Ageing is beyond our control, the quality of life we experience as we age and the speed at which ageing happens is not. It’s entirely under our own control, believes Milena Jaksic of Platinum Pilates, who shares her knowledge about managing the peri-menopausal and menopausal body.
As women, we wage an uphill battle to stay young from the inside out, thanks to a continually evolving hormone system that ebbs and flows as we do the things we do – menstruate, gestate and grow older – whether we like it or not. Menopause and ageing are simply part of the life cycle.
I’ve worked for over 20 years with people and their evolving bodies, and the changes are real. Women hit their mid-30s, and the struggle begins to maintain tone, energy and condition. By the time they reach 40, the metabolism has slowed down, hormones start to affect shape, strength and energy, cells are dying and are slower to regenerate, collagen is lost, and in effect, tissue dries out – and not in a not-drinking-enough-water kind of way. Add to this, a sense of loss as their form changes, fighting their own disappearance; they blame their bodies for weight gain, energy loss, change of appearance, and a shift in emotional wellbeing.
It’s a lot to grapple with; but I promise you, it’s not all bad. Because, despite all this inevitable turbulence, our bodies can actually thrive during the ageing process. The key is in discovering the right environment to allow this to happen. Our amazing bodies always strive for health, if we let them, and continually regenerate when we put them into the right environment. If we are attuned to our bodies, learn and understand them and work with the changes rather than against, we can slow down the ageing process.
What we eat, where we live, who we interact with, when we sleep, how we exercise, all of these can eventually cause chemical modifications around the genes in our cells that, in turn, define how quickly we age. We need to learn how to understand our bodies and what affects our hormones. We need to listen to our bodies, get to know them on a deeper, more instinctive level, and realise that no two bodies are the same – the environment that helps a friend navigate her menopause may not be the same environment that makes you cope.
How should I exercise now?
Our body needs stress to adapt, change and get stronger. Not emotional or mental stress, but biological, physiological stress. Our muscles need to contract and relax, our heart and lungs need to be pushed, our lymph system needs to be pumped, our joints need to be moved with a constant variety of stresses placed on them.
As we hit peri-menopause, the trouble starts when we use weight gain as a motivator to get us moving. If exercise is not an inherent part of your routine, and weight gain is the driver in getting you going, you will meet many barriers along the way. Weight gain is the end-product of an unhealthy lifestyle – a lack of exercise, emotional stress, poor diet, too much alcohol and sugar, or a lack of self-care due to a busy lifestyle.
So if you see a spare tyre in the mirror, you might sign up for the nearest fitness Bootcamp or Hiit class. You may think it’s the right thing to do, but it’s like trying to paint over a ceiling that has been flood-damaged, without dealing with the cause of the leak. Taking on a high-intensity class without finding fixes to other issues could cause you to feel more hungry, more stressed, often injured, heavier, and more deflated than when you started.
For peri-menopausal and menopausal women, my advice is to start from the ground up. Build a foundation of functional movement that teaches you about your body, how it moves, how it doesn’t move, your core strength, your breathing, and what it likes. Classes in yoga and Pilates are a great place to start and will address movement pattern issues, help you breathe better, and can improve digestion, allowing you to actually crave a more balanced diet. Once you feel stronger, then you can progress with ease into more high intensity classes.
How will this help how I look and feel?
How you look is how you feel; that’s just the way it is. The mirror reflects what we think in our minds, so before we take a look in the mirror, the mental chatter in our heads dictates what we are going to see. If the motivation to exercise in our 40s, 50, 60s is to look a certain way and conform to a social standard of beauty over 40, then we have to start with our mindset.
Once you get into the habit of exercising daily, you will feel stronger physically, which in turn impacts positively on your mind. As your mind becomes more robust, you think you can endure more physically and the more physical exercise you do, the more it builds muscles mass, changing the tone of the body, and improving posture too.
How do I start?
Start today! The body doesn’t know if it’s Monday or January, there is never a right time to start adopting better movement strategies, whatever the day or time of year. Seek out a qualified fitness/yoga/ Pilates expert for help to get you started (and not just the mum at the school who looks fantastic).
How often should I go?
Getting your head around the idea that exercise is a chore and turning it into the idea that it’s a treat or an act of self-care and kindness will change your attitude. Movement creates a positive environment for your cells to thrive in as you age. Movement helps the menopause and your ageing body – ask yourself, why would you not want to indulge in that every single day? Movement could be a walk, a few stretches at home, taking the stairs in the office – even some squats while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil. Start looking for ways in which you can add some more movement into your daily routine.
How do I deal with injury?
Understand your body. My job as a Pilates teacher is to teach our clients as much as I can about their bodies. Getting to know your body means you can tune in better and manage yourself and injuries that may arise. Our motto is, running doesn’t cause injuries; bad running does. If you know your body, you know how to move, and that in itself helps to keep you injury-free.
Any tips for diet, supplements?
Diet is so unique; we are all individual, so I believe that one-size-diets never fit all. But there are some basics that people can ignore when it comes to our changing bodies as we age.
Calories in versus calories out – the age-old energy deficit wins every time. There is no such thing as bad food really, but moderation is key.
Sugar and processed foods interfere with the endocrine system and how the pancreas handles insulin production. Think about that sensitive hormone balance that’s already in flux before you indulge.
Cutting out or down on alcohol. I am yet to meet a client who raves about the positive effects of a bottle of wine.
Simple cuts can be all the change you need. There are no mysteries when it comes to diet and our shape.
Are you ageing gracefully, beautifully, happily – or could you do with a little inspiration and encouragement? Visit #InspirationalAgeing where we are we are discovering the ingredients for a happy and fulfilled life after 40