We are living in a crazy time. For all of us, this is the first pandemic that we've ever experienced and most of us were not quite ready for the reality and life shift that it's brought. We've been cut off from friends and family. Our kids have stopped going to school. Some of us are no longer working in the jobs that we need to support our family. We've lost our in-person communities and are trying to build up our online connections just to attempt to maintain some semblance of the life we've been living.
All of these changes lead to one main thing - a major increase in stress. And for the perimenopausal and menopausal woman, this isn't the best thing for our health. The good news is that there's a simple solution to combat it. And that is to relax.
I know, I know. It's not so simple.
When it comes to our health, we are totally freaking out about what we're going to do for food and exercise. Our gyms are closed down, and virtual options aren't always as motivating as being at the gym or in our class. Our grocery stores have been cleaned out of a lot of the food we depend on to maintain our diets, and this is especially true for those of us with food sensitivities and allergies.
But again I say, just relax.
Why do I keep saying this? Why aren't I giving you a weekly plan full of meals and workouts that are geared to keeping you in shape during this time? The truth is that many of us over 40 could really benefit from a total reset, and that starts by drastically changing our routine in a way that supports the shift we're experiencing in our daily lives right now.
Here's the thing, when our stress levels increase, our cortisol levels also increase and that places added stress in our adrenal system. Stress on the adrenal system affects our immune system, our thyroid, and our ability to use fat efficiently. When we had intense exercise on top of this, it can often make the situation worse. The fact is that the adrenals are the foundation of the midlife hormonal system, and we need to do everything that we can to support that system even if it means a bit of a lifestyle shift.
Right now the last thing we want to do is compromise our immune systems and instead engage in movement and nutrition that nourishes our bodies and supports our adrenal system. The long, intense workouts that so many of us feel is necessary to maintain the ideal weight and physique that we crave are often working against those goals.
Instead of the fat-burning machines that we think we are transforming into, we are instead laying a foundation to get fatter. We are putting our bodies into a state of alarm where fat is stored instead of used, and precious muscle is being broken down instead. This can happen even if we're forgoing carbs. In times of stress, we don't need to add stress and instead need to step back and restore.
So, how do we do this?
This is going to be hard for some of you because I'm going to ask to you drastically change your image of exercise for a bit. Let's make it clear though. When I say "relax", I don't mean to stop moving. Instead, I'm asking you to change the way you're moving to one that supports our adrenal system and turns on our parasympathetic nervous system a bit more.
Your Pandemic Movement & Wellness Options:
- Restorative Movement: Gentle yoga, tai chi, walking, and other slowed down movement practices such as what I teach as a Restorative Exercise Specialist through Nutritious Movement. Try this quick practice that helps relieve shoulder and neck pain - something I know many of us are dealing with being at home more right now.
- Meditation: Adding in even 5 minutes of meditation in your day is beneficial to downregulate your sympathetic nervous system and reduce the inflammatory process. Give this visualization a try - it was a favorite from my health coaching program.
- Naps: They get a bad rap as being lazy, but napping even 15 minutes can be a great reset for an overstressed system.
- Sleep: As adults, we should be working toward 8 hours of sleep nightly. Consider using this time to clean up your bedtime hygiene and routine. I like to think of when my kids were younger and we had a set routine to help get them to sleep. Turn off electronics and TV about an hour before bedtime. Take a bath or shower. Have some tea. Read. Let your body know that the workday is done and you are transitioning to a rest time.
- Colorful Produce: Eat the rainbow. A variety of fruits and vegetables provides our body with the many micronutrients it needs to stay healthy. Plus fiber to keep our GI systems moving along. Focusing more on these foods instead of reaching for starch and sugar is a helpful way to support our adrenal system instead of adding to the chaos. Try this salad recipe for an easy way to get a lot of colors into your meal. Feel free to skip the cheese if your diet doesn't allow for it:
- Water: Many of us don't get enough water and reach for coffee, sodas, and energy drinks to get through our days. But then we counter that at night with a glass (or three) of wine to wind back down. This coffee-wine diet is a key indicator that our hormones and cortisol levels are not ideal at all. Make sure you're getting half of your body weight in pounds, in ounces of water each day. You don't have to eliminate the coffee but alternate with water to ensure you're staying hydrated.
- Shorter HIIT sessions: I know this sound contradictor, but if you need to get your sweat on, then try a quick HIIT workout. Aim only for about 15-30 minutes, working at max effort. Unlike the longer duration training, this form of exercise can actually help to reverse the stress response and rebalance hormones. If you're wanting something longer, then follow this session with a long walk or movement session. The HIIT signals the body to release stored fat, while the low intensity, steady-state movement (LISS) helps to bring the fat to muscles where it will be used. My Fire and Ice workouts combine both of these approaches into a full cohesive workout and are easy to do at home. Give this bodyweight option a try.
- Strength Training: Traditional strength training can actually be a great option for stressed-out perimenopausal women. I'm talking old school sets and reps, with rests in between. Strength training is essential after the age of 35 or so, as we naturally tend to lose muscles at this point in our lives and need to participate in exercise that preserves that. Alternating work and rest periods don't stress the stress response as much as that longer duration cardio does. Aim for 2-3 sessions per week. Here's one of my favorite strength programs that combines traditional exercise with functional strength and core exercises - it's a great place to start.
As you can see, you can still carve out a very active life at home while supporting your adrenal system and combat the extra stress many of us are experiencing. The key is to recognize that we are living in unusual times and that the routines and practices that were keeping us going a few weeks ago probably will not work for our lives today. Take some time this week to shift to a new schedule that will support your need to relax and help increase the other prevention practices you've adopted against COVID-19.
Have a question or suggestion? I'd love to hear them! Feel free to leave and comment here and let me know how you're doing, or feel free to email me. And if you need to get on the phone and talk, I'm here for that too. Just ask and we'll set something up.
Take care, stay sane, and try to just relax. Hopefully, this time will be short, but that you'll also come out of it with a renewed sense of self.
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