An interesting learning I had during my perimenopause research: When you exercise a lot it increases cortisol, the stress hormone, which can also increase weight and inflammation (and they already have a tendency to increase with age, unfortunately). In particular, exercising at too high an intensity for too long of a duration can exhaust your adrenals, causing hormonal fluctuations. So in (peri)menopause you should actually exercise less! However, the catch is that you are also losing muscle mass at this stage and, in order to maintain what you have, in the shorter length of time that you should be exercising, you need to exercise harder. That means exercises like HIIT (high intensity interval training), strength training (to the point of muscle fatigue) and lifting weights (which increases testosterone in the body and is also said to help with hot flashes), at least 2 times a week, and preferably in the morning.
If you're anything like me, you're not going to give up your yoga practice though--nor should you. Yoga is not only a way to maintain physical fitness and function; the practice helps us manage stress, which is a major contributor to hormone imbalance. Yoga can also potentially help with (peri)menopausal symptoms like hot flashes, mood swings and insomnia. For these symptoms, favor calming and cooling yoga poses, such as a Forward Bends and Downward Dog. I've included a short sequence for Hot Flashes below. In addition, you could include 2nd Chakra poses that bring energy and circulation to the ovaries and uterus and strengthen the entire pelvic area. (I also have a 2nd Chakra video for you below.) Finally, for a little more 'bang for your buck,' try my new Functional Flow Yoga. I developed this new style in response to learning that I could exercise less if I exercised harder. In a 30-minute Functional Flow class, you will move your body (almost) continuously through a sequence of various dynamic yoga poses (the ‘flow’ part) to get your heart rate up and build strength and flexibility (the ‘functional’ part). Functional Flow Yoga is the perfect full-body workout for yoga lovers in their 40s, 50s and beyond. Try out a moderately-paced Functional Flow sequence below.
How is Functional Flow Yoga different from Vinyasa? I’m glad you asked! One of the other reasons I created this new style is because, once I hit 50, I started noticing that Vinyasa was getting harder on my joints. All the planks to chaturangas to upward dogs were not feeling good for my shoulders and wrists anymore. So, while Functional Flow Yoga does still include upper body strengthening, it doesn’t include lots of Vinyasas. We’re working smarter in this class, and being kinder to our joints. I encourage you to listen to your body, go at your own pace, and build up to the amount of intensity and flow that feels right for you. Read more about Functional Flow Yoga on my Wellness Blog.
The 2nd Chakra--or energy center--is found in the area of the sacrum, and associated with our reproductive organs. This 1-hour Slow Flow Sequence will help you cultivate greater relaxation and circulation in this part of your body. The physical focus of the practice is on hip stretches and glute strengthening.
This 20-minute sequence includes cooling, calming yoga postures and breathing techniques that can be done individually or as a complete practice either in the midst of a hot flash or as a preventative measure.
*Given all of the perimenopausal-friendly exercise ideas and resources that I've listed above, what kind of exercise can you realistically incorporate into your weekly routine?
*Figure out which days of the week you can commit to exercising. (It's OK to start small, but I encourage you to pick at least two days a week.) What kind of exercise routine will you do on each of those days, and for what length of time?
*Put them into your calendar.