I could summarize this blog with just photos of my 50-something client Suzanne.
Do LESS of this:
Do MORE of this:
Do way LESS of this:
How about we shift gears and let me tell you about my client Bernadette. She’s a career girl in her 50s with all kids out of the house currently.
She came to the Club with the usual goals of losing weight (specifically in her midsection), having more energy, and fixing her knee soreness. I asked her what she did on a regular basis for workouts.
“Nothing, and then I will run on the treadmill for 50 minutes, and then nothing again for awhile.”
“Same speed. 6 mph.”
I asked her a standard question: What she had for breakfast yesterday. “Nothing. Starbucks latte on the way to work after my treadmill workout.”
No breakfast except Starbucks? Hmn. What about lunch? What time was lunch?
” Around 11:30 I ate a salad.”
Okay, if that was the first time she ate, then when was dinner the night before?
“I ate around 9pm, and then went out for wine after. I think I went to bed around midnight, and had to get up at 5:30am for my workout.”
This is such a typical example of stories I hear day in and day out. Let’s return to the Bernadette situation in just a moment. It is pretty obvious to me what part of the problem might be, so let’s problem solve this together.
First of all, what exactly are the exercise recommendations for women in their 50s and beyond, maybe in menopause or peri menopause?
However, before I launch into that, here is a quick glossary of terms. Please understand this is a complex concept and there are a lot of factors to take into consideration, including insulin and estrogen and progesterone, so let’s just concentrate on 4 major concepts that you can have an immediate impact on.
SSC= steady state cardio, meaning endless minutes spent jogging on the treadmill or elliptical at the same pace
HIIT= high intensity interval training, where you push your heart rate/work rate up really high until you are sucking wind
Cortisol= The stress hormone that is released in response to all types of stressors. Because exercise forces the body to deviate temporarily from homeostasis ( natural set-point), it is perceived by the body as a stress and causes the release of cortisol. Cortisol increases available fuel during exercise or fasting by increasing blood sugar levels. Think: fight or flight response
HGH= Human Growth Hormone, the stuff they give to little kids when they won’t grow. Production drops off precipitously at age 20, and is best produced naturally by anaerobic (HIIT) workouts. It supports lean body mass on a cellular level.
First Exercise Recommendation:
Do not entertain the thought of anything over 30 minutes of SSC. Anything over 20-30 minutes of SSC increases cortisol secretion by (drumroll…..)
That is a lot.
What is cortisol in charge of? A whole bunch of things, including storing belly fat. Prolonged cortisol elevations can stimulate fat cell growth in the abdomen, can lead to muscle loss, and decline in metabolism. High cortisol levels can also increase cravings for sweet, salty, and fatty foods, and mess with your thyroid and sex hormones.
Maybe that is where the midsection frustration originates with Bernadette.
Want a belly? Here is the best scenario for that: Go the same speed indoors for 45 minutes when you do your cardio.
Bernadette does 50 minutes. Even better! 🙁
What then are the alternatives?
If keeping cortisol low is key in staving off belly fat, then how do you go about that?
- Want to lower your cortisol? Go outside!
- Want to lower your cortisol? Strength train two times a week!
- Want to lower your cortisol? Do restorative exercise (yoga, foam roller, etc) two times a week!
- Want to lower your cortisol? Work out hard in the early part of the day, and save your yoga for later.
- Want to lower your cortisol? Do a 10 minute bout of HIIT training reaching 90% of VO2 max. (Fancy word for the maximum volume of oxygen uptake your body can use) This will raise cortisol (acute cortisol elevations help burn fat; prolonged cortisol elevations cause the belly fat problem) but also stimulate HGH at the same time which is great! You will be massively out of breath! Awesome! *Caveat: Do not do HIIT with adrenal exhaustion, which I will not get into here.
What to watch for
Anything else to watch out for when it comes to cortisol? Here are some things that jack it up:
- Blood sugar imbalances (make sure you always eat a carb with a protein or fat, not by itself to slow digestion of the carb and therefore not spike blood sugar levels!)
- skipping meals
- low calorie diets
- sleep deprivation (less than 6 hours)
- inflammation or infections
- food allergies
- physical, environmental, dietary, or mental stress
The best thing you can do is exercise regularly Click To Tweet Muscle contractions increase glucose (blood sugar) receptors on cells, allowing the cell to process more energy. Said a different way: the more exercise you get, the more sugar your body can handle without experiencing metabolic consequences. Resistance training is again, the best.
Are you a Cortisol Queen?
Bernadette is a CORTISOL QUEEN.
Her blood sugar is imbalanced from the big gaps in eating– 9pm to 11am! She skipped breakfast. She had caffeine. She had alcohol. She got less than 6 hours of sleep. She loves indoor SSC. She does no weight training or restorative exercise or HIIT workouts. Yikes.
The good news is that all of that can be remedied! Now that you know what jacks your cortisol levels up, see what you can do to manage that. Time to go outside? Try a weight training class? Take yoga or hop on the roll? These are all good ideas in the quest to keep that belly under control, your energy steady, and your cells happy! 🙂
Do you see yourself in Bernadette? Let us know in the comments below!
In memory of Laura Bartron
P.S. This blog is dedicated to the memory of our Regional Club Sport Nutritionist Laura Bartron, whom we lost suddenly in mid-September 2015 to breast cancer. She was a regular reader of this blog, and a trusted brilliant colleague in the wild world of fitness and nutrition. She will be dearly missed by all, and I hope she knows how many lives she influenced for the better.
In January of 2015, she came to Club Sport Oregon and and gave a talk she titled “The Female Fat Loss Plan”. At the end of the lecture, I was instantly sad I hadn’t videoed the information as she jam packed it full of fantastic information. I begged her in subsequent emails to get a video done, and she was all set to record her presentation when she came up for a Symposium at the end of this last September.
The information in this blog is taken from notes from that lecture, as well as a presentation by our current Club Sport Nutritionist Jami Tautfest-Bernabe in her place at the Symposium of September 2015. I am grateful to both of these ladies.
I am also extremely grateful for my dear nutritionist friend and coach Margaret Floyd Barry, who eternally adds more to this ongoing conversation of cortisol, insulin, glucose, hormones, and fat loss in her blog and website eatnakednow.com!