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Why You Should Lift Weights To Thrive In Your 40s And Beyond

Why You Should Lift Weights To Thrive In Your 40s and Beyond

I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up exercise was thought of more in terms of punishment or to “work off your food”. We were fed hormone-wrecking, energy zapping, and mindset-killing advice about how and why we should be exercising. It was always about weight loss or staying “slim”, never about strength or nourishment. 

As a result, so many women are still exercising in hormonally-disruptive ways in their 40s, ignoring their hormones as they beg them to do things differently.

You’ve likely been told that for exercise to be doing any good, you should leave the gym or a class feeling like you’re going to vomit or with arms and legs so shaky that you can barely start your car to drive yourself home, sound familiar?

This advice and mindset is just wrecking our hormones, our health, and our ability to build precious, much needed muscle mass. As we move into our 40s (aka perimenopause), a different approach to how and why we move and exercise is needed.

The biggest mistake that so many women have been making (through NO fault of their own) is foregoing weights for the cardio machines, spin classes, and running.

Why should you take a different approach in your 40s? 

From late 30s, changes to progesterone and oestrogen start to occur that shifts the body into a naturally higher cortisol / cortisol dysregulated state. Cortisol isn’t a ‘bad’ when it’s in balance. When it’s dysregulated or high however, it has the ability to break down muscle tissue (a concept known as ‘catabolic’), which is a nightmare for health and body composition.

Why is it so important to preserve and build muscle mass?

The human body starts to lose approximately 3 to 8% of precious muscle mass per decade from age 30. Add to this the decline in testosterone with age and the subsequent loss of oestrogen and progesterone once we reach menopause, and we see even more muscle loss.

It is SO important to start to counteract this as soon as you can in life, through continuing to build and preserve new muscle mass as you age.

Why? Because muscle is the organ of healthy longevity! 

Quality of life, both current and future, is directly correlated to your muscle mass and a lot of the chronic diseases of ageing we are seeing today are directly related to the health of your skeletal muscle. 

Muscle aids in regulating blood sugar and blood lipids. It keeps cells sensitive to insulin, supports a healthy metabolism and strengthens and protects your bones.

The more healthy skeletal muscle you have, the exponentially better your health and experience of perimenopause and life postmenopause will be! 

Increasing muscle mass is essential for supporting good blood sugar regulation and insulin sensitivity, maintaining a healthy body composition, lowering inflammation, protecting your brain (mood and cognition), bones, and heart.

One of the many reasons why lifting weights and building muscle supports blood glucose regulation and insulin sensitivity is due to GLUT 4 (glucose transporters). GLUT4 is a protein in the body that shuttles glucose into your cells both in response to insulin (e.g. after a meal) and during exercise, particularly heavy lifting. 

A contracting muscle during a strength training exercise becomes a sponge for glucose, soaking up a significantly higher amount of glucose compared to a non-exercising muscle.

This will improve insulin sensitivity and insulin sensitivity can improve MANY of the common symptoms experienced during perimenopause such as brain fog, weight gain and increased belly fat, memory issues, mood issues, sleep issues, energy issues, and hot flushes. 

How To Exercise To Build and Maintain Healthy Muscle Mass

‘Resistance training’, ‘strength training’, ‘weight training’, ‘lifting weights’, ‘weight lifting’ are often used interchangeably. Any type of exercise or workout where your muscles are working against some form of resistance with muscle contraction is going to build strength and increase skeletal muscle. Starting this now and doing it forever is one the most important things you can be doing for your physical and mental health, wellbeing and longevity.

Start Where You’re At

There is no need to go in all guns blazing or feel like you can’t train this way because you’re not strong enough to lift heavy. 

All you need to do is start where YOU are at and slowly build up from there. The weights need to be heavy but this refers to YOUR heavy, not other peoples heavy. 

For example, you might start by pushing, lifting and pulling with your own body weight, and then progress to using bands for additional resistance and muscle contraction, then to dumbbells or kettlebells, and eventually to barbells, which gives you more scope to go heavier.

Working out to gain strength is a true act of self love!

Lifting weights places a demand on your muscles and central nervous system that causes them to adapt. This “adaptation” results in new muscle tissue and increased strength. For this adaptation to occur, the weight needs to be heavy enough to place enough of a challenge or stress on the muscle – which means you have to lift heavy – whatever heavy is for YOU. Remember, your own body weight might be enough of a stimulus in the very beginning and you can build up to weights over time. 

You’ll be amazed at your progression and the myriad of benefits associated with lifting weights. Progression can be quick, literally week on week!

Why Weight Training Over Cardio?

Lifting weights triggers your muscle-building, anti-ageing, fat-burning, anti-inflammatory, revitalising hormones such as glucagon, growth hormone, testosterone, and myokines WITHOUT spiking cortisol so much or even at all in some cases. 

Intense cardio and ‘HIIT’-style classes or workouts triggers cortisol and NOT these muscle building, fat-burning, health-giving hormones. Our exercise should build us up rather than break us down, and focusing only on cardio and or doing too much of it, can be ‘catabolic’ (breaking your muscle down).

The increases in cortisol that intense cardio and HIIT workouts induce can soon start to disrupt your sleep, mood, and energy and result in increased fat around the middle. 

Cardio has its place but it shouldn’t be the priority. Some steady paced cardio (e.g. with your heart rate in zone 2) is great for exercising your heart and lungs, releasing endorphins and boosting serotonin (and therefore mood), and burning SOME fat whilst you’re doing it. But so many women are focusing on the more intense styles of cardio such as spin classes, boot camp classes, long HIIT classes (e.g. F45) and long distance running. Once we move past our late 30s, our hormones are no longer as resilient as they once were and focusing only on exercise that induces more cortisol can make us feel rubbish.

Many women are really just overdoing it in life generally and then adding to their load by also overdoing it in the gym wrong kinds of workouts. 

How Might a Healthy Weekly Exercise Routine Look?

Aim for 7000 – 1000 steps each day of walking, preferably in some sort of nature 

2-3 20-40 minute weight lifting sessions

Some gentle yoga or Qigong weaved into your days even for just 10 minutes at a time

Use of 4:6 breathing for a few minutes after your workouts to bring your nervous system back into balance

If you’ve found this helpful I’d love to hear from you! If you’d like to learn how to truly thrive in your 40s then my Thrive Through Perimenopause self study course is here for you. Click here to learn more.   

Hi, I'm Francesca

I’m a Registered Nutritional Therapist who helps womens in their 40s find vibrant health and vitality, and thrive through perimenopause and beyond.

With nearly 10 years of experience working with hundreds of people, I empower and support women to support their bodies and hormones for a smooth and happy ride in their 4os.

Through our work together, clients have improved their energy, their periods and cycles, their mood, sleep, brain fog and digestion, and learned how to better manage their weight.

I am here to help you get back to YOU so you can have a fantastic time in your 40s.

My signature nutrition and lifestyle coaching approach to supporting women with their health and wellbeing is refreshing, down-to-earth and realistic.

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