By Carrie Jacobsen
Until very recently, the 45+ female population has been largely overlooked by the fitness industry, and very little data has been available to help support our female clientele in this age range. As a female 55-year-old Fitness Professional, I would like to share the information and strategies that helped me to navigate the challenges that many women experience in midlife.
Thanks to my personal experiences with pre- and post-menopause, (i.e., sudden mysterious changes in body composition, sleep disruptions, etc.), I have had to change the focus of my own training and nutrition accordingly. Here are the steps I took to turn things around and get back on track.
I began to focus on building strength rather than just chasing “fat loss” or burning calories.
That meant more time spent in the weight room lifting heavier weights as opposed to the marathon cardio sessions I had been doing up to that point. Don’t get me wrong, I still love my “fun” cardio sessions, but now I balance them with resistance training to help me build lean muscle tissue; which in turn helps to burn more calories at rest. Another benefit of resistance training for women in this age group is that it also helps to strengthen bone density (since bone loss/osteoporosis is a greater risk factor for women over 50).
Yet, another, perhaps lesser known, benefit of resistance training for women in this age group is that it helps with mood regulation. Thanks to hormone fluctuations that take place during pre- and post-menopause, many women (myself included!) begin to struggle with body image, depression, and/or anxiety. An exercise program (i.e., lifting heavy weights) that forces us to slow down and focus on form and proper technique, is tremendously beneficial. I also began meditation and journaling four years ago, and this has been an additional key factor in helping me to manage my mood swings.
If you’re unfamiliar or unsure of where to begin in the weight room, no worries! Crunch has several group fitness classes on their schedule in all of their locations that can teach you the basics of resistance training in a non-intimidating and friendly setting. Check out our latest class offering, Muscle and Hustle, or our tried-and-true Chisel, Top it Off, and B.L.T. (Butts Legs and Thighs) – just to name a few!
I gave up alcohol entirely by going completely “dry” in January of this year, and I now drink only very occasionally.
This was by far the most difficult for me, as I used to love my nightly glass (or two!) of wine. As challenging as this was for me, however, I have to say it was definitely worth it. I began to notice positive changes in my body almost immediately. My clothes started fitting better, the quality of my sleep improved, and I found that I was having fewer hot flashes.
Although my reasons for giving up alcohol may initially have been vanity-based – yes, I knew my abs were in there somewhere – there are definitely more compelling reasons to give up that nightly glass of wine.
Here’s what the North American Menopause Society has to say about the link between alcohol usage and certain breast/colorectal cancers, “Current guidelines recommend that women limit alcohol consumption to one standard drink or less per day (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2020). However, other studies report mixed benefits and an increased risk of breast cancer and cardiovascular risk in menopausal women with greater alcohol intake” (North American Menopause Society, 2022; Fernández- Solà, 2015, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 1999).
The National Academy of Sports Medicine also weighed in on this topic in terms of counseling our clientele while remaining within our bounds of practice as fitness professionals, “Alcohol can be a difficult topic, especially as it relates to weight loss. However, successful weight control will require a client to be mindful of their alcohol intake. Not only does alcohol have empty calories, but it also disrupts sleep, which is counterproductive to weight loss. In addition, alcohol can decrease blood glucose, thereby making someone feel hungrier. Therefore, fitness professionals should remind clients about the importance of moderate alcohol consumption without overstepping their scope of practice” (National Academy of Sports Medicine, Women’s Fitness Specialist Course).
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, making sure that I was consuming enough calories, specifically protein, to support my goals!
This was definitely a counter-intuitive strategy for me in the beginning, as I had always been focused on “dieting” to stay in a caloric deficit. Little did I know, I was actually slowing down my metabolism and sabotaging my efforts in the gym.
The National Academy of Sports Medicine offers the following advice with regard to building and maintaining lean muscle mass with proper nutrition, saying “Conversely, women who want to gain muscle mass need to increase their daily energy intake and increase their protein consumption, especially as they age. Even if a woman does not need to lose weight but is trying to avoid weight gain later in life, nutrition strategies that emphasize protein are more effective for weight control and the maintenance of lean mass compared to low protein diets” (National Academy of Sports Medicine, Women’s Fitness Specialist Course, Toft Hansen et al., 2021).
By sharing the strategies that worked for me, I hope it will save other women in my age group from hours of spinning their wheels in frustration and wondering why they are not seeing the results of their hard labor in the gym. If you found this article helpful and informative, I’d love to hear from you.