Weight Loss and Menopause, Part IIby Laura J Hieb, ND on July 20, 2022
In my last blog I wrote about the negative effects of insulin and cortisol on weight and how these effects are worsened in menopause.
I'd like to address cortisol a little more.
Stress causes an elevation in cortisol levels.
Women in menopause may be experiencing more stress than they ever have before: caring for children, caring for aging parents, work stress, home stress, and just trying to fit everything in!
But there is one type of stress that gets overlooked: exercise.
Exercise is a stress on the body, although typically a good stress. But when taken to extremes, ie, long and strenuous bouts of exercise, cortisol can increase to an unhealthy level--particularly in menopausal women.
Pre-menopausally, many women turn to long and strenuous bouts of exercise to lose weight. But in menopause--you guessed it--long and strenuous exercise leads to high levels of cortisol and weight gain.
Going for 3 mile runs, spending an hour or more on the stair stepper, or doing any type of exercise that leaves you feeling drained, hungry or wanting to nap, are all examples of over exercising, that can lead to elevated cortisol levels and weight gain in menopausal women.
Now this is not an excuse not to exercise! But now you know why your regular exercise routine may not be working for you the way it used to.
So what to do?
First, shorten your exercise session to less than 1 hour, preferably 30 minutes, and don't exercise as strenuously. You can exercise more frequently and do short sets of HIIT (high intensity interval training), and do more weight training (ie, working out with weights).
Weight training is especially good as it help to maintain and build muscle mass. This has 2 benefits. Muscle, as noted in previous blogs, has a higher metabolic rate than fat. So the more muscle we have, the higher our metabolic rate and the more fat we burn.
And, as we get older, we start to lose muscle mass, which affects, among other things, our sense of balance and our bone density, so we have an increased risk of falls and fractures. Weight training helps to prevent these. And not to worry, you won't bulk up like Arnold Schwarzenegger, but you will look more toned and fit.
Other ways to reduce cortisol have to do with managing our stress. Yes, I know--from personal experience--that the hardest time to manage our stress is when we are stressed!
So try adding in some stress-reducing practices into your daily life now and on a regular basis so that they become habits.
Here are some ideas; choose one or more that are easy for you to incorporate into your daily routine (along with exercise):
- Sleep 7-9 hours per night. Studies have shown that sleeping 6 hours or less raises our cortisol levels for the next 2 days! Not a lot of weight loss happening then!
- Meditate, or just sit quietly if you prefer. When thoughts appear, notice them but let them move on. Or do a guided meditation--there are many apps available, like the Headspace App
- Laugh! Watch something funny on You Tube or get together with friends or your kids and tell jokes
- Listen to soothing music
- Have a massage
- Spend time in nature--and even in your neighborhood I'm sure there are some trees and shrubs and birds etc, so you don't necessarily need to go to a park or a rural place to get the benefits of nature
- Walk in nature, even just for 10 minutes (this counts as exercise too)
- Belly breathe: Breathe in through your nose so that your abdomen expands, and out through your nose or mouth so that your abdomen contracts. Practice in bed at night with your hands on your abdomen. You can do this anytime, anywhere. In fact, this is how you should breathe all the time
- Practice Hara breathing: this is belly breathing in through your nose to a count of 5, holding it for a count of 5 and exhaling through your mouth to a count of 5 and repeat for a total of 5 breaths.... or for 10-15 minutes. This is very restorative.
Next blog I'll discuss how to lower insulin.