Menopausal muscles and more…

Let’s talk muscles; muscles that, as you age, you start to lose. Did you know that from around the age of 30 you can lose around 2 to 3% of your muscle mass every year? Just think about it – 2% to 3% EVERY YEAR! That’s loads. And then you hit menopause.

Menopause comes with potentially more muscle loss again. Oestrogen has a key role in muscle protein synthesis – that’s the process by which the body builds and maintains muscle. When your oestrogen levels start to fluctuate and then decline, one of the main drivers for building that muscle is gone. If you want to maintain those muscles, or even build more, another stimulus is needed.

Here’s where strength work comes in, for it can provide a stress response that replaces what your your oestrogen used to do. Coupled with eating good quality protein, and enough of it (that’s the other key component of the process needed), a good strength programme not only builds muscle, it can also improve your:

  • Body composition (increasing lean mass, decreasing body fat, and raising your metabolic rate)
  • Joint strength and stability (if the muscle surrounding the joints is stronger, it supports them to move well)
  • Bone health
  • Posture

As a runner, all of those benefits combine to bring another real advantage – together they reduce your risk of becoming injured. That’s music to any runner’s ears!

So, what type of strength work should you do, as a menopausal runner? There are so many to choose from! In an ideal world, you need to:

  • Choose something you enjoy (simply because if you like what you do, you are more likely to do it regularly, and, just as with running, doing strength work consistently is key)
  • Start with bodyweight work if you have not done strength work before, but progress to a level where the weights you are working with are heavy for you. That means using weights that are heavy enough that by the 6th rep (in a set of 6) you can barely complete the rep. Low weights and lots of reps may have worked in your younger years but for menopausal women, higher weights and fewer reps are needed to get a strong enough stimulus for muscles to build
  • Build time for strength training into your week, just as you do your running. Once a week is better than not at all, but you may find that more, shorter sessions have a better effect. If you are thinking that you can’t possibly fit strength training in as well as all the running you want to do, then look at dropping at run to make time. You’ll quite likely be a better runner for it
  • Get advice on good form if you are lifting weights – you don’t want to injure yourself doing the very thing that is supposed to help reduce injury risk
  • Include some running-specific moves if you can – those exercises that mimic the movements we make when we run. Lunges, squats and so on, including on one leg, will help you fine-tune your body to run well
  • Eat good quality protein, and enough of it, to support the strength work you do

Good quality, consistent strength training can transform the way you run through and beyond your menopause years, it really can. It may well change your body shape too, and give you a love for a new form of exercise that can be enjoyed in its own right.

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