Muscle mass and strength are crucial at any age but become increasingly important as women transition into menopause and beyond. The reduced estrogen levels and other physiological changes during menopause such as hormonal imbalances, reduced bone density, and weight gain are well known. However, the concern for muscle loss, specifically aging-related muscle loss or sarcopenia, often gets overlooked. Scientific evidence suggests that building and maintaining muscle mass can offer multiple benefits during this period. This article delves into the science-backed advantages of muscular strength and provides actionable tips to incorporate muscle-building into your menopausal health regimen.
Hormonal Fluctuations and Muscle Mass
As early as your 30s, your body starts losing muscle mass, a decline that accelerates with age. In fact, research shows inactive adults lose up to 8% muscle mass per decade of life! Sarcopenia, the age-related progressive loss of muscle mass and strength, has been linked to higher risks of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even dementia.
The decline in estrogen levels during menopause and inadequate nutrition can have a direct impact on muscle mass with ramifications extending far beyond aesthetic concerns.
4 Benefits of Building Muscle Mass
1. Improved Metabolism and Blood Sugar Control
Maintaining a strong muscular system can positively affect your metabolism, aiding in blood sugar stabilization. Recent studies confirm that higher muscle mass correlates with improved insulin sensitivity, which can be beneficial for women going through menopause who are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
2. Reduces abdominal weight gain:
Abdominal fat tissue is associated with higher levels of systemic low-grade inflammation which contributes to higher cholesterol levels and increased risk of developing atherosclerosis. In this 2023 study, researchers determined regular strength training programs 2-3 days per week for women over age 50 reduced abdominal weight gain, lowered systemic inflammation and improved lean muscle mass.
3. Enhanced Bone Density
Muscle-building exercises like resistance training have been shown to improve bone density, thereby reducing the risk of fractures. This is especially vital for menopausal women who are more susceptible to osteoporosis due to declining estrogen levels.
4. Better Mood and Mental Health
Physical activity and muscle building not only improve physiological health but also contribute to mental well-being. Exercises that build muscle have been associated with reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety. The FLAMENCO project pointed out that cardio combined with resistance training had a greater effect on the emotional health of participants than traditional counseling alone. Movement enhances the release of mood-boosting neurotransmitters like endorphins and dopamine.
Strength training’s role in reducing cortisol levels also positions it as a vital tool in stress management. Given the elevated stress that often accompanies menopause, the significance of this cannot be overstated.
4 Steps to Start:
1. Incorporate Resistance Training: Aim for at least two days of resistance training per week, focusing on major muscle groups.
2. Prioritize Protein Sources in your Diet: Ensure your diet contains adequate high-quality proteins from sustainably-raised sources like lean meats, fish, eggs, and dairy. You might consider using essential amino acid supplements, but be sure to check out the best sources with your Certified Nutrition Specialist.
3. Balance Protein with nutrient dense fruits and vegetables: Implementing a balanced diet will help sustain optimal health and functionality. This leads to enhanced physical performance, improved bone integrity, increased muscle strength, better cognitive capabilities, and a decreased susceptibility to chronic illnesses.
4. Consult a fitness trainer: They offer the advantage of personalized guidance, ensuring that your muscle-building program aligns closely with your specific health requirements. A certified professional can perform a thorough assessment of your current fitness level and then design a program that not only targets your muscle-building goals but also incorporates exercises that are both safe and effective for your unique physiological makeup.
Building and keeping muscle during menopause is about more than just looks; it’s a key part of overall wellness. Strong muscles help your metabolism, bones, and mental health. A good plan includes targeted strength exercises, the right amount of protein, and expert advice. This isn’t just a suggestion; it’s a critical step for improving the health of women going through menopause, one that can have lasting benefits.
Aparicio VA, Flor-Alemany M, Marín-Jiménez N, Coll-Risco I, Aranda P. A 16-week concurrent exercise program improves emotional well-being and emotional distress in middle-aged women: the FLAMENCO project randomized controlled trial. Menopause. 2021 Mar 11;28(7):764-771. doi: 10.1097/GME.0000000000001760. PMID: 33739319.
Bojang KP, Manchana V. Nutrition and Healthy Aging: A Review. Curr Nutr Rep. 2023 Sep;12(3):369-375. doi: 10.1007/s13668-023-00473-0. Epub 2023 May 16. PMID: 37191867.
Isenmann E, Kaluza D, Havers T, Elbeshausen A, Geisler S, Hofmann K, Flenker U, Diel P, Gavanda S. Resistance training alters body composition in middle-aged women depending on menopause – A 20-week control trial. BMC Womens Health. 2023 Oct 6;23(1):526. doi: 10.1186/s12905-023-02671-y.
Myers J, Kokkinos P, Nyelin E. Physical Activity, Cardiorespiratory Fitness, and the Metabolic Syndrome. Nutrients. 2019 Jul 19;11(7):1652. doi: 10.3390/nu11071652. PMID: 31331009; PMCID: PMC6683051.
Nilsson S, Hammar M, West J, Borga M, Thorell S, Spetz Holm AC. Resistance training decreased abdominal adiposity in postmenopausal women. Maturitas. 2023 Oct;176:107794. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2023.107794. Epub 2023 Jul 6. PMID: 37421844.; PMCID: PMC10559623.
Santilli V, Bernetti A, Mangone M, Paoloni M. Clinical definition of sarcopenia. Clin Cases Miner Bone Metab. 2014 Sep;11(3):177-80. PMID: 25568649; PMCID: PMC4269139.
Westcott WL. Resistance training is medicine: effects of strength training on health. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2012 Jul-Aug;11(4):209-16. doi: 10.1249/JSR.0b013e31825dabb8. PMID: 22777332.