By making small tweaks to your exercise and diet, you can avoid the mistakes that lead to weight gain and weakened bones and muscles, says Merrill. Here are some common menopause mistakes—and simple ways to fix them.
You only do cardio.
Spin class may have kept you svelte before the hot flashes kicked in, but now you’ll need some strength training to preserve muscle and maintain your calorie burn. (These strength-training moves are essential for women over 50.) “Building muscle mass is incredibly important, so I encourage my clients to master squats and lunges,” says Edna Levitt, founder of 50+ Fitness in Toronto. She also believes that keeping the big muscles in the legs strong will help people stay independent and active longer.Gradually increasing muscle strength is the best approach for this group, says Wulf Utian, MD, PhD, executive director of the North American Menopause Society. If lifting is new to you, try starting out with elastic bands or very light weights. (Check out this resistance band workout.)
You prefer swimming or cycling to walking or running.
Keeping your skeleton strong requires bone-jarring impact, says Merrill. You need weight-bearing exercise like walking or weight lifting to help ward off osteoporosis. For postmenopausal women, brisk walking may be enough: In a study of 60,000 postmenopausal women, walking at a rapid clip four or more times per week resulted in a lower risk of hip fractures, compared with those who didn’t walk as much. (Balance your hormones and lose up to 15 pounds in just 3 weeks with The Hormone Reset Diet!)
You take it easy on yourself.
“Don’t slow down,” says Utian. He doesn’t see any reason why women shouldn’t be doing the same exercises at 50 or 60 that they did in their 40s. What’s more, a study in JAMA Oncology found that postmenopausal women who got 5 hours of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise every week—double the recommended amount—lost much more body fat within a year than women who exercised less.
You’re already careful about what you eat—you’re not changing your diet.
Start paying close attention to your sense of fullness: You don’t need as many calories as before, thanks to your sputtering metabolism. Experts at the Mayo Clinic recommend eating about 200 fewer calories a day than you did in your 30s and 40s. And make sure the calories you take in are quality ones: Choose leaner sources of protein like fish, chicken, and turkey, and leave room for plenty of healthy produce.
You don’t spend enough time warming up.
An injury will derail the best-laid workout plans. A study in the Journal of Mid-Life Health found that warming up before exercise helps reduce injuries and postworkout pain. Make sure to give yourself extra time, though: According to research from the Women’s Sports Medicine Center at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, older bodies require a longer warm-up to get loose. Aim for 10 minutes instead of the usual 5, and choose dynamic movements that mimic the exercise you’re about to do. Going for a walk? Start out strolling and using some exaggerated knee lifts and arm swings to get the blood flowing. If it’s time for a strength-training session, try some arm circles, hip rotations, and gentle running in place.
You try to do it all on your own.
Check with your doctor before increasing the intensity or nature of your workouts, says Utian. Once you have clearance, consider working with a physical therapist or personal trainer for guidance on strength training and performing more rigorous workouts. And if you really want to stick with your new program, Utian recommends recruiting friends and/or family to join you.