If you are in your late 30’s or 40’s, it may feel as if your body is going haywire. Don’t fret, a lot of women are going through the same thing around this time. But it’s really hard not to feel as though you are isolated in your suffering. Many of women struggle from constant irritability, hair loss, feeling like you are always rushing, depression, anxiety, vaginal dryness, extra 10 belly pounds that won’t leave, painful sex and lack of libido.
Let’s be frank: life sucks when these symptoms are following you around all day everyday. It’s not that you are unhappy per se; you might have a job that fulfills you, you might be super happy with the kiddos running around but personally, there is a feeling of LACK or as if something is wrong or off..
And that’s because there is.
I think if more women stayed in tune with their bodies, there would be many more successful and happy marriages. Many women - and many doctors and take on the complaints of these suffering women - tend to think this is the norm. That women just turn into sexless grumpy shrews the minute they turn 40.
Where TF does it say this is just what happens when you age?
If we approach perimenopause and menopause as if it’s another kind of puberty, maybe we can be more patient and understanding about the changes that are happening in our mood and body. Let's talk about what YOU can do to bring more harmony and balance to you life and adrenal glands.
I’m going to start with exercise.
For many women in their 40’s, it seems like they smell chocolate and gain 5 pounds. While this is an exaggeration, it feels very true. We have to look back at what has been happening for the last 20 years to get an explanation for all the discomfort of what is going on now.
Many women were lied to about nutrition and fitness advice. They were told low fat and high grain diets were the best for them. They were told to run or do aerobics for 1-2 hours a day and sweat, Sweat, SWEAT the pounds away. This diet and exercise regimen, along with the fact that they were eating less and less and less calories to lose “those stubborn last 10 pounds,” has thrown their metabolic functioning in the toilet.
Most women have been putting their body through this abuse for decades. Diets void of fat and calories absolutely wreck the proper functioning of hormone systems. Couple that with the stress of raising kids or running a business in a society that requires MORE for success, and you have a perfect recipe for a woman who is constantly up-regulated and has a huge amount of anxiety.
In our primal brain, this type of chronic stress functioning translates into the body being in a tense ever-ready state to hunt and forage for food. The body is feeling a supreme lack of nutrition and recovery, therefore ramping up the cortisol because it senses there is danger and starvation around. Now this body has to also protect their young - when there is danger and starvation around!
Hormonally, you feel unsafe. Emotionally you are drained. And you body is running out of time and energy to protect itself.
WE HAVE TO FIX THIS.
What stress and high cortisol does to your body Cortisol is a hell of a hormone. It is what gets us up and going in the morning. Typically, It is highest in the morning and lowest in the evening. Some things that raise cortisol are coffee, exercise, stress, sugar, starvation and lack of sleep.
Cortisol is an inflammatory and energetic hormone. It is very important that we have the gentle rise and fall of it throughout the day. The fall helps up get organized, sleep and generally chill out. It’s not bad or good, it’s just there and it has an optimal way of functioning.
What is bad is when you are exposed to too much of it. Staying in stressful or hurried mindsets, going to grueling workouts even though you are tired, your attitude toward your boss, husband or kids and even that coffee habit can negatively impact stress and therefore cortisol levels. Over a long period of time of staying elevated, eventually you will crash and burn out you adrenals.
This is when you feel like you can never have enough sleep, you are in permanent brain fog, you just kind of check-in and you have a permanent yet non effective coffee habit.
In women, cortisol is a progesterone receptor blocker. Progesterone in the chill out, feel good chemical the gets released during the last half of our menstrual cycle. If this is blocked it will mess up the whole cycle, resulting in painful, stressful or irregular periods. This effect is compounded in a time of perimenopause and menopause because the sex hormones (progesterone and estrogen) are already falling rapidly.
In addition, high stress and cortisol levels are directly linked to weight gain and inability to lose weight. Cortisol is holding on to everything it’s got. It assumes these late night, hard physical activities, psychoactive stimulants (caffeine) and lack of calories is because the body is in a constant state of danger.
Low cortisol physical activities It is so important to have a wide variety of physical activities in you repertoire. Going to the same CrossFit or Zumba class every night is going to wear you out. Women especially do not need to be doing the same intense workouts everyday. Our energy and ability to build muscle varies though our monthly cycle - so should the workouts.
For so many women, it’s largely a myth that in order to lose weight, you have to burn more calories. I see women KILLING themselves in the gym, day after day and getting nothing but sore and tired.
Red hot tip: If your body is changing, you need to change your habits, interests and activities. Menopause is a time of great shift so don;t expect everything (including motivation to move and go to the gym) to work as it did before.
What you really need is to incorporate some low intensity physical activity in your life.
Yes, you heard me right. In order to lose weight and feel better - don’t go to the gym. Go for a walk. Better yet, go with friends!
Where men have more of a fight or flight response to stress or danger, women operate on the freeze and tend-and-befriend response. When women get stressed out, they want to talk about it and be around supportive people. We are emotionally receptive and have a keen ability to read situations to act in our best interests (the ‘freeze’ response). We should absolutely bring this into our fitness lifestyle.
There are a number of things you can do for physical activity that won’t raise your cortisol levels: Ballroom dance, ballet, walk, hike, easy bike ride, play with your kids or grandkids, yoga. These practices deserve a space in your exercise arsenal.
When you first start, it might actually take you a while to get used to not vamping up so much when you are training. This is because after years of so much sympathetic activity, your body has to figure out how to engage the parasympathetic system to calm you down.
When we do this, we are learning a bit about flow, energy conservation and enjoyment. Enjoyment only really comes at a medium speed. This is a good thing to learn as it will set you up for a pleasant older age. It will also give you some exercise that will de-stress your whole body and mind.
Evaluating how you should train How you live will dictate how you should train. If you are someone with a high powered or high responsibility job, going to loud, intense exercise classes will be counter-productive after a certain point. For my CEO moms, as I like to call them, I recommend doing 2-3 medium to intense workouts a week, focusing them mostly on the weekends when they have gotten more sleep.
If you are high rev and like to workout more but you still have a stressful and/or social job, then I suggest alternating days of yoga with days of quiet, slow weightlifting by yourself - what I call meditative weightlifting. It’s when you lift weights for an hour or so under no rush. Here, you can just listen to music, a podcast and get in touch with your body.
As it turns out, the more lean muscle mass you have the less vasomotor system symptoms you will have. That is to say, the more muscle you have, the less you will suffer from night sweats and hot flashes. And it is NEVER too late to start building muscle!
For stay at home mom’s, you have to monitor you calendar and see what kind of days you lead. If you are a high rev mom, choosing gentler and more social forms may be right for you. If you are a homebody, the mix of yoga class and weightlifting is also a good one.
If you still have it, take into account your menstrual cycle. This will absolutely dictate the amount of physical activity and stimulus your body is ready to handle.
It really is a system of checks and balances. Give some here, take some there. The point is to get your body used to doing lower intensity activities so that you are not running on a cortisol rush to get you through your day. This is absolutely the most disruptive thing you can do for your hormones.
Fundamentally, you need to prioritize rest, recovery and relaxation between workouts and movement. This will be the thing that keep you comfy and healthy during this big change.
Up-regulation is serious stuff - especially for women when their bodies change. Take the time to tune in and adjust you attitude and lifestyle to suit you over the long term. You will only get healthier and happier