How Weight Lifting Can Improve Menopause and Andropause
When it comes to ageing, there is so much you can do to slow down the march of time.
Science has repeatedly proved that resistance exercise is one of the most beneficial ways to slow the ageing process.
Resistance training has been shown to benefit trainees of any age - but it becomes all the more important as people hit middle age, as we covered in depth in Part 1 of this series.
Research shows that training with weights not only increases muscle mass, but improves everything from cognitive function and health to glucose control and insulin sensitivity, while preserving metabolic rate and leading to a better hormonal environment in the body.
In fact, resistance training leads to an overall decreased risk of all-cause mortality, according to the research.
But this kind of resistance training really comes into its own with anyone over 40. For men, this is when symptoms of the andropause start to really wreak havoc on their physique and their health - potentially causing weight gain, muscle loss, loss of sex drive and problems with mood and brain function.
It's the same for women in the peri-menopausal and menopausal period when the production of hormones including oestrogen in the ovaries drops and fat cells and adrenal glands begin increasing sex hormone production. This can result in losses in muscle mass and bone mass, and if they are inactive, it can ultimately lead to weight gain.
But developing muscle mass and strength through resistance training has been shown to play a major role in ameliorating the problems associated with menopause and andropause.
What is male andropause?
As men get older, they commonly experience a condition known as 'andropause', which is characterised by the gradual decline in serum testosterone levels. This has associated symptoms such as: loss of bone and muscle mass, loss of libido and erectile dysfunction, poor prostate health, changes in mood and cognition.
In essence, it is the emasculation of many of the characteristics that define men, a condition that can be physically and psychologically debilitating on all fronts of life.
One of the defining factors of andropause, as opposed to the female equivalent, is that there is no specific defining point of its beginning. With today’s inactive society, symptoms of andropause are worryingly emerging in people as young as 25.
However, with the growing overweight middle-aged population, it’s sadly considered the norm to be suffering from andropause in your 50s.
The epitome of the andropause epidemic
How does it occur?
While there are many causes of this epidemic, there is a specific constant we see with many of the middle-aged clients who come to us at UP.
Almost all men who exhibit these symptoms have very poor body composition from years of over-consumption, culminating in leptin and insulin resistance.
Continuous excess eating and drinking can create resistance in the hormonal receptors responsible for regulating the energy levels in your body: leptin.
Leptin resistance is a contributing factor to insulin resistance, which will further increase leptin resistance, creating a vicious cycle, and ultimately a fat storing machine.
The problem with leptin resistance is that it will signal to the brain that you are starving even when you're not, leading to a slowing down of your metabolic rate, which will negatively impact fat loss and sex hormone production.
Insulin resistance will create similar issues, as years of stimulating excess insulin production from poor diet will hamper the receptor’s ability to recognise insulin’s action.
As a result, excess glucose in your blood will increase, and with nowhere to go, will be stored as body fat.
The fatter you are, the more estrogen receptors you will have, and the greater your level of aromatization of testosterone to estrogen. Ultimately, it will mean you will have no access to any testosterone you are producing.
To make matters worse, the insulin resistance cascade will trigger constantly elevated cortisol production. This will further zap any production of sex hormones, whilst simultaneously further adding to the vicious cycle of stimulating even more insulin (in efforts to reduce cortisol).
In fact, this interaction of the different hormones explains much of why inactivity and poor diet contribute to so many issues in these middle-aged people.
What can resistance exercise do for andropause?
Fortunately, andropause is treatable, and resistance exercise is arguably its best medicine, trumping the effects of taking hormone therapy.
The causes of andropause and anabolic resistance are intertwined, so the benefits of resistance exercise extend very well for all facets of this growing group of men. The effects of resistance exercise on improvements in strength and muscle mass have been well documented, but what about assisting hormonal recovery?
The jury is still out on whether physiologically normal increases in the levels of anabolic hormones play a role in muscle building.
However, when considering a population with very low levels of anabolic hormones, and below the normal physiological range, stimulating them through resistance will have a very beneficial effect on hypertrophy, as well as alleviating andropause symptoms.
In fact, research has suggested that older men can make physiological adaptations in their endocrine system with resistance training, albeit at a lower rate than younger males. (12)
Interestingly, it seems resistance exercise may create an effect whereby it will enhance the adaptational ability to stimulate testosterone after a resistance exercise bout over a period of time.
What this means is that the ‘plasticity’ of their endocrine systems become adept at producing hormonal responses after training, which over time will accumulate in higher testosterone levels, if training is properly programmed. (12)
Further, in one particular recent study, 12 weeks of resistance training significantly restored the levels of anabolic hormones, and steroidogenesis-related enzymes (enzymes involved in the processes of creating hormones) of a group of 13 older men. (18)
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What about menopause?
The start of menopause signifies that the ovaries have stopped releasing eggs. The transition to menopause, however, is gradual and involves large fluctuations of hormones resulting in the following symptoms: emotional changes, osteoporosis, reduced sex drive, hot flushes and cardiovascular issues.
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During menopause, there is a decline in oestrogen, progesterone and androgens, as these are the hormones produced in the ovaries. With declining hormonal levels over time, women will experience loss in muscle mass and bone mass.
The problem that we face here is that as ovarian hormone production declines, sex hormones secreted by body fat and adrenal glands increase. If a woman has been inactive and is exhibiting problems related to anabolic resistance, and the model of insulin and leptin resistance, she will more than likely be overweight with a lot of body fat.
As a result, hormone production becomes out of sync with the body, and systemic inflammation increases rapidly, further increasing the effects of anabolic resistance - a serious problem affecting older people where they see a reduction in their muscles' ability to respond to anabolic stimuli like nutrition and exercise with normal spikes in muscle protein synthesis (the way the body repairs and grows muscle tissue).
How can resistance exercise help?
Every woman’s experience of menopause is different, and the extent of her symptoms will differ widely.
However, one of the key benefits of resistance exercise is in the maintenance and improvement of a healthy body fat, through building muscle and losing fat.
Whilst many of the symptoms are unavoidable in nature, resistance exercise can counter the unwanted weight gain, and help combat against the increased risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
More specifically, it can help with the preservation of bone health (10) which declines with the loss of ovarian-produced oestrogen. Further, increases in systemic inflammation can be countered by effective training programmes, as research has also now backed.
A resistance exercise study on post-menopausal women over 12 weeks showed a decrease in acute and chronic inflammation markers despite no changes in body composition (diet was not controlled in the study). (16)
The latter point perhaps exemplifies the impact resistance training can have on this group of people - the benefits of reducing inflammation for an ageing woman are vast in terms of menopausal symptoms, brain function, overall health risk and halting sarcopenia.
Middle age is when most men and women begin to see their health, fitness and physique take a nose dive. The effects of the andropause in men and menopause in women can take their toll on muscle mass, bone strength and lead to weight gain.
But introducing regular resistance training can massively improve hormonal and inflammatory issues in older people which is key in preserving and increasing muscle mass, slowing down sarcopenia (muscle wasting) and increasing fat loss.
The next instalment of the Ageing Series will show you how we implement this knowledge into an intelligent and effective training programme at UP to get maximum results with older men and women.
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