I have a serious problem with the advice that many personal trainers and health care professionals give women. In many cases it’s worthless, and in some cases it’s counterproductive. Let’s start with aerobic exercise after menopause.
Aerobic training is not the type of exercise that menopausal women need to deal with potential bone loss. At menopause, estrogen levels decrease, making women more susceptible to osteopenia (low bone mineral density), eventually followed by osteoporosis (weak and brittle bones). At this point in their lives, to make their bones stronger it is especially important that women emphasize strength training; the research coming out of Finland is very clear that strength training is the best form of exercise to prevent osteopenia. Now don’t misunderstand me. I’m not against all forms of energy system training, as interval training is fine, but long, slow distance training is self-defeating at menopause because it is associated with greater bone loss.
Staying on the subject of interval training, consider that there are three basic categories of energy systems: short term, intermediate, and long term or aerobic. Activities that involve exercise bouts of less than 20 seconds, such as volleyball, use primarily the short-term energy system. Activities lasting about 90-120 seconds, such as an 800-meter run or 200-meter swim, use primarily the intermediate energy system. And activities that last over 120 seconds, such as a 1500-meter run or 500-meter swim, use primarily the long-term energy system. This distinction is important for women whose primary goal is weight loss.
In a study on exercise intensity and bodyfat published in the 1994 issue of Metabolism, researchers made the following conclusion: “The results of the present study show that for a given level of energy expenditure, a high-intensity training program includes a greater loss of subcutaneous fat compared with a training program of moderate intensity.” [Note: subcutaneous fat refers to fat just under the skin.] Further, aerobic training can increase the risk of gaining fat by placing a high level of stress on the adrenal glands and adversely influencing the testosterone/cortisol hormone ratio. This is especially important for women who are of menopause age, as being overweight during menopause can cause blood sugar disorders that can lead to insulin resistance, which in turn can cause diabetes.
As for bone-building supplements, the biggest mistake women make when trying to increase bone mass through supplements is using inferior forms of calcium. There are forms of calcium that are more appropriate to increase bone mass, and the most effective is microcrystalline hydroxyapatite. But that’s not all. If women don’t take in enough vitamin D3, magnesium and boron, then the calcium is basically wasted; so women who need a calcium supplement or a bone-rebuilding formula should look for one that contains multiple nutrients. To save women the expense of buying four separate supplements, my Bone Matrix 2.0 formula contains all four of these nutrients in optimal dosages.
Another piece of erroneous advice given to women is that during menstruation they should stop exercising completely or perhaps limit their activity to walking. One of my colleagues did his master’s thesis on this subject, and there is no evidence that menstruating women should radically alter their exercise routine. And you should also consider that if a woman athlete does not exercise while menstruating, what would happen if menstruation occurred during a major competition? Women athletes need to know in what ways – if any – menstruation affects their athletic performance. In fact, one weightlifting coach told me that in one competition in which his athlete broke a world record, the athlete’s period started in the break between the snatch and the clean and jerk!
As for premenstrual women athletes, a coach would alter training composition only if a woman is retaining a large amount of water (this is referred to as the hydrophilic type of PMS). One reason is that the extra weight can cause problems in performing plyometrics (high-intensity jump drills), so good track and field coaches usually will cut back on the volume of plyometric training for premenstrual women. Also, if a larger premenstrual woman such as a shot-putter gains 16 pounds, training hard during this time could present a problem orthopedically.
In addition to the above modifications, there is a functional medicine approach that may help premenstrual women. Women who experience the hydrophilic type of PMS are often vitamin B6 deficient. To deal with this water retention, they should take a highly absorbable form of vitamin B6 called pyridoxal-5-phosphate, or P5P, which is found in my multivitamin-mineral blend called Über Nutrients. It also helps to take magnesium to regulate electrolyte balance. I believe Übermag Px is the best magnesium formula because it contains four types of magnesium, rather than just one, and are presented in chelates form, which is better absorbed than the inexpensive magnesium salts. If one has difficult falling asleep , Übermag Plus Px is a better choice, as the added tryptophan will support falling asleep.
One reason women might exercise less, or avoid weight training, when menstruating is that their joints might feel sore. If a menstruating woman’s joints are sore when exercising, it could be due to an overexpression of matrix metalloproteinases (MMP) enzymes. Harvard University found that a specific type of hops plant, which is an ingredient in our product Sinew Plex, will help rebuild the joint service. To offset the problem, combine the Sinew Plex with a good form of calcium.
The ideas I’ve presented here may not be the most common approaches taken by trainers and health care professionals when prescribing exercise to menstruating or menopausal women, but when you study the subject you will find that these ideas are based on science and not popular opinions. With that, I hope that more women switch to weight training to stay strong throughout their lifetime.
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