Q: Do you have any tips for a 50-year old woman trying to run her way through menopause? I’m struggling with hot flashes, weight gain and sleep issues, and my runs are suffering. I feel like I’m losing everything I’ve gained from training and will never get it back.
A: Don’t worry. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. This transition in life, although unpredictably volatile, will eventually lead to peace, tranquility and a stable level of hormones. One of the true gifts of running through menopause is when you reach the finish line, you’ll be free of the turbulence of cyclical hormone levels and will return to a stability that mimics that of your youth.
The good news is that running actually has been shown to reduce the severity of menopausal symptoms. The key is to be mindful that menopause is a natural—if sometimes challenging—process that will lead to better runs down the road. Here are some strategies to help you run in synch with this life change.
Keep a journal. Knowledge is power and tracking the changes in your body and mind is a great way to tune into the new tempo of your life. Writing down the calories you burn and the fuel you consume can help you make more healthful choices. Logging the details of your runs also gives you a better sense of control, and allows you to change your training if you’re feeling fatigued.
Run with the flow. Modify your running program to mirror the flow of your life. One easy way to do this is to run based on how you feel rather than following a strict program. Run at an easy effort on the days when your symptoms are at their worst. If you’re fighting to get through a five-mile run because you haven’t slept well in a week, shorten it to three miles at a slower pace, and use the extra time to relax, stretch and meditate post-run. Save hard workouts and long runs for the days where you feel your best.
Balance your life. Draw a pie chart and color in the activities that make up your day. Include the time you spend on others, the time you spend at work and the time you spend on yourself. The circle should look balanced. If it isn’t, decrease stress by weaving in more time to rejuvenate yourself. Living in a state of chronic stress taxes the body and raises a hormone called cortisol that can lead to weight gain, sleep issues, heart disease and poor running performance. One great way to alleviate stress: run with girlfriends who can relate to what you’re going through.
Invest in lean muscle. One major factor that leads to metabolic decline in midlife is the loss of lean muscle tissue. That doesn’t have to happen. Incorporate resistance exercises two to three times per week to develop and maintain muscle tissue. It will boost your metabolism, and increase bone density and joint stability, which can decline post-menopause. Strengthening your body can also improve your running economy, build self-esteem and help you tap into your inner Wonder Woman spirit.
Hydrate. Unannounced hot flashes and night sweats can play havoc on your hydration status, which can lead to fatigue and may greatly affect your running performance. A simple strategy to measure your hydration level is to look down when you go to the bathroom. Many doctors agree that if it looks like light lemonade you are well hydrated. If darker, you need to hydrate more regularly, and if it runs completely clear, you may be hydrating too much. Monitoring this status will allow you to be in tune with your fluid needs as you train and race.
Quality fuel becomes especially crucial during menopause. Follow these tips to ward off hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms, energy dips and weight gain.
Eat “cleanly” by staying away from refined carbohydrates and processed fats.
Consume a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables.
Cut back on alcohol, caffeine and sweets.
Reach for omega-3 rich foods (think: flaxseeds, salmon, nuts, hempseed oil).
Eat at least three times daily.
Incorporate a lean protein into every meal.