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STRESS, HORMONES AND WEIGHT GAIN DURING MENOPAUSE


"Menopause"... And immediately the thought goes to HORMONES ...

We read a lot about it, or at least this happens if we have passed the threshold of 40 and we want to know more to be able to perfectly prepare for what comes!


Well, a little reminder before getting to the heart of today's topic ... Hormonal changes start from 35-40 years and being aware of it should not be scary, on the contrary: it is a massive resource!

It allows us to set those actions that can only improve and make absolutely positive all the years to come.

PERIMENOPAUSE: the levels of ESTROGEN begins to decrease and undergo fluctuations, also causing menstruation no longer regular.

Personally, I have been at this stage since about three years now (so let's say from my 45-46 years) and I have implemented several actions that have led me to an absolutely remarkable improvement on every front.

MENOPAUSE: it is the end of the reproductive phase for a woman. The ovaries stop producing eggs and consider yourself "in menopause" after 12 months and more without having had menstruation. The average age is considered 50-52 years.

Some women may experience early menopause if it occurs before the age of 45. The reasons can be genetic, linked to some diseases or surgeries.

POST MENOPAUSE: it is the rest of our life starting from menopause.

Among the problems that are found related to the decrease in ESTROGEN and other sex hormones (Progesterone and Testosterone) we have:

SARCOPENIA (progressive decrease in muscle mass percentage)

OSTEOPENIA (decrease in bone density)

INCREASED INCIDENCE OF CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE

For specific insights I refer to the BLOG articles related to Sarcopenia and Osteopenia, but reiterating an important point: if you do not set the most effective and efficient choices on the physical activity and nutrition areas (and not one or the other: both are essential), sarcopenia and osteopenia (resulting in osteoporosis) are INEVITABLE.

We are not on the level of "maybe it happens": it just happens.


Now let's go back to our hormones and let's talk about CORTISOL.

It is known as the "stress hormone", although it is only one of the substances whose levels change in response to stressful situations.

However, it has a big impact, among other things, on the increase in fat mass, so it becomes very topical to talk about it when you reach the age around menopause.

The first common thread between cortisol and menopause is found in the sex hormones decline.

Keeping it simple sex hormones and cortisol (among others) are produced by the same organ, the adrenal gland, and "the room" left by the decline of the former can more easily be filled by the latter... Therefore from perimenopause onwards, basically, the production of cortisol undergoes alterations.

But why are levels of this hormone so important?

Between a woman and cortisol there is a love-hate relationship:

  • It's energy

  • It's stress

  • It is where we find the energy for large actions and exercise

  • It is the reason why sometimes we have to slow down with exercise

  • Can keep us "up"

  • You can throw us "down"

  • Can intervene in weight loss

  • May cause accumulation of body fat

But how can it act so ambivalently?

The answer is: it depends on HOW much is produced, and IN WHAT CONDITIONS.

And here we touch on today's central topic: STRESS.

Stress is not necessarily bad: there is in fact good stress or eustress, which allows our body to cope with small and large emergencies, giving us unexpected strength and resistance.

But if the stress situation lasts too long and does not end in a phase of relaxation, then we talk about "bad" stress or distress.

CONTINUITY over time is precisely the key point: the chronicization of stress determines a series of extremely harmful physiological reactions at different levels.

Cortisol is considered a "stress response hormone" because, in moments of greater tension, it determines the increase of blood sugar and fats in the blood stream to make available the energy that the body needs to face the impending situation (and so far everything is positive!).

Together with cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline (catecholamines) are released; the combination of these three elements increases blood pressure to improve physical performance and alertness.

Now: imagine a life situation in which, daily, you are engaged in many activities (work, home, family, aging parents and more), or you live non-positive environmental situations constantly (work, relational problems). Or you have unrealistic goals on the physical level such as a big body weight loss in a short time, or, on the contrary, increase in muscle mass for purely aesthetic purposes, situations where eating in a specific and very strict way becomes crucial and, consequently, a source of frustration, mental as well as physical fatigue.

Or think of those people who, by personality, have a constantly anxious approach to life, to everyday life ... Those people who "see the problem even where there is none".

There you are!

All these situations represent states of prolonged stress, often up to chronicization and are much, so much common, in most cases without real awareness on the part of those who live them or in any case they can be experienced and perceived as "normal".

Do you recognize yourself in this?

Well, let's go back to our hormones and the impact that stress has from a physiological point of view.

Stress is a cyclical condition, the course of which can be divided into phases:

Alert Stage: the body prepares the necessary resources to deal with the stressful situation.

Resistance Stage: period in which stress is prolonged. The body efficiently rations the available resources, releasing the accumulated energy in the form of fat thanks to the action of cortisol produced on the impulse of the brain and which in this phase remains at constantly high levels.

This can cause initial weight loss IF you "take action," i.e. if mobilized resources are used.

As resources are exhausted, however, if you do not get to the relaxation phase, ie the physiological activation is interrupted, a condition of chronic stress is expected, followed by a state of physical and mental distress, mood drops, anxiety, energy exhaustion, associated with possible accumulation of body fat.


