There is something about being post-menopausal that makes it almost embarrassing to admit. No longer young and fertile, many women worry about how people will view us. Are we seen as old? Over the hill? Are we on the downward slope towards becoming invisible?
As long as I am capable, I’m not giving in to the shrinkage of body and mind linked to being senior. Although aging is inevitable, losing muscle (at least until much older) is not.
Keeping strong is one of the best predictors of mind and body health as you age
There has been an enormous focus on diet among those who wish to age well, which of course is extremely important. Without my own dietary changes I would not have the health I have today, inflammation and auto-immune disease would have taken its toll. (Read about how diet changed my life here)
However, it is strength that has currently taken my interest. The links between strength and healthy old age are just too impressive to ignore. A healthy diet alone won’t cut it.
Consider these studies
In a group of 125 adults who remained active (55- 79 year olds), their immune system worked at far more youthful levels than a similar group who were not active (link to study)
In a study on female twins, those with stronger legs had far less mental decline over 10-years. The study concludes that leg power predicts both cognitive aging and global brain structure (study link)
In a study that tracked older people for 15 years, those that did twice-weekly strength training had half the risk of early death compared to those who didn’t. Just 10% of this group did strength training. (link)
The Bone Clinic in Australia showed that women with severe osteoporosis get significant improvements in bone density with strength exercise. (Bone Clinic)
Twenty postmenopausal women took part in a 16 week strength training programme, working out 3 times a week. This resulted in significant improvements in metabolic syndrome, decreases in fasting blood glucose, and also significant improvements in lean body mass, reduction of body fat percentage, and noticeable increases in muscle strength after resistance training to leg press, and bench press, compared to the control group. (study link)
In a large British group followed over 6 years, higher grip strength and cardio-respiratory fitness were associated with a much lower risk for coronary heart disease (study)
Strength training makes your body look far younger.
I’ve posted this photo before of Deb, in her early 50’s took on strength training, she lost no weight, however gained significant muscle and lost significant fat (more in this post).
My first powerlifting competition
I’ve been working out consistently since I started CrossFit in 2009. Prior to that I was a sporadic exerciser. I stopped Crossfit as my body wasn’t handling the intensity well. However I continued going to the gym around 3 times a week and followed a pretty standard strength session which included squats and deadlifts that I had learned in CrossFit. Almost 2 years ago I started following a powerlifting programme (with guidance) to see what I could accomplish. This meant I focused on three specific lifts: deadlift, squat and bench press.
I was pleased to see, that at 56 I could make considerable strength gains, to the point where I decided this year that my next challenge could be a powerlifting comp. After checking to see I wouldn’t embarrass myself lifting too little, I signed up for the Auckland Powerlifting competition, and worked with powerlifting coach Carli Dillen.
Not having participated in anything competitive sport wise in my life (having shown absolutely no talent at any sport) the thought of competing was pretty nerve-wracking. I had to master technique, (getting those squats below parallel) the comp calls – ‘squat’ ‘rack’ ‘start’ ‘press’ without jumping the gun due to nerves. I practiced those at training and over and over in my mind.
I’m happy to say that on the day – all went according to plan. My 9 lifts all got the white lights, and the combined total qualified me for the next level of competition – the Nationals.
Here is me locking out the last lift – 92.5kg deadlift (203.5 lbs)
Full stats: Masters 2 category (age 50-59) Weight category 52kg (114 lbs). Squat 70kg (154 lbs), bench 45kg (99 lbs), deadlift 92.5kg (203.5 lbs).
And the medal and certificateNutrition
I believe one of the primary reasons I have been able to do well (besides training consistently) is my diet and lifestyle. I sleep well, 7 – 8 hours a night. I eat an anti-inflammatory diet – for me this is paleo (although a little dairy and legumes are not an issue). I’m pretty tight with my diet, by that I mean – I eat virtually no processed food, the additives always end up giving me issues like dyshidrotic eczema.
I don’t eat very low carb, ketogenic or high fat. I’ve found eating protein and a lot of vegetables and some berries and fruit, with minimal added fat suits me best. I feel a lot better with carbs than I do with fat as fuel. However I’m by no means high carb, more moderate at about 120 grams a day.
Protein for muscle growth and recovery
Protein is a critical ingredient to both strength gain and recovery. I eat around 2.2 grams per kg body weight a day (110 grams of protein), and reach the 30 grams at 3 meals to provide a leucine threshhold – leucine is the amino acid that needs to be a particular level in order to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. In my observation, many people (especially women) underestimate their protein requirements. Recent studies – one of which was done in New Zealand are showing just how important protein levels higher than the the RDA are actually needed – especially for older people.
In a study where older men were given meals containing the recommended RDA of protein (0.8g/kg/day) or double the RDA, those on the recommended amount lost muscle over 10 weeks, whereas the higher amount maintained it. The researchers note that protein is best eaten at every meal to maintain healthy lean mass. (Article here, and study here)
My own experience it that closer to 3 times the RDA, and dividing this among 4 meals gives superior results if your goal is to build muscle and recover well.
(Examine.com has an excellent post on protein)
Here is an excellent talk by one researcher that influenced me on my views of protein for muscle growth – Dr Donald Layman
Post update: 1 year on – 2019
It’s now been just over a year since I did my first powerlifting competition. I’ve continued to train and compete.
It’s been a big year! In August last year I competed in Nationals, achieving personal bests in squat, bench and deadlift achieving a total of 235 kg which qualified me to compete in World’s. With the encouragement of my coach I applied to compete in the World powerlifting competition in Sweden in June 2019. I was consequently invited to compete. So I’m off to Sweden for me to compete on June 4th.
In my most recent competition I managed to squeeze out a 90kg squat (body weight 52kg) an unofficial National record for my weight and age.
Here it is – with all the yelling and encouragement that comes when one competes in powerlifting.
Progression over the last 3 years
Here is a graph from the strengthlevel.com website. As you can see progression is incremental, however with consistent training and a good programme and recovery they do happen.
And what about being post menopausal?
Well, I’ve settled into it. My testosterone bounced back on it’s own, my estrogen and progesterone are in a normal post menopause range. The hot flushes and other symptoms are barely noticeable.
I’ve played around with diet and supplements to support both menopause and strength training, and adjusted to what now seems to be working well both for maintaining my weight and gaining srength. That’s another post.
Registered Nutritionist. (NZ Nutrition Society)
I’m available for awesome group talks and individual consultations. More here:
You can book personal appointments with me through the Feel Fresh Nutrition Clinic in Newmarket, Auckland here: Feel Fresh Nutrition – Julianne
Pretty happy with this squat at Atlas Gymnasium for Canterbury regionals on Saturday- managed to grab a personal best at my comp weight, as well as an unofficial NZ record with a 90kg squat in my category Masters 3, 52kg. As well as training hard with Carli Dillen Auckland Strength – Powerlifting Team programming and guidance, I believe my nutrition has played a big role in my success. Many years ago on a mainly vegetarian diet I struggled with fatigue after workouts, joint inflammation and menstrual pain. As you know I’ve changed diets, as well I’ve experimented with supplements, all of which have rid me of inflammation and given me excellent recovery. Without good recovery it is impossible to train hard. I would love to share my tools with others – you – if interested, and am considering a 2 hour workshop so you can incorporate these tips into your own life. Let me know if you are interested.
Posted by Julianne Taylor on Wednesday, April 17, 2019
This content was originally published here.