Fitness over 40? Is exercise the miracle cure?

Keeping fit while juggling perimenopause

Today I’d like to introduce you to Tamara Grand. She is the “chick” behind Fitknitchick.com and the creator of a new 10-week online group fitness program for women over 40.

September has always been about fresh starts. It’s more of a “new year” than January; a great time to take inventory of goals, and to remind myself of some tweaks I’d like to embrace–particularly in the eat-sleep-move categories.

This year, my tweaks include embarking on a new training program–something that will hold me accountable, and sitting less.

Speaking of sitting less–yesterday, after signing up for Fitknitchick’s online training and scanning the private Facebook group Tamara invited me to, I noticed someone mentioned converting their treadmill to a “walking desk”. I mentioned this to my hubby & 30 minutes later: VOILA! I’m walking as I’m writing this post!

Here’s a summary of my conversation with Tamara about starting (or re-starting) an exercise program–anytime–but particularly, while you’re juggling new hormonal imbalances that go along with peri-menopause & menopause.

Menopause Chicks: I have to admit, when I first started delving into the whole peri-menopause and menopause conversation, exercise was not my first thought. Yet, everything I seem to read—be it about mood swings, sleep deprivation, depression, “bringing my sexy back”, PMS, hot flashes—lists exercise as a go-to solution. Is exercise really a magic wand for all these things?

Fitknitchick on Fitness over 40: As much as I would love to tell you, “Yes, regular exercise will solve ALL of your peri-menopausal problems”, exercise is NOT a miracle cure. Achieving hormonal balance requires finding exercise, nutritional and life-style strategies that work for you individually.

That being said, studies have shown that peri-menopausal and menopausal women who incorporate regular physical activity into their schedule experience lower levels of stress, better sleep, improved self-confidence (in and out of the bedroom!) and better weight maintenance, than those who don’t. Unfortunately, the jury is still out on exercise’s ability to control hot flashes and night sweats.

And just like the symptoms of hormonal imbalance vary from woman to woman, so do the benefits of exercise on those symptoms.

Menopause Chicks: As you know, Menopause Chicks is attempting to “crack open” the conversation. What advice do you have for how women should approach the hormone (im)balance conversation with their personal trainer or fitness instructor?

Fitknitchick on Fitness over 40: Talking about menopausal symptoms should be no different than talking about your tennis elbow or Achilles tendonitis. Your trainer’s job is to create a program that takes into consideration your physical strengths and limitations. Leaving out an important piece of health-related information limits your trainer’s ability to do her job.

If your trainer doesn’t ask you questions about your hormone balance when discussing your health history and fitness goals, bring it up yourself. If you get a blank look or sense that your trainer doesn’t have any answers for you, think about hiring one who has experience training peri- and menopausal women! Often the best trainer will be a woman who has or is going through this change herself.

Menopause Chicks: OK, Tamara. I’m in. I do not view 40+, Peri-Menopause or Menopause as finish lines; I see them as new starting lines. So, tell me—what are some tips for getting started?

Fitknitchick on Fitness over 40: Shirley, I love your attitude! Given that the average age of menopause is 51, and women can expect to live 30-50 years beyond menopause, it’s important to think positively about this new phase of our lives. Starting a new exercise program at mid-life is no different than starting one in your youth.

  • Set some realistic and attainable goals (what can you accomplish in 6 weeks? 3 months? 1 year?)
  • Create a sustainable exercise schedule (start slowly and with only 2 to 3 planned workouts per work)
  • Experiment with different forms of exercise to find something you enjoy (the more you enjoy it, the more likely you’ll be to continue doing it)
  • Seek out professional advice if you’re unsure of what types of exercise you should be doing (or how to do them)
  • Change things up every 4 to 6 weeks (your body needs change to keep moving towards your goals)
  • Reward yourself periodically for sticking with it (non-food rewards, please, so as not to undermine your hard work in the gym!)

Menopause Chicks: Are there specific tips you have for women and how they approach their commitment to exercise post-50? & post-60 too?

Fitknitchick on Fitness over 40: Yes! As we get older, our reasons for exercising often change. The goals of younger women are typically aesthetic: lose the “muffin top”, get “shredded”, develop “buns of steel”, uncover “six-pack abs”.

With age, fitness goals often become more functional in nature. Women want to be able to continue engaging in their favourite activities for many years to come. They want to feel vibrant and energetic. They want to avoid injury and reduce their risk of disease.

I tend to focus on non-scale goals and victories with my over 50 clients. We begin most sessions by talking about energy and sleep. How their body feels upon waking. Other non-gym activities they’ve been engaging in. Most are quick to realize that their quality of life has improved with regular exercise.

In my experience, keeping things variable and interesting is extremely important to these women. They don’t want to perform the same workout for 3 or 4 weeks in a row. No body-builder type programs for them. They appreciate being introduced to new exercises and enjoy mastering new tasks. Of course, seeing that they can lift heavier weights and perform more challenging movements than women many years their junior is great for increasing motivation and commitment!

Menopause Chicks: Often, the choices and information available to (peri-)menopause chicks can be simply overwhelming: Take up yoga for this, join pilates for that, lift weights, don’t lift weights, swimming is good for your heart, aerobics is bad for your joints. How do we possibly make sense of it all? 

Fitknitchick on fitness over 40: The health and wellness industry is confusing; even to fitness professionals! There are always new studies being published contradicting the findings of older ones. Much of the time what you’re reading is either mis-interpreted (newspaper reporters are not scientists), based on poor science (small sample sizes, confounding variables, correlational evidence), or funded by an organization standing to gain financially from the results (cynical, I know).

Rather than blindly following the results of the latest study, I encourage my clients and group fitness participants to find what works for THEM. This requires a commitment to paying attention to your own body and accepting or rejecting things that don’t benefit YOU. And of course, YOUR best strategy will continue to change as you age.

Menopause Chicks: You have a new program launching this fall? Tell us about it & how do you think online personal training can be beneficial for (peri-)menopause chicks?

Fitknitchick on fitness over 40: I do! It’s a 10-week online group fitness program for women over 40. The focus of the program is using exercise, nutrition and life-style change to address the symptoms of menopause and peri-menopause.

Every 2nd week, participants will receive a newsletter containing a new, individually customizable exercise plan (with modifications for varying the plan according to fitness level and physical ability; relevant nutritional information, tips and recipes; tools for analyzing diet, body composition and sleep; templates for tracking workouts; as well as basic education about their changing bodies. There’s also a private Facebook group for motivation, accountability and support. And just to make sure everybody’s doing the exercises properly, I’ll be providing links to video demonstrations of the moves.

The cost of the program is $70; that’s $1 a day (less than the cost of hiring me to train you in person). And I’m super excited to have garnered the support of a variety of brand sponsors. Each week, one random participant will be chosen to win a prize (athletic wear, protein cookies, sports headbands and vitamins, to name a few).

 

Fitness over 40

Tamara Grand #40plusfitness

I’d love to see readers and fans of Menopause Chicks join in the fun! Registration is open and on-going until Friday, September 6, 2013. The program itself runs from Sunday, September 8 (right after kids go back to school) until Saturday, November 16 (right before US Thanksgiving).

All of the program and registration details can be found on my website, fitknitchick.com. In the meantime, follow me on Twitter (@fitknitchick_1) and watch for the hashtag #40plusfitness!