But why does fat accumulate at this point and especially in the visceral area?

Another hormone comes into play: insulin.

The interaction between the two is as follows: higher levels of cortisol lead to increased insulin release by the pancreas, reducing the sensitivity of muscle and adipose tissue to it. It is the so-called "insulin resistance".

What does it mean? The tissues can no longer absorb and use glucose (sugars) which remains in the blood stream.

Therefore? So, if this sugar – glucose – is not used, it is stored as predominantly visceral fat, around the organs, that is, in the abdominal area, belly, hips. This is also what happens after every meal if the cells have become resistant to insulin.

In addition to the aesthetic point of view, this type of fat is very dangerous for the health of the cardiovascular system.


All this is quite clear, but "how" and how easily many of us are not aware of this vicious circle, is the real trap!

And the key word, here, is one: STRESS.

Any situation / state / mental attitude / behavior that leads us to a stressful condition in a prolonged or even chronic way is the cause of this hormonal imbalance between cortisol and insulin (and not only that, but here we are focusing on this).


Moving from theory to practice, let's see what are the behaviors, always related to nutrition and training, to AVOID from perimenopause ONWARDS:


  • Eating too little: from perimenopause we need to maintain or increase our muscle mass to keep the metabolism active. Therefore, even in slimming regimens, it is essential to have a high protein intake and not to create too much mental and physical stress caused by too restrictive diets, increasing the production of cortisol and slowing down the metabolism due to the decrease in muscle mass (excess cortisol also "eats" muscle tissue).

  • Training sessions that are too long and mainly cardio: prolonged and intense workouts represent a strong element of stress and increase the production of cortisol. From the point of view of maintaining muscle mass, prolonged running for example is not recommended.

Certainly at the beginning it can make you lose weight, but not in the long term: it has many benefits but it does not have enough metabolic impact. It is an activity that stimulates the production of cortisol that "eats" the muscle.

In general, prolonged and strenuous training sessions are not the most effective from perimenopause.

  • Too little rest: the recovery between one training session and another and even between the thousand activities of the day and those of the day after, is CRITICAL: with aging muscles need more time to rebuild, and above all an adequate rest of at least 7-8 hours is essential for hormonal balance!

Yesterday a 45-year-old client of mine with a strong overweight on which we are working on told me in a sad tone: "I would like to sleep only 5-6 hours a night but I can't anymore, I'm sorry because I can't do this and this and that....!"

.... You should have seen my expression!

DO NOT think that it is RIGHT to sleep VOLUNTARILY only 5-6 hours a night to "do, do, do"....

It is not at any age, but especially from perimenopause!

Certainly the reason for her weight gain lies very much in that, as in the general attitude with which she is facing this particular moment of life.


What are the MOST RECOMMENDED AND EFFECTIVE BEHAVIORS, even when it comes to weight loss in perimenopause, menopause and postmenopause?

  • A mindful approach to nutrition: do not eliminate categories of foods by categorizing them into "good" or "bad", instead pay attention to the portions and combinations of them, as well as "how" and "when" you eat them.

Get advice and guidance from a nutrition professional, there is no better choice in this regard.

  • Increase daily PROTEIN intake: yes, eat more protein foods rich in essential amino acids, whether they are animal or vegetable depending on personal choices. Here, too, nutritionists can guide you.

Protein intake is essential for muscle building, ergo to have an active metabolism.

In addition, the digestive processes are longer for protein foods, giving a greater sense of satiety, important if the goal is to decrease the percentage of body fat.

  • Here we are: prioritize strength training using load.

In short, "dumbbells in hand"! Many studies and many professionals in the sector converge unanimously on this direction: WOMEN CAN keep a healthy, strong, beautiful and toned body even from menopause onwards: by keeping the percentage of muscle mass high. It is the key, it is the essential point.

And we must not be frightened thinking that we cannot do it or "NO MORE" because we have stopped for too long, or because we have never done it, or because we are already "too old": we can all do it.

You have to rely on a professional and gradually learn and improve, as for everything.

You start "light" and progress, consistently, step by step.

  • SHORT but INTENSE workouts: ideal are sessions between 20 and 40 minutes, at different intensities (the so-called Metabolic Workouts such as HIIT and Metcon for example) and Total Body, ie where different muscle groups work simultaneously, which have the consequence of burning many calories during the sessions but continuing to do so even after (EPOC or Aftern Burn Effect).

And going back to cortisol, what effects do we have?

This hormone, as explained at the start, prepares "for action": intense but short training sessions increase its production, but without leading to a prolonged state of stress with the negative consequences explained above. On the contrary, they can also be beneficial because cortisol like other glucocorticoid hormones raises blood sugar and reduces the immune response, consequently inflammatory states.

In the correct doses it therefore "helps" both during training and later, during the recovery phase. It's all a balance to maintain with cortisol, in short!


  • Enough rest, sleep and relaxation techniques such as some styles of Yoga, Meditation and above all breathing techniques are incredibly important for middle age women.

I hope you find this article useful, being aware of what happens in our body and what is in our power to do is our greatest resource.













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