The Fitness Diaries: Making the best of mid-life
Amber Brammah, personal trainer and founder of Lovefit, Cambridge, discusses the mid-life body and how best to navigate the perimenopause
Most of my columns in 2020 related to the pandemic, and fitness in general during these times of Covid-19. So I thought I’d start 2021 with a more specific topic, and one which is so important for all women to know about.
There’s a lot of fear around the menopause, but actually menopause itself – by definition – is a very brief moment in time. It’s when menstruation has stopped and you haven’t had a period for a year, which typically occurs in a woman’s early 50s. And while the term perimenopause is becoming more commonly known, there’s still quite a lack of understanding around this topic.
As with anything, there is a huge degree of variation in what’s normal, but the perimenopause usually starts in a woman’s early to mid 40s. People are often shocked to hear that and assume that perimenopause is simply the time right before menopause occurs, but there is no fixed timescale and it is commonly a 5-10 year process as all the hormonal changes slowly start to take place.
Often these changes initially take place with minimal symptoms. But what symptoms should you look out for? During perimenopause you might notice that you become less tolerant to alcohol, and that it affects your sleep more. Headaches and migraines are commonly reported. Increased anxiety, brain-fog, low mood, difficulty concentrating . . . Sound familiar? Many women feel like they are completely losing the plot, but because their cycles are still regular, they don’t even consider hormones to be the cause. You will, of course, eventually notice a change in your cycle, but this might be one of the last symptoms to present. Many women continue to have completely regular cycles during perimenopause and have no idea that their hormones are responsible for how out of sorts they’re feeling. It’s really important to speak to your doctor if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, and to have your hormones checked. Ultimately your periods will become less regular and lighter (or sometimes much heavier) as the ovaries slow down and oestrogen production declines.
Oestrogen isn’t the only hormone to decline at this stage in a woman’s life. Human growth hormone (HGH), secreted by the pituitary gland, is in steady decline throughout adult life. It is responsible for a multitude of important functions: Tissue growth and repair, brain function, energy levels, metabolising fat, and producing enzymes. Low levels of HGH are part of the reason we find it harder to lose weight in mid-life, and lose our get up and go (fatigue / depression / loss of libido can also be a sign of low HGH). Alongside consulting with your GP, there are lots of ways to naturally boost HGH during perimenopause, which in turn will help you to better manage your symptoms.
As always, exercise is a saviour, and one of the most effective ways to raise your HGH levels. But in order to stimulate the release of HGH, there are certain markers you need to hit: You need to work out above lactate threshold for a minimum of 10 minutes i.e. you need to feel ‘the burn’, get breathless, and get a little hot and sweaty - so high intensity exercise is most effective. Think interval training, lifting weights, sprints.
HGH is mostly released when you’re asleep. Ensuring that you are getting adequate deep sleep is one of the best ways to boost HGH production long term.
Lose belly fat
Studies have shown that those with higher amounts of belly fat have lower levels of HGH. Reducing sugar intake, increasing protein consumption, staying hydrated and exercising will all help to decrease belly fat.
I hope this helps you to understand your mid-life body a little better.
Find out more about Amber and Lovefit at lovefittraining.com
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More by this authorLouise Cummings