How to Lose Weight with Exercise During Menopause

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Hot flashes, irritability, fatigue, depression, insomnia, dry skin, mood swings, weight gain: These are just some of the symptoms of perimenopause or, as we usually call it, plain old menopause. Menopause weight gain tends to be sudden, stubborn, and concentrated around the middle. No matter how small or large, how active or sedentary, it affects almost all women.

If you're facing this weight gain, you're not alone and it's not your fault. It's a natural process. Of course, that doesn't make it any easier especially when that "natural process" causes weight loss to be slower than ever before. However, if you know what to expect and you commit to doing something about it, you can make a difference. Your first point of attack is a good exercise routine.

How Much Exercise You Need

How much exercise do you need to lose weight? The short answer: More than you think. Most experts recommend at least 2 hours and 30 minutes a week of moderate exercise. That's a good place to start.

However, for weight loss during menopause, you may need to work up to 4 or more hours of exercise each week. The older you are, the more exercise you need to prevent weight gain or to lose weight.

Cardio for Weight Loss

Still, what you do when you exercise is more important than how long you do it. Creating a solid, comprehensive routine will help you get the most out of whatever time you have. Your first order of business is a cardio program.

Cardio is your first line of defense against gaining more weight and starting the weight loss process. Cardio helps you burn calories as well as protect you from other health issues that arise when we reach menopause, such as heart disease and osteoporosis.

It's best to ease into a new exercise routine to avoid injury by starting with something simple. For example, you might try 3 to 5 days of brisk walking for 20 to 30 minutes at a time.

If you're already doing cardio exercise and you're not losing weight, your frustration is understandable. This is when you need to step back and make some changes to your program.

If you tend to stay in the low end of your heart rate zone, or the often misnamed "fat-burning zone," you may find it hard to lose weight. This level of intensity is great for beginners. But working your way up to more intense cardio will put you in the calorie-burning zone you need to lose fat.

Add Intensity

Try adding shorter, more intense workouts to help you burn more calories both during and after your workouts. For example:

  • Interval training: Alternate high intensity exercise with recovery segments. Interval training is a great place to start, because you can ease into it with aerobic interval training, which is more moderate, and work your way up to anaerobic interval training.
  • High intensity interval training (HIIT): HIIT is interval training that is focused on working in your anaerobic zone (twhere you can only work for a very short period of time). That means just 30 seconds to 2 minutes, at a level 9 or 10 on the perceived exertion scale. HIIT is for more seasoned exercisers.
  • Tabata: Tabata training is another type of HIIT training that involves doing a very high intensity exercise for 20 seconds, resting for just 10 seconds and repeating that for 4 minutes. For a typical Tabata workout, you'll repeat that about 4 or 5 times for a 20-minute workout.

Use a Heart Rate Monitor

Many people are not sure how to monitor their exercise intensity, which makes doing higher intensity workouts hard to measure. A heart rate monitor gives you instant access to your heart rate, which is a great way to figure out if you need to back down or push a little harder. Find your target heart rate zones and learn how to use a heart rate monitor to track your intensity.

Focus on FITT

If you tend to do the same activities over and over, try changing one or more elements of your workouts using the F.I.T.T. principle. These elements are:

  • Frequency: Could you add a day or more of cardio? It doesn't have to be an hour. An extra 15- or 20-minute workout from time to time can make a difference.
  • Intensity: This is one of the easiest elements to change. By simply adding a few sprints to your walk or powering up a long hill, you can burn more calories during your workout. Or try one of the interval workouts above once or twice a week.
  • Time: Could you add more time to your usual workouts? If you're maxed out, this may not be an option, but many of us could easily add 10 minutes to one or two workouts. That's 10 minutes you can be burning more calories.
  • Type: When was the last time you tried a new activity? We all have activities we like, but your body becomes more efficient when you do the same activity over and over, thus burning fewer calories. Any time you try something new, your body has to work harder at it, which will help you burn more calories.

