day and I would have palpitations and sleepless nights. Training in the morning helped so that the cortisol had time to dissipate. So, I took the cardio elements at my own pace, doing what felt right rather than pushing myself to my limits.

Moving on

Sally's studio timetable changed and I found myself reluctantly looking for a new gym and a new trainer. It was hard. Sally knew me. I knew Sally. The prospect of starting all over again brought the anxiety back. Strength training was my salvation in many different ways and I couldn't imagine not doing it. I certainly couldn't live without the endorphin boost I get for the rest of the day following a gym session - my mental health needs it.

Along came Fitness Bar and Catherine - power lifter, personal trainer and exercise for older adults coach. The Fitness Bar is small but perfectly formed. It is funky, amazing well equipped and located in a former pub (what's not to like!). The ethos is one of inclusivity and that appealed to me the moment I stumbled upon the website. I'm young by comparison. There are some inspiring older people who work out there and my trainer Catherine is in her early 60s. I feel understood. I feel recognised. I feel accepted. Check me out in the video below getting a deadlift personal best!

I continue to go from strength to strength. My goals are to get stronger and to stay healthy as I age. I plan to be strength training and doing yoga for many many years to come. I'm improving my balance and my bone density both of which can take a hit as a result of menopause.

What is strength training and why is it good for menopause?

Strength training is any type of exercise that involves using resistance to build muscle and improve your physical performance. It has many benefits for women of all ages, but especially for those going through menopause.

  • It strengthens your muscles and bones, which helps prevent osteoporosis, injuries, and chronic pain.

  • It balances your hormones by stimulating the production of endorphins, testosterone, growth hormone, and insulin sensitivity.

  • It boosts your mood by improving your brain function and chemistry.

  • It relieves stress by providing a healthy outlet for pent-up emotions and frustrations.

  • It improves your sleep by helping you fall asleep faster and sleep deeper (once you've got the cortisol under control!).

  • It may reduce weight gain by boosting your metabolism and burning more calories.

  • It empowers you by helping you regain control over your body and life.

Enjoyed reading this?

If you'd like to read more of 'The not-so-secret diary of a menopausal woman', check out the rest of my posts here. Sign up and you'll receive each post direct to your inbox when they're published. I'd love to hear what you think and find out about your experiences, so please feel free to leave me a comment.

If you'd like to find out more about what I do to support women in midlife who want to rediscover their purpose and passions and start living the life they dream about, then please check out my website.

Until next time....

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