PT on the Net Research

Menopause and Exercise


Question:

I have been looking for some information on how to train menopausal and perimenopausal women. I have found articles on menopause but not any program or exercise tips. 

Answer:

Because the female hormonal system is vastly complex, first and foremost, I would highly recommend that your client see/consult with some form of holistic medical professional such as a Naturopathic Doctor (ND) and/or clinical nutritionist or someone of that nature. A professional like this can help your client rebalance her body chemistry by using noninvasive and natural methods. In my opinion, anyone who has ever eaten processed foods for any extended length of time, taken any prescription drugs for any length of time or been under any extended periods of stress should get a "checkup" from a professional like this.

That being said, it is important to understand that after menopause the adrenals (read: stress hormones) make up a much larger percentage of a female's hormonal system. I'm not sure of the percentage, but I believe it may be as high as 40%. Hence, a female's sympathetic nervous system becomes much more influential. Why is this important to know? To answer this question, one needs to have a basic understanding of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS has been labeled the body's master regulator overseeing all metabolic activities from respiration to digestion to detoxification to elimination. The ANS is divided into two distinct yet interdependent branches: the parasympathetic branch (PNS) and the sympathetic branch (SNS). The PNS is generally associated with functions of rebuilding, repairing, resting or states of anabolism (tissue building). The SNS is just the opposite and is generally associated with functions of activation, stimulation, "fight or flight" responses or states of catabolism (tissue destroying). The body needs both of these functions (yin & yang) depending upon the time of day, the internal/external cues/stimulators, etc. However, when the body becomes over-stressed due to the many unhealthy circumstances of modern society such as: environmental toxicity/pollution, food processing, dehydration, lack of sleep, social/professional pressures, lack of OR poor choices of exercise/movement, and in this case - menopause; the body can become "stuck" in a sympathetic (i.e., catabolic and stressed-out) state. This is just one of the many potential paths that can eventually lead to hormonal imbalance/dysfunction and ultimately chronic degenerative disease(s) (diabetes, obesity, heart disease, cancers, osteoporosis, etc.). All of this is why it is detrimental that the exercise regimens that trainers give to their clients in no way contribute to the likelihood of excessive sympathetic nervous system stimulation. This is especially true for a menopausal woman. Please take a look at the diagram in my Q&A on Stress & Exercise - The Good and the Bad. The diagram offers a simplified illustration to demonstrate the inverse relationship that "should" exist between stress and exercise intensity. 

Your first step should be to assess total physiological load stress. After you have a baseline for this, you can then determine what types and intensities of exercises will be most helpful in restoring your client's health. A great guide to help you with this is the book I've recommended and referred countless people to over and over again - "How to Eat, Move & Be Healthy!" by Paul Chek. Paul has also contributed the Stress questionnaire portion of this book to a great article on Mercola.com. The direct link to the article is:  http://www.mercola.com/2004/dec/18/no_workout.htm

And finally let me just note that your client's nutrition - now more than ever - will be crucial in her journey due to the influence of the SNS mentioned above. Consider that...

A classic example of how metabolism, consciousness and creation are linked can be appreciated by the fact that hormones are molecules of emotion. Each hormone has a corresponding mental/emotional component. For example, testosterone is heavily polarized, producing a progressively increased awareness of and/or affinity towards both sexual behavior and destructive behavior. Seratonin in optimal amounts elevates our mood whereas a deficiency of seratonin often produces depression. Food being the resource from which all our hormones are derived therefore becomes essential as a bridge linking the purely physical with consciousness.(1) 

Finally, your client MUST begin to implement the foundational health principles I've made continuous mention of here on PTN. You can also find these principles described in several of my past Q&As. There are no words to describe how vital these principles truly are in the context of regaining total health.

Good luck to you and your client.

References & Suggested Resources:

  1. Chek, P. "The Essential CHEK Philosophy." Online. www.chekinstitute.com, Internet. 2005.
  2. Chek, P. "The 'No Workout' Workout." Online. www.mercola.com, Internet. 2005.
  3. Chek, P. "Equal But Not the Same!: Considerations for Training Females." Correspondence Course, A C.H.E.K Institute Publication and Production. www.chekinstitute.com