Updated: Oct 25, 2022
I’m sorry to say so, but the loss of hormones is not working in our favor: we’re looking at a slower metabolism (hello weight gain although you haven’t changed anything about your diet or routine), loss of muscle mass, bone density are just some of the lovely side effects of peri and menopause. But hey, I’m writing this to help you prepare and avoid getting affected by these changes right?! It is a little bit of work, but as I always like to say: aren't you also taking your car for regular oil change and check ups or maybe a better analogy: aren’t you also taking care of your home making it look nice and cozy and make sure you do maintenance on your heating so you can stay warm in winter? Well your body is no different and even more precious and it deserves to get treated accordingly!
The answer to all the above side effects of hormonal changes? Weight lifting or weight bearing exercise! It will help you keep your muscle mass and keep up your metabolism meaning that you are working against weight gain, osteoporosis and on top of that, you’re getting a free boost of testosterone that’s supporting your confidence and sex drive, isn’t that great?
Let’s look a little bit deeper into our bone health:
Our bones grow and remodel due to mechanical stresses, forces and demands. Exercise is important for building strong bones when we are younger, and it is essential for maintaining bone strength as we age.
Exercise works on bones much like it works on muscles. Because bone is a living tissue, when you exercise, it adapts by building more cells and becomes denser. The most effective for building strong bones are weight bearing exercise and strength-training exercise.
What does that mean?
“Weight bearing” means you are on your feet and are working your bones and muscles against gravity - like pushing or lifting weights or just carrying something heavy. When your feet and legs carry your body weight, more stress is placed on your bones, making your bones work harder.
“Strength-training” activity simply means that you are adding resistance to movement in order to make your muscles work harder and, over time, become stronger. These would be working with free weights, using weight machines, or doing exercises that use your own body weight (like push-ups, for example).
Do you really need to push weights to avoid osteoporosis?
My short answer is yes! Honestly, it depends a bit on your genetic make up and also on your nutrition in your childhood, as 60% of your bone mass is formed in childhood and puberty.
Yo-yo dieting, gaining and losing weight multiple times, as well as being too thin all put you at higher risk for osteoporosis. Eating disorders like bulimia, anorexia can also contribute to osteoporosis –, and of course, my favorite: impaired digestion or rather a lack of stomach acid will cause a lack of mineral absorption and protein synthesis and therefore can contribute to osteoporosis.
Also, smoking and high alcohol intake affects bone quality negatively.
Fact is that from 30 years on, we lose about 1% of bone mass each year. So keeping your Vitamin D and mineral levels optimal are of course the base from a nutritional standpoint. And no, you don’t need to eat dairy products in order to get enough calcium: leafy greens and nuts and seeds are very high in calcium so there’s no need to eat dairy unless you want to :-)
And then the other thing you can do for healthy bones is weight training. If you haven’t been a sporty person or mainly focused on cardio workouts, now is the time to change! But here also don’t overdo it as excessive exercise will not only wear out your stress system, but also cause accelerated breakdown of your bones. And don't worry: you won't look like a bodybuilder, especially at our age it's very difficult to build on muscle mass, the objective is to maintain and define.
If it sounds too daunting to do this on your own, I can recommend a great coach here in Brussels: Nicolas Gilen. He’s a personal trainer who will do individual sessions or small group sessions on request. You can contact him at email@example.com
What does bone loss have to do with our hormones?
You are going to laugh: it’s estrogen. Isn’t it fascinating how impactful this hormone is on our mental and physical health? This time it is a LACK of estrogen that will cause loss of bone density. So too much estrogen or estrogen dominance will cause all kinds of nasty symptoms that I keep on nagging you about, but as I said before, we don’t want to put estrogen in the “bad” corner as it has many virtues too!
Which medications/supplements cause bone loss?
Drugs like Fosamax, which are recommended to women with osteoporosis, function by blocking the breakdown of old bone.This actually interferes with the rebuilding of new bone. The result is that bone scan scores improve, but it is highly unlikely that your bone health improves: your bones stay hard, but they can also become brittle and lose their flexibility.
Also, excessive doses of alpha tocopherol, or vitamin E, synthetic vitamin A, or synthetic vitamin C can cause bone loss.