If you feel like you're doing everything under the sun and your body is still being stubborn, consider working with a trainer. Sometimes you just need some outside help to figure out the best way to reach your goals.

Strength Training for Weight Loss

Strength training is the most powerful tool you have for changing your body composition, reducing abdominal fat, and building lean muscle tissue, which increases metabolism. Having muscle in your body is like having money in your savings account. It's the gift that keeps on giving long after your workout is over.

Strength-train at least twice a week for your entire body. You can also incorporate it into cardio workouts as well. You'll get the most out of these workouts if you follow these principles.

Lift Heavy

If you lift weights regularly, you're on the right track. But are you lifting the right way? How many times do you get to the end of a set and stop, even though you could do more reps? Most of us do that, robbing our bodies of that muscle we need to burn fat and calories.

Does that mean you need to haul out the 40-lb dumbbells? Not necessarily. It just means you should lift as much as you possibly can for the number of reps that you've chosen. So if you're doing 12 reps, the 12th rep needs to be the very last rep you can accomplish.

Target Your Whole Body

Too often, women pick and choose the body parts they work based on where they want to lose weight. The trouble is, spot training doesn't work. You'll get much more out of your training when you involve your entire body in the process. Make sure you work all the muscles in your body at least twice a week. These workouts can help:

Focus on Compound Exercises

To cover more muscles in less time, you need compound exercises. A side-lying leg lift works the outer thigh, but doesn't burn very many calories. A side squat with a band works the outer thigh and most of the other muscles in your lower body. And because you're standing up and involving more muscle groups, you burn more calories. Other compound exercises include push-ups, lunges, and rows.

Metabolic Conditioning and Circuit Training

Okay, you've got your cardio and you've got your strength. Know what else you need? A new high-intensity activity to really blast calories and get your metabolism going. Metabolic conditioning and high-intensity circuit training target all of your energy systems, helping you burn more calories during your workout.

Even better, this kind of workout gives you a greater afterburn. Because you work so hard during this level of training, it takes your body a long time to get back into balance. This burns tons of extra calories. free of charge.

If you're just starting, stick with beginner interval training and work your way up to this very high level of training. Otherwise, start with once a week and see how that goes. If your performance is fine and you feel good, you might want to do it more often. Just make sure you give yourself adequate recovery time to avoid injury and overtraining.

Make the Most of MetCon or Circuit Training

Choose nine to 12 exercises that include a mix of high intensity cardio (either high impact or low impact) and compound strength exercises. This workout should be very short (10 to 20 minutes) and very hard. You want exercises that will really challenge you, such as in this 10-minute MetCon workout. Do this type of workout once or twice a week (more if you're advanced).

Alternate exercises so that one muscle group rests while another works. For example, do an upper body exercise, like push-ups, followed by a lower body move, like plyo lunges. Do each exercise for as long as you can with good form, between 20 and 60 seconds or 15 to 20 reps. Go all out, if you can.

Keep your rest between exercises very short, about 15 seconds or less. You may need a longer rest period the first time you try this type of training. Just shorten the rest periods by a few seconds each workout.

Mind-Body Activities

Going through menopause is tough and the stress only contributes to weight gain. Stress can also exacerbate the other symptoms of menopause, making everything even worse than it has to be.

Mind-body activities can help you slow down, breathe, let go of stress and focus on the present. All of this can help you get your stress hormones under control and make you feel more in control of what's happening to your body.

  • Stretch often. Make time for a relaxing stretch after every workout. Think of it as a reward for both your mind and body.
  • Plan one mindful workout a week. This can be yoga or Pilates, but it doesn't have to be. You can also simply focus on being mindful during your normal workout. Or you can use walking as a way to relax, a moving meditation.
  • Strike a balance. When trying to lose weight, we tend to focus on burning calories. However, the body needs more than just cardio and strength training. It needs flexibility, balance, stability, and rest. When setting up your routine, make sure you include some quiet time for your mind and body to relax and rejuvenate.
10 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Paige Waehner, CPT
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."