Why HIIT matters in menopausal and post-menopausal women

By Colleen Parette

Many women struggle with improving their body composition during the menopausal and postmenopausal periods. Leading up to this life transition, many women have expressed that they have been able to maintain, and/or improve their lean muscle mass and body composition with eating well and performing regular steady state cardiovascular exercise (i.e. long walks, bike rides, jogging etc). Menopausal and postmenopausal women get frustrated as these fitness tactics just don’t seem to work as well as they used too.

As women approach menopause, cortisol levels tend to rise which increases stress and inflammation as well as promotes more storage of fat around the abdomen. High intensity interval training (HITT) can help to counteract rising levels of cortisol production by pumping out more human growth hormone. Human growth hormone acts on the body by improving bone density, increasing muscle mass and decreasing body fat. Steady state aerobic exercise provides cardiovascular health benefits, however, it does not stoke the metabolic fire in menopausal and postmenopausal women.

HITT provides the stimulus to burn fat as fuel while exercising, and at rest. This means that less fat will be stored in the abdomen, thus improving overall body composition, reducing stress levels and improving one’s overall health. HITT protocols are certainly not out of reach for most women. HITT can be carried out in a number of ways including using a stationary bike, treadmill, elliptical or rowing machine. No equipment? No problem. You can get outside and jog, walk at a brisk pace, run up and down the stairs or perform jumping jacks, squats, burpees, etc. The key here is doing something that will spike your heart rate to 85% of your max heart rate. Your max heart can be calculated by subtracting your age from 220. For example, a max heart rate for women aged 65 would be 155 beats per minute (220-65). The same woman would aim for a heart rate of 132 bpm (155 x 85%) during work periods.

To gain optimal benefits from HITT, women should aim to perform this type of training for 20 minutes, 2-3 times per week. Once the exercise modality has been selected, periods of high intensity exercise will be alternated with periods of low intensity movement. On a bike this would look like 10 seconds of hard pedalling followed by 20 seconds of slow, easy pedalling. For jumping jacks, this would look like 10 seconds of jumping jacks followed by 20 seconds of slow marching on the spot. Wash, rinse and repeat this pattern for a period of 20 minutes. Generally, most women will start to notice improvements in stress levels, fitness and body composition in a period of 8-12 weeks.

Let’s stop slowing down during menopause and beyond! Some information from this article was provided by “Next Level” written by Stacy Simms and Selene Yeager. If you have any questions, feel free to reach our physiotherapist Audrey at audrey@movetherapeutics.ca.

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