Exercise is good for everyone, but for women in midlife, it’s particularly important to stay active. Sarcopenia is the medical term for the loss of muscle mass and strength – and both aging and menopause are prime causes.
For oh-so-many reasons: stronger core muscles mean better balance and less chance of falls. Weight training helps reduce abdominal fat, which may help prevent heart issues; it also helps control blood sugar, making it a great tool in prevention or management of Type 2 diabetes. Working muscles against each other may help build and retain bone density. Since muscle requires more blood and oxygen to maintain, the body has to work harder to keep muscles supplied, raising metabolism and burning more calories. It also helps improve mood, lessening depression and anxiety and improving sleep.
Clearly, retaining and building muscle is important for aging well. To find out how to do it right, we consulted Coach Lesley Mettler. With over 20 years’ experience training athletes from beginners to elites, Coach Lesley has helped hundreds of trainees get across the finish line. She has a Bachelor’s in Exercise and Sports Science, with a pre-medical emphasis and a Minor in Nutrition, so we felt pretty confident she could help us.
Sumo Squat with dumbbell press. There are two versions of this, one with palms facing each other and one with palms facing forward. If your palms are facing forward, don’t extend your arms completely on the way up.
Why Lesley likes it: “It’s a full-body exercise that gets you standing tall! When you squat, push back up to standing through your heels and squeeze your glutes at the top. Keep your core solid and mind your back. If you have to arch your back to raise the weights, you are lifting too much weight.”
Deadlift with dumbbells. According to Lesley, “This one is all about form. Straight back and hinge at the hips. Keep your core rock solid to effect the move. You’ll work your glutes and hamstrings and core. Only lower the weights as far as is comfortable for your level of hamstring flexibility.”
Plank. Says Lesley, “There’s a reason this one shows up so often! It’s a great core exercise and doesn’t require any equipment. Make sure to choose the version that is best for you. Automatically going to the hardest version is doing yourself a disservice (in all these exercises) and a great way to tweak something! Strength and muscular endurance takes time to build.”
There are three versions here to choose from: the “regular” plank, an easier one done from the knees, and a harder one with alternating legs.
Reverse Fly. “How long have you been hunched over that computer, laptop, or phone today? How long were you sitting on the couch or driving (hunched over)? This one hits the upper back and shoulders. Form is also important! Bent over, straight back, keep a slight bend in your elbows and both lift and lower the weights. Think about cracking a walnut between your shoulder blades.”
Bicep curls with balance. Says Lesley, “This is another favorite. It’s a simple exercise but adding in the balance challenge works a neglected system! Can you stand on one leg without wobbling? Again, keep your core tight and do not lift so heavy that you use your back to move the weights. As you get better at standing on one leg while doing this, increase the wobble challenge by standing on a pillow, foam pad or Bosu. You may also mimic a running motion.”
Finally, says Lesley, “These are the basic exercises, but we’d also encourage an easy walk, run, bike, elliptical. Get that heart pumping and some sweat to warm up those muscles first. It doesn’t have to be long!”
Try the exercises above, then let us know how it went! Shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, share with us in the comments section below, or join us on our Facebook page or closed Facebook group, Midlife & Menopause Solutions.