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A few years ago I did some research on muscle loss in menopausal women. There are a lot of variables. In some women, the muscle loss starts as early as 35; other women don't notice it until about 50. Studies show muscle loss as high as a pound a year, but other studies say it is more like a half pound a year. Studies show percentage of muscle loss between half of a percent and two percent.
Obviously not all women experience the same amount or the same rate of muscle loss, but they do lose muscle related to menopause.
This is a double whammy for women my age. First, unless we are diligent to exercise, we are losing the muscle that holds our joints in place and gives us strength. Without adequate muscle we will be vulnerable to the back, hip, and knee injuries that plague some of my friends. Without adequate muscle, we can't exercise effectively, and exercise consistently shows up as a key to an active and healthy life.
But that is only half of the story. Muscle is more "metabolically active" than fat tissue. Muscle at rest burns more calories than fat at rest. So, if you continue to eat exactly the same as you ate in younger days, since you are losing muscle, you will be adding fat. It's inevitable - unless you are pro active you will gain weight and add fat after menopause.
Because I know this I take exercise seriously. To a certain degree I have been successful. My hiking, tubing, weight lifting and line dancing friends and myself have better muscle tone and lead more active lives than the other women around us. However it's equally obvious that my muscle tone isn't what it was 10 years ago. Last winter I put on several pounds - all of it around my middle. Unheard of! My weight has always gone to my legs, not my waist. (I'm going to blog about those pounds another day. They were perplexing for several reasons).
One day in April, Tricia, my weight lifting partner, and I were at the fitness center. I said that I thought I was accustomed to my current bench press weight and I was going to increase. Everything started fine, but after a few reps there was a sharp pain in my right arm.
My arm was sore for several days then felt better. I tried bench presses again and it didn't feel good. So the next time I saw my Strong Son, I told him about the injury and said that I was trying not to be scared, but that several friends had been through rotator cuff surgery. He did three quick tests and assured me that it was not my rotator cuff. It is wonderful to have a physical therapist as a son.
My arm continued to hurt. We had lunch with SS last week, and he asked how my arm was. I described the continuing pain. He began a complete exam, right in the living room. After checking me from shoulder to fingertips, he told me that I had strained a nerve.
I didn't even know that nerves could be strained. But evidently nerve strains are not uncommon.
He gave me a nerve stretching exercise to do three times a day. I am amazed how quickly my arm has responded. I am not doing bench presses yet. But I am doing other upper body exercises without pain.
I realize this blog may seem like it's sending mixed messages, but think of it as two sides of a coin. If you are a woman my age, you have to take exercise seriously, but don't push to the point of pain. Be active, but be smart and be patient.
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