When we talk about menopause, we often think about symptoms such as hot flashes, weight gain and mood swings. Probably because they have such a profound and immediate impact on our lives.
What is often overlooked however, is the long term issue of reduced muscle mass. Studies have shown that women lose around 0.6% of their muscle mass every single year after menopause! This is part of the reason why falls are so common in the elderly.
What leads to this loss of muscle?
Why do we end up with tuck-shop lady arms?
As always when it comes to our body, it’s a complex issue with many factors.
Things like how much protein you eat, your weight, and even vitamin D levels come into play. Exercise plays a role too, but interestingly, it’s more about the type of activity you do, rather than the amount!
So make sure you exercise smarter not harder!
So let’s talk about all of these factors to find out what you can do to reduce your muscle loss over the coming years.
More Protein after Menopause
Protein is an essential part of the diet as we are constantly using it.
We use protein to build new tissue (our skin is constantly replacing itself) for example. We also use protein to build and maintain muscles, and to produce hormones and other chemicals that we need called enzymes.
It has now been estimated, that after menopause, us ladies need to eat up to 50% more protein than our younger sisters!
It’s also important that we are eating complete protein, with all of the essential amino acids. That means that protein from animal sources is more useful (particularly at this stage of our lives) to our body than vegetable protein because it contains every single one of the essential amino acids that we need.
The Importance of Maintaining Your Weight
It’s an unfortunate fact that many of us put on a few extra kilos as we pass through peri-menopause.
This often leads to increased insulin sensitivity which is why many of us also end up with type-2 diabetes around this time. To add insult to injury, insulin helps to prevent the breakdown of muscle proteins, so by becoming more resistant to it, we lose this helpful effect.
Another really interesting factor is that after menopause, the actual structure of our muscles change. We start to deposit fat within our muscles themselves. This is thought to be because as we age, we start to use more fat to fuel our bodies, compared to men who tend to use more glycogen (a fuel produced by the liver).
Unfortunately, our muscles aren’t the only place that start depositing fat.
Rather than storing it under our skin, we start to store it as visceral fat around our organs. This leads to increased inflammation throughout our body, and more oxidative stress. (Because we don’t already have enough stress in our lives right girls???)
Oxidative Stress & Inflammation
Oxidative stress is when your body produces too many free radicals. These free radicals float around causing damage.
The best way to protect ourselves from them is with antioxidants. The good news is, in addition to eating lots of antioxidants in our diet (think blueberries and green tea), our body has its own in-built antioxidant system.
The bad news though, is that as we age, this antioxidant system is not as effective as it used to be.
As a result, we end up with more of those pesky free radicals hanging around causing inflammation and oxidative stress.
This oxidative stress damages the mitochondria within our cells.
Mitochondria are really important for energy production and controlling the life cycle of cells. When our mitochondria don’t work properly, it can cause our muscle cells to break down faster than we can replace them (remember I said we needed to eat more protein to keep rebuilding our muscle cells).
As a result, we end up losing some of our very important muscle mass.
Exercise Smarter not Harder
So the next logical thing to talk about is obviously exercise.
We all know how important exercise is to building muscles. What we don’t all know however, is that it’s the type of exercise you do, rather than the amount that really matters.
While endurance exercise is great for your heart health, your muscles actually need resistance exercise.
Now while I’m obviously not recommending that you start pumping iron if you’ve never done it before, I am suggesting that some light resistance exercise, just using your own body weight is a great place to start.
Of course if you are unsure of what you are doing, now would be a great time to have a chat with an Exercise Physiologist or a Personal Trainer who specialises in helping peri/post-menopausal women.
After-all, it’s the exercise and muscles you build now that will protect you from falls down the track.
Vitamin D – It’s Not Just for Bones
The last thing I want to talk about today with regards to protecting your muscle mass is Vitamin D.
Unfortunately with all of our “Sun-Smart” messaging and indoor lifestyles, many women are extremely deficient in vitamin D.
Vitamin D not only acts as a hormone and is essential for a healthy immune system, but it also helps to regulate your calcium and bone structure.
What is really interesting though, is that recent research has shown that it is also necessary for healthy muscle function! It is involved in regulating the breakdown of muscle fibres, so it therefore plays an important role in the strength, mass and function of your muscles as a whole.
So there you have it.
While aging itself plays a significant role in the loss of muscle mass, there are many other factors at play. Many of which you have control over!
In summary, to help preserve your muscle mass post-menopause, you need to:
- Eat enough good quality complete protein (with all of the amino acids).
- Keep your weight under control.
- Reduce oxidative stress and inflammation.
- Make sure you are getting enough vitamin D.
If you’re looking to connect with other peri-menopausal women and optimising your health at the same time, then sign up below for my up-coming 2-week Perimenopause Detox.
It’s a fantastic way to kickstart your health again and ease you through perimenopause. It will help set you on the right path for a strong and healthy future.
You’ll also receive individualised nutritional support from me, and advice on any supplementation (such as vitamin D) that may be beneficial for you.
Many of the ladies who joined us in the last round were astounded to find that they felt improvements within the first week!
Make sure you enter your details below to become a VIP . You’ll be the first to be notified when doors open. I can’t wait to have you join us in the next round!