What female athletes need to know about menopause

From The Washington Post

Story by Bonnie Berkowitz, graphic by Aaron Steckelberg

Dec. 20, 2016

Menopause is when the monthly waves of estrogen and other hormones that women have been surfing since puberty finally ebb for good. Periods cease, of course. But all kinds of other biological processes change as well, including some that affect sports performance.

You’re still an athlete, you just have to figure out your new normal.

“Just because you hit a certain age, your body doesn’t stop,” said Stacy T. Sims, a nutrition scientist and physiologist at the University of Waikato in New Zealand who has studied women’s performance for 25 years. “The fitter you are, the less of a problem these are. When you are competing, that’s when you really you feel them, because you are, like, ‘What is going on?’ But when you’re a general woman and you’re keeping fit, then all these things are [easier to handle].”

But what if you’re not very fit right now?

“It is definitely not too late — that’s the greatest thing about this,” said Monica Serra, a research scientist at the VA Maryland Health Care System who has written about post-menopausal competitive athletes. “If you start exercising, you can build your bone mass, you can build your lean mass, you can lose the fat mass, you can improve the quality of your muscle. . . . Research says people who exercise have a better quality of life.”

This graphic shows the major changes that occur as female athletes age. They sound bad, but don’t worry: As you’ll read below, there’s always a “but . . . .”

Sleep quality suffers

Sixty-one percent of post-menopausal women report insomnia symptoms, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Many things conspire to disrupt sleep: the decline of estrogen and progesterone, which help you fall and stay asleep; a dearth of melatonin, which regulates body temperature for sleep; hot flashes and night sweats, which wake you up; and the stress hormone cortisol, which estrogen helps control.

But: “Physically active people have better sleep patterns,” Serra said, which is good because a lot of muscle recovery and rebuilding occurs during sleep. Exercise early in the day promotes better sleep. Sims recommends keeping your bedroom cool and trying a small, frosty glass of tart cherry juice before bed to help cool your core and boost natural production of melatonin.

The engine slows

Aerobic capacity, which is your cardiovascular system’s ability to convert oxygen to energy, can drop 5 to 9 percent each decade beginning in your 30s. (This happens to men as well.) Much of this is because your heartbeat slows a little each year. That means oxygen-rich blood is being pumped to working muscles a little less often.

But: Athletes of all ages have better aerobic capacity and blood volume than people who don’t exercise.

Heat is harder to handle

During hot flashes and whenever the body begins to get too warm, blood rushes to the skin surface to offload heat — which is annoying for athletes, who’d prefer that the blood feed working muscles. In older adults, sweating, a key part of cooling, begins later in a workout. As if that’s not enough, the thirst mechanism dulls with age, so dehydration is more likely.

But: Good hydration and a little bit of caution can keep you from danger. And for 92 percent of women who get them, hot flashes will go away.

‘Menopot’ happens

Older women aren’t as efficient at processing carbohydrates, so they tend to store the excess as fat. And they tend to store fat in their bellies rather than in hips and thighs as they did when they were younger. This visceral fat is associated with higher risk of heart disease and diabetes.

But: Studies show that women who exercised four to five times a week have less total body fat than sedentary women of the same height and weight, Serra said. And their visceral fat stores were similar to sedentary women a third their age.

Your stomach rebels

Women become less efficient at processing carbohydrates, so athletes may find that their beloved bagels and pasta can send blood-sugar levels soaring. In particular, the ability to digest fructose in processed foods declines. So energy gels may suddenly cause mid-race GI issues.

But: Eating more fruit and whole grains and less processed sugar can keep stomachs and blood sugar steadier. (Fructose in whole fruit is not a problem.) Look for race-day food that doesn’t contain added fructose.

Bones get thinner

Estrogen works with calcium and vitamin D to strengthen bones. In the five to seven years after menopause, a woman’s bones can lose up to 20 percent of their density, Sims said.

But: Athletes start out with denser bones because weight-bearing activity (running, walking, tennis, etc.) puts stress on bones, which spurs the body to strengthen them. Regular strength training and a diet rich in bone-building nutrients — fish and yogurt are good choices — can shore up key areas such as hips and spine.

Flexibility decreases

Age makes all of us less flexible, which means a greater risk for muscle pulls and strains. Runners get very tight hamstrings. People who sit a lot get tight hip flexors and lazy glutes, which can alter gait and range of motion.

But: A little effort can make a huge difference. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends flexibility exercises two or three times a week while muscles are warm, such as after a workout or bath.

Muscles shrink

Testosterone and other growth hormones plunge along with estrogen, so building and maintaining muscle is tougher. Fat begins to marble the tissue, reducing its ability to generate power. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, even at rest.

But: Exercise will help you keep muscle and build more. Strength training, interval training and consuming protein within half an hour of hard exercise will help, Serra said.

