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Ask an Exercise Physiologist: Lumbar pain and menopause weight gain

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Exercise Physiologist Kirra Rankin of Capital Hydrotherapy is here to help you with all your health and wellness questions and challenges.

Wonderful questions this week—and there is only one more week of questions before we take a break for the festive season!

Do you have a burning health and wellness question?

Now is your chance to ask. Every week we will pick a couple of questions, and help you solve your burning query. If we share our problems, we are more likely to solve them.

I have my wonderful work colleague, Kayla Bonney answering a question this week too. Let’s get started.

I have had lumbar spine pain (mostly right side, sometimes middle) for over 15 years. I walk twice a week for 30 minutes and work full time in a sedentary role.

Any suggestions to help my pain?

Cheryl, 52

Hello Cheryl,

I am sorry to hear about your persisting lumbar spine pain. The treatment of chronic low back pain can be complex and can need a multi-disciplinary team to target all factors.

The best place to start is to find a type of exercise that doesn’t exacerbate your symptoms, and finding a long-term management strategy to keep your pain under control.

It is wonderful that you are able to tolerate walking regularly however it is also important to continue to move and strengthen the spine and associated musculature as we are designed to move!

Within the research, exercise has been prescribed for patients with chronic low back pain with three distinct goals.

The first and most obvious goal is to improve or eliminate impairments in back flexibility and strength, and improve performance of endurance activities.

The second goal of exercise is to reduce the intensity of back pain. Most studies of exercise have noted overall reduction in back pain intensity that ranges from 10% to 50% after exercise treatment.

The third goal of exercise is to reduce back-pain-related disability through a process of desensitisation of fears and concerns, altering pain attitudes and beliefs and improving affect. (J Rainville et al, 2004)

Some of my top tips:

  • Commencing a daily stretch program to assist mobility and flexibility. You could start with some supine twists, hamstring stretches and a child’s pose—all of which can be done in bed if you struggle to get on/off the floor! Try each for 2 rounds of 30 seconds.
  • Strengthening the ‘powerhouse’ musculature of the body (including the back, core and gluteals) to best support your lumbar spine and improve your functional capacity. You can do this through specific pilates movements, hydrolates (pilates in the water) and muscular activation exercises under the care of your exercise professional.
  • We use the phrase ‘your best posture is your next posture’; basically meaning that you should try to get up often from your desk to go for a 5-minute walk or complete some desk-based stretching exercises every 1-2 hours. Set yourself a time on the computer or even have it lock you out so that you can make the commitment to yourself

All the best and we hope this has been useful for you!

Love Kayla

Hi Kirra, I have found menopause such a surprise in that I have gained a lot of weight, appear to have multiple niggling aches and pains and find it very hard to exercise.

Any suggestions for a safe, succinct and efficient exercise regime, please?

– Lorraine, 58

Hi Lorraine, here are a couple of stats, so you know you’re not alone!

Studies demonstrate that the average reduction in activity levels after menopause is around 50%, 60 percent of adult women do not get an adequate amount of exercise and 30 percent of women between the ages of 50 and 59 are obese.

Women gain weight through a combination of less calories burned, a reduction in lean body mass (ie. muscle), and a failure to adjust calorie intake.

Menopause weight gain is usually related to ageing, lifestyle choices and genetic factors… not hormonal changes alone. Hormonal changes alone DO NOT contribute to why 90% of menopausal women experience varying levels of weight gain.

Lorraine, we simply need to eat less than we did before menopause, and try to move more.

In general, The Australian Physical Activity Guidelines recommends 2 1⁄2 to 5 hours of moderate activity or 1 1⁄4 to 2 1⁄2 hours of vigorous-intensity physical activity (or an equivalent combination of both moderate and vigorous activities) per week.

Personally, I think if you’re post-menopause, you need 40% more than the recommendation if you want to stay ahead of the bulge!

Now, HOW do we manage menopause through movement (actually addressing your important question!)?

Lorraine, for the next seven days, let’s focus on three key areas:

1) HIIT High-intensity interval training

HIIT is a well-known efficient training technique in which you give an intense burst of exercise, followed by a short (sometimes active), recovery period.

This type of training keeps your heart rate elevated, and has been known to help manage menopause. If you’re a beginner, attempt the rowing machine or assault bike at your local gym (20 seconds at 90% effort, and 30-second active easy recovery; repeat 4 times).

Work up to 30-40 second efforts, 2 sets, 2 days a week. If you are a runner, try 6 x 60 meter sprints with a walk back recovery. Work up to doing 2 sets, 2 days a week.

2) LIT – Low-Impact Training

Cardiovascular/aerobic exercise is fabulous for your heart and lungs. Walking is one of the best choices, because you can do it anywhere, anytime (so less excuses!).

Other examples of aerobic/cardio exercises: deep water running intervals/ hydrotherapy/ swimming (although this does not build bone density), cycling, aerobics, tennis, and dance.

3) RESISTANCE TRAINING 

A specific strength training or weight-resistance movement program helps build muscle mass and improve metabolism. Resistance training also helps you maintain bone mass, which is extra important through menopause because you lose muscle mass as you age.

Aim for a minimum of two or three times a week for 30 minutes. Some common examples of strength training include weight machines, free weights/dumbbells, exercise therabands (plenty of colours to increase your resistance), and gardening (lifting and shifting).

Over the next seven days, challenge yourself, & incorporate one of each of the above focuses (HIIT, LIT and resistance training).

Good luck, Lorraine—let me know how you get on…

Hope this information helps you find the right person to help you on your wellness journey.

Great questions everyone. I’ll answer more next week. Submit your question now to have it answered!

Want to ask your own question?

We are all better together! Do you have a burning health and wellness question?

Fill out our Google Form, or email us your health and wellbeing questions, to either: editor@hercanberra.com.au or kirra@capitalhydrotherapy.com.au.

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