Updated: Dec 10, 2022
What does stress have to do with your hormones?
As we move towards menopause and our estrogen levels start to lower, our cortisol levels rise in response. So many things cause stress: medications, the environment, lack of sleep, our diet, both eating too few calories with the purpose of losing weight, or too few nutrients because of a poor diet. You may be surprised to hear me say that too much exercise with too little time to recover is stressful to the menopausal body as well.
Let’s think about exercise and how we can use it to help manage our level of stress. In menopause we need to think differently than we did in our 20’s and 30’s. Here are some changes you can incorporate right away to help you manage your stress levels and keep your hormones balanced.
First, intense exercise is best done early in the day when your cortisol levels should be at their highest. High Intensity Interval Training is a great way to get short sessions of beneficial exercise. Also, allow yourself time to fully recover after each interval. Start by warming up for 5 minutes, then try doing 30 seconds of hard exercise followed by 60-90 seconds of recovery and repeat for 15-20 minutes. End with a 5 minute cool down to start repairing your tissues from your workout. Real life example: if you're walking, walk for your warm up, run or walk up a hill or stairs for the high intensity, then walk down the hill or stairs for the recovery.
Second, strength training is a MUST for everyone, especially those of us in menopause. You want to lift heavy enough weight to fatigue at 10 repetitions, rest enough during sets. If you’re new or just getting back to strength training, you won’t start with fatiguing at 10 reps, you’ll shoot for 12-15 repetitions with lighter weight, working on perfect form. Then as your neuromuscular system understands what you’re asking of it, you’ll increase weight and lower repetitions. Give your body 72 hours of rest and recovery in between heavy weight workouts. You can do functional training, Pilates, yoga and balance training in between. Example, I do heavy weights on Mondays and Fridays. Wednesdays I do some functional training and Pilates.
Third, When it comes to your nutrition, eating dark leafy greens, bright colored vegetables, onions, mushrooms and herbs, pasture raised, hormone free, grass fed and organics all are beneficial to reduce the amount of stress on your body. Focus on eating to fuel your body. If you are in a stressful period, try blending your food. In the winter I love blended vegetable soups. This gives your digestion a little break while keeping up with your high nutrient foods. Getting enough protein is something women in particular struggle with. Your muscle is made up of protein, shoot for 25-30 grams per meal. Always talk to your doctor with concerns.
Last week’s blog talked about the importance of sleep for the menopausal body. If you missed it, click here to read.
MELT is an extremely effective way to help us alleviate stress both in our mind and body. The Rebalance Sequence is called that because of how it “reboots” your nervous system. When you do a Rebalance Sequence you actually calm your sympathetic nervous system, think fight or flight and for lack of a better word, turn on your parasympathetic, think rest and digest part of your nervous system. Other ways to calm your nerves, meditation, breath work, snuggling your pet, hugging a loved one, going for a walk in nature. Creating your own mantra to repeat to yourself during stressful times also helps. “I am safe, I am comfortable, I am at peace.” When the nervous system is up-regulated, it’s hard to allow our body to heal. As you sit, taking in “bucket handle” or lateral rib breaths and start to slow down your exhale, telling yourself your mantra, you may even start to feel your heart rate slow down.
Using all of these tips can help you keep stress levels under control and allow your body to burn excess energy, build muscles, enjoy better sleep and keep aches and pains at bay. We need to take care of our nervous system. When I talk about self-care, it’s not fluff. Stress can make us sick. But, you have the power to harness your body’s healing power from within.
Learning how to relieve stress is so important in our health and wellness that it is one of my 6 Pillars of Wellness. Our next 12-week program starts January 2023. Sign up for one of our free Master Classes Wednesday January 4th or Sunday January 8th. Click Here to save your spot and get your workbook.