Mojo wanes

Fluctuating levels of estrogen can make you cranky, edgy and even at risk for depression until brain chemistry stabilizes after menopause. “Brain fog” can make it harder to concentrate and remember things, and sleep problems make you tired.

But: Exercise is a known stress reliever and mood booster. Research has found that people who exercise are better able to deal with the ups and downs of aging, Serra said. “You feel better about yourself because you’re accomplishing what you can … and that makes you more able to deal with these other stressors, both physical and mental, in your life.”

How Long Does It Actually Take to Get Out of Shape?

From Greatist

This One Small Change Makes It So Much Easier to Stick With Your Fitness Routine

Don’t let anybody tell you different—everyone has skipped a workout at some point. At Greatist, we’re firm believers in cutting yourself some slack and taking time off from exercise when you need to. But we also know how easily three days off can snowball into six, then 10. Before you know it, you’re asking that question we’ve all asked when the gym feels like a distant memory: How long does it take to lose my fitness?

First, it’s important to remember that taking time off now and again is a good thing—exercise inflicts a degree of stress on the body, and any good workout program includes a heck of a lot of rest days, especially if the exercise is very intense. And there’s a benefit to both “active recovery” and complete rest.

That said, “use it or lose it” is pretty much the rule. But exactly how much fitness you’ll “lose” depends on the length of your break and how fit you were to begin with.

If You Exercise on the Regular

It’s a lot easier to bounce back from time off if you’re someone who exercises five or six times a week, or if you’ve been exercising for a while.

Generally speaking, if you’ve been working out several times a week for more than a year, your muscle memory is solid . In fact, with that strong of an exercise habit, scientists are quite willing to drop you in the “athlete” category. And for athletes, your fitness can deteriorate at different rates depending on whether you’re looking at strength or cardiovascular losses.

Strength Loss

For most people, strength loss occurs after about two and a half to three weeks of inactivity, says Molly Galbraith, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and co-founder of Girls Gone Strong. But it depends on why you take the break.

“If you are sick, your body is overstressed, so you’ll start to lose strength after two to three weeks,” she says. “If you’re not sick, and especially if you’re able to get in some movement and light exercise, you can probably take three, four, even five weeks off without significant strength loss.”

Science agrees. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercisepublished a review of several studies on the subject that looked at runners, rowers, and power athletes. For all of these groups, muscular strength fibers appear not to change, even after a month of inactivity. But here’s the kicker: While general strength doesn’t change much in that period, specialized, sport-specific muscle fibers start to change in as little as two weeks without a workout . For example, endurance athletes lose a significant amount of the extra slow-twitch muscle fibers that they worked so hard to accumulate, and the same thing happens for the power athletes and their hard-earned fast-twitch muscle fibers.

Basically the body likes to hold onto strength for as long as it can, but skills that are very specialized for certain sports will decline faster. We’re generalists, what can we say?

Cardio Loss

So what about all the cardio lovers out there who are more concerned with the strength of their heart and lungs? Sadly we lose this kind of conditioning a little more quickly than we lose strength. One study of endurance cyclists found that four weeks of inactivityresulted in a 20 percent decrease of their VO2 max, which measures a person’s maximum capacity to take in, transport, and use oxygen during exercise . The results were more or less confirmed by another study, which found that after 12 days of inactivity, VO2 max dropped by seven percent and enzymes in the blood associated with endurance performance decreased by 50 percent .

But keep your chin up. While your cardio conditioning does fall faster than your strength, it’s easier to regain, Galbraith says. So get back on that horse, cowboy.

If You’re Newer to Exercise

Congratulations on your new-ish exercise habit! But if you’ve hit pause on your trips to the gym, don’t take too long to hit play again. Consistency is key for building new habits, and it’s as true for the body as it is for the mind: If your body hasn’t been enjoying exercise for long, it can be easier to lose the progress you’ve made.

Strength Loss

As far as strength goes, it’s best not to be too concerned about losing your headway, as those famous “newbie gains” make it somewhat easier to retain strength.

For example, previously untrained folks who took a three-week break in the middle of a 15-week bench press program finished the course with similar strength levels as those who didn’t take a break at all . One study even showed that six months after quitting a 4-month strength training program, up to 50 percent of the original strength gain was maintained . It’s also worth noting that among newbies, eccentric strength, that is, the strength used when lengthening a muscle or lowering a weight, may be harder to lose than concentric strength, which is when the muscle is contracted. A study of 13 previously untrained guys found that three months after ending a three-month training program, they had maintained their eccentric strength gains, but not their concentric strength .

Cardio Loss

Once again, cardio is a little more sensitive to time off. One of the best studies of the effects of detraining on recently acquired fitness gains found that VO2 max gains that were made in the last two months are completely lost after four weeks of inactivity .

Other Factors

While your fitness level is key to how quickly you get back to your fitness baseline, there are a few other variables that also come into play.

