Menopause is a big event on the female body much like puberty and pregnancy. It is driven by hormonal changes in the body that happen gradually over time. It is broken down into 3 different stages: Perimenopause, Menopause and Post Menopause. Perimenopause is the time leading up to menopause when symptoms begin, usually 3-4 years before menopause. This is initiated by the gradual decline in estrogen and progesterone. As those hormones decline you start to see the common symptoms; sporadic periods, the infamous “hot flash” and vaginal dryness. As these symptoms are evolving they will become more frequent and consistent leading up to menopause. The primary indicator of transitioning from perimenopause to menopause is the complete absence of a period for a full 12 months. At that point you then transition into post menopause. Unfortunately the changes do not stop the moment your period stops. Symptoms will persist, in addition other symptoms can surface as well, some directly related to hormonal changes and some indirectly related. At PeakRx we like to help people thrive through life’s transitions to the best of our ability and menopause is no exception. Our expertise is movement and exercise which can seem unrelated to the hormonal process of menopause but if you take a broader view and look at the body as a whole you will see that we can use things like exercise to influence menopausal changes. 

Lifting heavy is a specific exercise we love to encourage women going through menopause to do. By lifting heavy, we mean handling weight more than your own body weight, this is a broad concept that you can implement in a variety of ways. That could be using dumb bells as part of your exercise routine, it could be a barbell and it could even be putting things in a laundry basket and practicing lifting that way.  We believe that lifting heavy is a vital skill to incorporate into any exercise routine especially during the many phases of menopause and here are our top three reasons why:

Better Bones 

During the process of menopause there is a significant decrease in your bone density especially in the spine and hips, which starts before and continues even in years following. On average over a 3 year time span during the menopausal transition women will experience 2.5% bone density loss a year in the lumbar spine and 2% in the hips. That gradual decline can be the change that puts someone in the osteoporosis category and increases the risk of fracture. The best way to strengthen bones is to stress the structures. When you stress your bones with heavier loads than your body weight it forces your body to make more bone cells so it can handle the pressure you’re putting on them. In this study, researchers compiled the results of multiple studies to see the effects of different types of exercises on bone density. They found that strength and resistance training (aka Lifting Heavy) created a significant effect on bone mineral density, more than walking alone. 

Better Weight

Menopause looks different for every woman, the struggles and the severity of symptoms vary. It may feel like there is little you can do about it. Staying physically active and maintaining a healthy weight are the two most modifiable factors that you control to lessen the severity of menopausal symptoms. Studies have shown us that among women who exercise regularly and maintain a healthy body mass index, symptoms are less intense and have less impact on their quality of life. Lifting heavy is so important in helping you kill 2 birds with one stone, it keeps you physically active and has a specific effect on your body mass index. Body Mass Index is an indicator of body fat based on your height, so the less fat you have the better that number will look. Lifting heavy in particular adds more stress on your muscles to expedite the process of building up your muscles, which in turn helps burn fat and will improve your body mass index. Many women subscribe to the idea that walking will give them the same kind of effect but the truth is the only way to build muscle is to load it and walking does not load your muscles. If you never challenge yourself to anything more than your body weight you will not be able to tap into that potential of strength you are capable of.  

Better Balance

A common concern of our clients who are post menopausal is balance and the risk of injury if they lose their balance. Balance is the working of 3 systems in your body 1) inner ear- tells you where your body is based on head position 2) vision- tells you where your body is based on what you see 3) proprioception- tells you where your body is based on what you feel. If you struggle with 1 of these areas you can have the other 2 increase their contribution to help make up the difference.  Proprioception is an aspect you can easily effect, this is your actual body awareness system and nothing jump starts it like lifting heavy. Lifting heavy adds an increased stress on your muscles and joints which will in turn increase the other all perception of that joint. When you load up your body with weight it turns on receptors that are located in the joints which talk to your brain to tell you where that joint is in space. For our menopausal clients this is something that we want to make sure we are being proactive about not reactive. So starting to incorporate lifting heavy sooner helps you feel more confident as you age through menopause.  

Menopause is a big deal and that’s why we believe it is all the more important to not let menopause just happen to you, but you actively take it upon ourselves to do something about it. You will see that you are better for it, you will feel strong in your muscles and bones, you will see less menopausal symptoms and you will feel more confident to move. 

Be strong, be resilient and lift heavy!

Benedetti, M. G., Furlini, G., Zati, A., & Letizia Mauro, G. (2018). The effectiveness of physical exercise on bone density in osteoporotic patients.