National Women's Health & Fitness Day is held annually on the last Wednesday of September and was established to highlight women's health issues. Encouraging women to take care of themselves and get a grip on their fitness.
M&F spoke to Dr. Maria Luque, an author for the NASM Women's Fitness Specialization program and founder of Fitness in Menopause, to get some answers to the important questions about how issues like stress and hormones can play a part in our fitness journey at any age and how we overcome obstacles to become the best possible version of ourselves.
Can exercise help women who may be going through a period of stress?
Absolutely. There is evidence that physical activity, particularly aerobic and vigorous physical activity, can help reduce stress and depression. Over the past 15 years, many studies have shown the benefits of regular physical activity and depression even during menopause. Women who exercise more tend to be more positive, have more energy, and feel better overall.
Can hormone levels affect body weight?
One of the symptoms that women experience as uncomfortable during menopause is weight gain. Although weight gain is common during this period, it is not just related to menopause. Increased body fat percentage is also attributed to the natural aging process due to factors such as a decrease in muscle mass. Decreased activity can also lead to weight gain.
What role do hormones play in women's health and fitness?
Estrogen plays an important role in bone, skeletal and heart health, as well as many aspects of mental health such as anxiety and depression. During perimenopause, estrogen levels begin to decline a few years before the last menstrual period and eventually stabilize about two years after the last menstrual period.
Cortisol causes weight gain and body composition changes due to the shift in estrogen levels. This is because when estrogen levels drop, the body is less equipped to deal with stress, potentially creating chronic cortisol elevations. This can cause excess fat, also known as visceral fat, to build up deep in the abdomen.
Is hormone replacement therapy a viable option to balance a woman's hormones?
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT), also known as menopausal hormone therapy (HRT), has proven to be the most effective treatment for vasomotor symptoms (hot flushes and night sweats) and genitourinary syndrome (which affects changes in the bladder, urethra, tissues, and sexual function). HRT has also been shown to help reduce bone loss and lower the risk of fractures. However, there appears to be a link between certain types of hormone replacement therapy and certain types of breast cancer. However, these risks depend on the duration of use, the type of therapy, the age at which therapy is started, and the family history and health status of each woman. It is always advisable to speak with a qualified healthcare practitioner to assess the benefits and risks of taking hormones.
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Are there any natural foods, vitamins, or supplements that can help with hormone balance?
There is no credible scientific evidence that exercise or food can balance hormones. However, research shows that select adaptogens and supplements may be beneficial for some symptoms. Here are some that may be beneficial and their specific uses:
- Rhodiola rosea: Reduces fatigue and improves alertness and cognitive function after 4 weeks of repeated use
- Ashwaganda: Improves sleep, sleep quality and reduces stress
- Curcumin/turmeric: Helps treat inflammation, metabolic syndrome, arthritis, anxiety, brain function, muscle soreness and recovery from exercise
- Schisandra: Increases endurance, increases mental performance, has an anti-inflammatory and anxiolytic effect.
- Mushrooms: Various mushrooms have medicinal properties ranging from neuroprotective properties such as promoting positive brain and nerve health to improving mild cognitive impairment
- creatine: This supplement, which has been extensively studied, and its benefits include positive results on energy, muscle mass, muscle strength, cognition, mood, depression, sleep, body composition, and memory. Creatine supplementation is most effective when combined with resistance training, particularly in postmenopausal women.
Always use caution when adding new supplements or herbs to your diet as they may interact with your medications or medical condition. It's always an excellent idea to check with your doctor to confirm that adding any new food or supplement is safe for you.
How Does Physical Activity Affect Female Hormone Levels?
Physical activity, especially resistance training, is a key component to maintaining muscle mass and strength, bone density, gaining healthy weight, and improving your quality of life. There is no solid evidence that physical activity can balance hormones. Still, resistance training, particularly heavy resistance training, has been linked to increases in growth hormone, which plays a key role in metabolism. For women over 35, increasing GH can be particularly beneficial as this is a time of life when the natural aging process combined with menopause accelerates muscle and bone loss.
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Why is resistance training so beneficial for women's health?
Studies show that resistance training has the greatest benefits for weight management, stress reduction, body image, bone health, and overall health, making it perhaps the most important type of exercise. I recommend starting with progressive resistance training that focuses on form and progressive loads.
The second type of exercise that has shown great benefits for women from a body composition perspective is HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training). It's important to note that when it comes to menopause symptoms, some types of exercise can promote or worsen these symptoms. For example, some women report an increase in hot flashes when doing HIIT. Other types of movement, such as B. walking, are particularly beneficial for insomnia and depression. It's important to pay attention to how certain types of exercise make you feel and then make your choices accordingly. But overall, resistance training needs to be the focus because the benefits are so far-reaching.
Modern pressures often leave women feeling like they don't have time to exercise, and yet those who do get active often report that it makes them feel all the better. What advice do you have for those who are feeling overwhelmed?
I think the most important factor is that exercise should be fun. A good coach can help you figure that out. My personal advice is this: don't mindlessly follow someone else's routine. Instead, find what you enjoy and base your training around it. Having fun in your workout makes it more sustainable, plus it makes it easier to prioritize something you actually want to do rather than something you feel you need to do.