First, age plays a role in your bounce-back time . When looking at 41 people who were either 20 to 30 years old or 65 to 75 years old, the older subjects lost strength almost twice as fast as the whippersnappers during a six-month “detraining” period in one study .

And again, why you’re taking the break is also a factor. When scientists injected inactive volunteers with hormones that mimicked the stress of trauma or illness, they had a 28 percent decrease in strength over 28 days—a higher rate than average .

4 Ways to Make the Most of a Fitness Break

Whether you’re on a relaxing vacation or stuck on the couch with an annoying chest infection, there are a few ways to stay strong during downtime.

1. Do Light Cardio

“If you’re able to take plenty of brisk walks, keeping your heart rate in the 120-ish range, then you should be able to stave off losing conditioning for a little longer,” Galbraith says. Indeed, training a little will do a much better job of maintaining your gains than totally stopping, especially if you’re able to squeeze in the odd cardio session that’ll train you at the upper end of your VO2 max, like some quick intervals .

2. Incorporate Some Resistance Training

There are plenty of reasons for taking a break, but if you have a localized injury, say in your ankle or wrist, don’t use it as an excuse to completely stop exercising. Cross-train through injuries, if you can. Do some bodyweight exercises, or see if you can try swimming, which is the go-to exercise for a lot of injured athletes. Even a four-minute tabata or two will make a huge difference in maintaining your strength.

“Light, dynamic warmups are also a good way to help keep the body from getting too stiff and to slow the loss of mobility without putting too much additional stress on an overstressed body,” Galbraith says. But if you’re sick from the neck down—think achy muscles, chest congestion, fever—it may be best to rest, she adds.

3. Eat Right

Exercise helps to control junk food cravings, so you may need to try harder to avoid crappy food while you’re not working out. Get lots of protein, healthy fats, and low-GI carbs, and your body will thank you. Eating well will help you avoid any weight gain, which would make restarting fitness all the more challenging. And nutrient-dense foods will also speed up your recovery if you’re injured or ill.

Galbraith also suggests raw honey for its antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, homemade bone broths for hydration, and garlic to lessen the severity of cold symptoms if you’re under the weather.

4. Love Yourself

No, not like that. But it’s important not to judge yourself or lapse into self-loathing on account of taking some time off. The gym will be right there waiting for you when you’re ready for it, but for now, do what you can and do what makes you happy. If it’s seeing what life is like without exercising so darn much, you do you! Look in the mirror, say a body-positive mantra, and know that you’re perfect—no matter how often you hit the gym.

How Exercise Might Keep Depression at Bay


Exercise may be an effective treatment for depression and might even help prevent us from becoming depressed in the first place, according to three timely new studies. The studies pool outcomes from past research involving more than a million men and women and, taken together, strongly suggest that regular exercise alters our bodies and brains in ways that make us resistant to despair.

Scientists have long questioned whether and how physical activity affects mental health. While we know that exercise alters the body, how physical activity affects moods and emotions is less well understood.

Past studies have sometimes muddied rather than clarified the body and mind connections. Some randomized controlled trials have found that exercise programs, often involving walking, ease symptoms in people with major depression.

But many of these studies have been relatively small in scale or had other scientific deficiencies. A major 2013 review of studies related to exercise and depression concluded that, based on the evidence then available, it was impossible to say whether exercise improved the condition. Other past reviews similarly have questioned whether the evidence was strong enough to say that exercise could stave off depression.

A group of Read more How Exercise Might Keep Depression at Bay

Study Links Athletic Performance to Mortality


Run 1 Mile

Row 2K

Run 1 Mile

Interesting.  From The University of Arizona.
A study’s participants who were asked to think about their own death before taking to the basketball court scored more points than those in a control group.
Oct. 31, 2016
UA doctoral students Colin Zestcott (left) and Uri Lifshin conducted two studies showing that athletes are subconsciously motivated by reminders of death. The skull shirt worn by Lifshin served as one of those reminders. (Photo: Bob Demers/UANews)

UA doctoral students Colin Zestcott (left) and Uri Lifshin conducted two studies showing that athletes are subconsciously motivated by reminders of death. The skull shirt worn by Lifshin served as one of those reminders. (Photo: Bob Demers/UANews)

It’s not the locker room pep talk you’d expect, but new research from the University of Arizona suggests that athletes might perform better when reminded of something a bit grim: their impending death.

In two studies, the results of which will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, basketball-playing participants scored more points after being presented with death-related prompts, either direct questions about their own mortality or a more subtle, visual reminder of death.

Researchers say the improved performance is the result of a subconscious effort to boost self-esteem, which is a protective buffer against fear of death, according to psychology’s terror management theory.

“Terror management theory talks about striving for self-esteem and why we want to accomplish things in our lives and be successful,” Read more Study Links Athletic Performance to Mortality