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Can Women's Health Improve With Age?

Updated: Mar 15, 2023



Is it inevitable that health declines with age?


The takeaway key points from an hour long podcast I recently listened to with STACY T. SIMS, MSC, PHD suggest that a decline in health does not have to be inevitable as we age. Stacy is a forward-thinking international exercise physiologist and nutrition scientist who aims to revolutionise exercise nutrition and performance for women. She has published over 70 peer-reviewed papers, as well as several books, including the science-based layperson's book 'ROAR'. Roar was written to explain sex differences in training and nutrition across the lifespan for women, and Stacy is famous for coining the phrase in a Ted Talk -



So can women improve their health as they age? - The simple answer to this question is a resounding YES!!!!


Lets dive in and find out why....


During peri-menopause, change in ratios of oestrogen and progesterone along with becoming more insulin resistant, and changes to our gut microbiome all lead to body composition changes in women with loss of lean muscle and bone density.


As we reduce our lean muscle we also start to put on more body fat. Eating and training the same as we did in our twenties and thirties just doesn't work any more. It's frustrating and discouraging. Many women then resort to not eating. We grew up in the era of Jane Fonda and super models, and still carry the narrative with us that we need to eat less and do more cardio. This causes even further loss of bone and muscle strength, as well as a decrease of the thyroid hormone, even more body fat, tiredness, irritability and bad sleep.


Is there a way out? What can we do to combat this?


The answer: we need to create a stress on the body which will create an adaptation to those hormones which used to help us. How do we do this?...


Let's look at Exercise first:





The guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week simply is not going to cut the mustard for peri-menopausal and menopausal women. Oestrogen not only affects how our body builds lean muscle, but is also responsible for how strong the muscle contraction is.


Changes in Oestrogen and Progesterone leads to a decline in strength and power which ultimately leads to a loss in lean muscle mass. This also exacerbates our resistance to insulin which further accelerates the rate at which we are losing muscle after the age of 40.


Changes in Oestrogen and Progesterone leads to a decline in strength and power which ultimately leads to a loss in lean muscle mass. This also exacerbates our resistance to insulin which further accelerates the rate at which we are losing muscle after the age of 40.

Simply put, Insulin resistance (not good) decreases muscle mass, whilst increasing muscle mass, decreases our resistance to insulin (good). So the focus needs to be on building muscle with shifting our exercise focus to strength training exercises. We need muscle not just for aesthetics but for movement and stability to prevent falls as we age.


By lifting heavy loads the Central Nervous System is forced to respond. In effect it declares that 'I don't care if I don't have Oestrogen. I have to lift this heavy load, so I will need a faster nerve signal and I need stronger muscle contractions' and as a result it creates a adaption to the stress which positively impacts our strength and power. But this is not achievable with 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, with a couple of resistance workouts thrown in for good measure. This is simply not a hard enough stress to create the adaption response and any significant body composition changes. In fact all it does is raise cortisol levels which is already now higher in peri-menopause women. Yikes.... not good news!


By lifting heavy loads the Central Nervous System is forced to respond. In effect it declares that 'I don't care if I don't have Oestrogen. I have to lift this heavy load, so I will need a faster nerve signal and I need stronger muscle contractions' and as a result it creates a adaption to the stress which positively impacts our strength and power.

How do we gain muscle as we age?


To gain lean muscle we need to work the muscle to fatigue.


We need the Central Nervous System response to kick in. You do not need to join a gym. This fatigue can be achieved by just our body weight. Start with focusing on the movement and form and then once you have mastered that, start to phase in increasing the load to fatigue the muscles you are working on.


Your recipe for gaining muscle


Start with three strength training sessions as week.


Just 5-8 reps of a heavier load is better than lots of reps of lighter weight. 20 air squats will not create the adaptive response we are after. We need to push ourselves to lifting heavy. Dr Sim points out that it is a lifetime commitment we must make to maintain our strength and power from 50 years old to 100. It is not just for a set period of time to achieve a short term goal to look good for a holiday or prepare for a sporting event.


Introduce sprint intervals twice a week.



This means running as hard as you possibly can for 30 seconds and then resting until the Central Nervous System is fully recovered before repeating a further 7 or 8 times for approximately 15 minutes in total. Repeat these interval sprint session twice a week.


According to Dr Sims this creates so many metabolic and Central Nervous System adaptions that she claims it is more effective than Hormone Replacement Therapy, or resistance training for hormone support and building both muscle and bone strength. It also improves our blood glucose uptake as well as various cardiovascular benefits such as reducing blood pressure and improving blood vessel health. HRT does not, according to Dr Sim help with body composition change. You need to put the work in through sprint intervals, resistance train and Nutrition.


Nutrition as we age




When it comes to nutrition later in life Protein is KING!


Dr Simm refers to a study on a group of sedentary women who did no exercise with the only change being that their protein intake was increased to 1-1.6g per pound of body weight as opposed to the daily minimum amount of 0.8g. The result was a complete revamp of their body composition. Combine an increased amount of protein with Resistance Training and you will generate even greater recomposition.


Menopausal women become more anabolicaly resistant, which means that the signal to build up muscle through resistance training or eating protein becomes muted. So we need to consume more protein than when we were younger.


Dr Sim recommends about 15-20 g of protein before a workout with 40g of protein post exercise and to consume protein every 3/4 hours throughout the day.

Before the sprint intervals consume 30g of carbohydrates


Food is fuel

This is not the time of our lives to even consider fasted training as this will cause further hormone dysfunction. We need to give our bodies the energy it requires to train effectively to achieve that stress response and adaptive change. We must also fully recover post exercise with full rest days. Combined, this will give us more energy, cognitive awareness, gains with our workouts and the results we are after; toned, fit, lean bodies!


The bottom line of improving health as we age


Body Composition can be changed during the Peri-menopause and Menopause by creating adaptive changes via the Central Nervous System in response to the decline of Oestrogen and Progesterone. This can be achieved by three sessions of Resistance Training and ideally two sessions of sprint Intervals, along with an increase of protein in our diet.


As chance would have it (lol), my Menopause Warriors plan fits these guidelines perfectly. If you would like to follow a Resistance Training Programme along with a nutrition plan tailored to the nutritional needs of women approaching or transitioning through the menopause, then contact me to book yourself onto the next challenge and start your new lifestyle change for health, fitness and vitality for yourself now, and for your future years .





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