Dr. Heidi IglayReger, of the University of Michigan, told me about some exciting new research regarding weight gain and physical activity.
As you might be aware, estrogen, the primary female sex hormone, significantly decreases as women approach menopause.
IglayReger explained to me that this new research documents that the presence of estrogen in female rodents increases spontaneous activity. Though humans and rodents are clearly quite different, estrogen may also influence spontaneous activity in women. While this has not yet been proven in humans, if it is true, postmenopausal women might be less active than they were before menopause because their estrogen levels have dipped.
What may be the key is what is meant by “spontaneous activity”. Naturally, it includes planned activity, such as attending a group fitness class or going for a walk or run. But more likely it has to do with unplanned, and often unnoticed daily activity, such as standing up longer before sitting down, picking up around the house more frequently, or even fidgeting more – things that women (and men) do without realizing that they are “moving”. Individually, these small changes in physical activity may not make a significant difference, but overtime, decreased physical activity without a matching decrease in food intake will cause weight gain.
This research suggests that by mindfully adding more brief periods of spontaneous physical movement to your day you might be able to prevent the weight gain that is associated with menopause. The simple solution to move more may appear to be easy. But while coaching women in midlife I have found that many, if not most, women have difficulty believing that these small amounts of lower intensity movement actually “count”. Intellectually, it makes sense, but when it comes to purposefully doing it and fitting it into your life it’s a different story. I advocate to clients that they LET THEMSELVES override the old outdated notion that only vigorous and lengthy exercise sessions are valid, and accept that fact that intentionally taking a parking space father away from the entrance or and taking the stairs instead of the elevator several times a day, among many other types of spontaneous movement, not only count but are extremely valuable.
In the EssentialSteps program I do with clients, I refer to spontaneous movement as Opportunities to Move because embedded in that concept is the value of creating time and space to move. When we move more, we feel better. Moving more accumulates throughout our day. Research suggests that moving more can improve our health. But I’m more interested in promoting more physical movement as a way to enhance women’s daily sense of well-being. Why? Because my research shows that improving “health” isn’t a very compelling motivator for women in midlife who are, in general healthy. What we mid-life women want is to feel good – about ourselves and about our bodies.
Dr. IglayReger’s bottom line: Even though scientists are still searching for answers, post-menopausal weight gain may not be inevitable and may in fact be preventable through more brief physical movement throughout the day.
My bottom line: Moving more throughout the day will give you more energy, get blood flowing, decrease stiffness, help clear your mind, and will just help you enjoy every day more. So what’s getting in YOUR way of moving more during your day?
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For more about what’s sabotaging your motivation for exercising, check out my blog www.essentialsteps.net/blog
Dr. IglayReger summarized the research above about rodents under the direction of Dr. Peter Bodary when she was a post-doc in the Vascular Biology Laboratory in the School and Kinesiology. She continues research in the area of physical activity and body weight as the the laboratory manager for the Laboratory for Physical Activity and Exercise Intervention Research at the University of Michigan.