What is the 411 on heart rate zones for menopausal women?
So, you are over 40 and either in perimenopause or menopause, and you start to notice that you are gaining weight (especially around the middle) even though your diet and exercise have not changed!
It can be so frustrating, right?
A lot of factors are at play with weight gain during menopause, but did you know that how you exercise could be part of the problem?
Heart rate training zones are one of my favorite topics concerning menopause. Our heart rate zones are based on our maximum heart rate.
The original formula to calculate the max heart rate number is 220 – your age. Based on the new research, the new formula for women is 206 minus 88 percent of age.
At age 50, the original formula gives men and women a peak rate of 170 beats per minute. The new women’s formula provides a maximum heart rate of 162 beats for women.
50 X .88 = 44 – 206 = 162
Once you know your max heart rate, you can do the math to figure out your heart rate zones.
The easiest way to track your heart rate while working out is to wear a heart rate monitor or apple watch.
Now, why are heart rate zones important? I’m glad you asked!
Different heart rate zones can change how our body burns fat. For women in menopause, this is one of the essential keys to losing unwanted pounds, especially around their middle.
Heart Rate Zones
|Zone||Intensity||Percentage of HRmax|
|Zone 1||Very light||5060%|
To understand our heart rate zones, let’s look at them.
Zone 1 = In this zone, 85% of the calories burned are from fat; unfortunately, we aren’t burning many of them.
Zone 2 = When we exercise in zone 2, we burn more calories than in zone 1, and 65% of our calories come from fat stores.
Zone, 3 = Only 45% of the calories you burn, are fat. We are burning more calories, but less are from fat stores. Our body is also producing more cortisol to keep up with energy demands.
Zone 4 = Only about 10-45% of the calories you burn are fat, and we produce large amounts of cortisol. Without proper recovery, exercising here for long periods of time can lead to elevated levels of cortisol in the bloodstream and heightened symptoms of physical stress, even when exercise is not being performed.
Zone 5 = is maximal exercise. This is high-intensity interval training. In this zone, we burn all carbohydrates and zero stored fat calories.
The answer might surprise you, but first, let’s understand how we lose weight. To lose one pound of fat, you must create a calorie deficit of -3500.
You can reduce the calories you eat and/or increase the calories you burn during the day, including exercise. Even though that seems simple, it’s much more nuanced than this when it comes to women in menopause.
Why I recommend zone 2 for menopausal women
When you go past 70% of your max heart rate, your body will utilize more and more carbohydrates, and your body then begins to decline in metabolic efficiency.
If you have fat on your body that you’d like to lose, Zone 2 is where you should spend a lot of your time during your workouts.
But what exercise should I be doing?
Walking briskly, power yoga, and Pilates are fantastic for getting your heart rate in zone 2, helping you burn the most fat during your workout. We also want to add strength training!
After the age of 40, we begin to lose muscle mass. Muscles use more energy (calories) than fat. As we age, we lose muscle which affects our metabolism.
Due to the estrogen drop, we can also have bone density issues. Building muscles helps protect bones, and some studies show that gaining muscle helps build bone back.
As a trainer, coach, and teacher, one of the most common problems I see when I work with women over 40 is that they are training way too hard.
Many women don’t feel like they are getting a “good workout.” They often increase the intensity because they think it will be more beneficial, but it is creating elevated cortisol levels.
Wait, what? What the heck is cortisol?
Cortisol is the “stress hormone”; the primary function of cortisol is to help you respond to stress or give you energy for things like working out or waking up in the morning.
Cortisol signals the breakdown of muscle tissue to release energy. Elevated cortisol is associated with fat accumulation in the midsection of women and insulin resistance. So, that means that after the age of 40, we want to reduce our cortisol levels, not increase it!
Things like yoga, Pilates, and Tai chi for our overall mobility, balance, and core strength will help us greatly after age 40. These fitness modalities can help us build muscle, stay mobile, and stay in that fat-burning zone 2!
What about my metabolism? I’ve heard it slows down?
Slow metabolism? Our metabolic rate is what determines how many calories you burn each day. Your thyroid controls it and is greatly influenced by how much muscle you have on your body. Every pound of muscle on your body requires 50 calories a day to maintain.
These 50 calories are only “maintenance” calories. That means 50 calories just for the muscle to sit there and do nothing all day. It doesn’t include using it for daily activities or exercise.
More muscle on your body means you will burn more calories even at rest!
If we want to lose fat, it is all bout calorie expenditure. You must burn more calories than you consume to lose body fat; however, when it comes to women in menopause, nothing is simple. Things like low estrogen and high cortisol can influence how we store fat on our bodies.
One of the most common complaints women have about their bodies after menopause is the menopause belly. The International Journal of Obesity published a study that confirmed: “the menopause transition appears to promote the selective accumulation of fat in the intra-abdominal compartment.”
High-intensity workouts produce too much cortisol for us ladies in menopause, and we don’t have the estrogen to offset these large amounts of cortisol. Too much cortisol can lead to weight gain, fatigue, and insulin resistance.
It seems counter-intuitive, but doing less intense workouts will be more beneficial for us in the long term.
But can you do high-intensity (zone 4-5) training?
Yes, but there are a few caveats. If you enjoy high-intensity workouts, here are a few things that you need to consider before adding them to your workout:
- Keep your sessions to 5-15 minutes max only three times a week
- You must be sleeping 8-10 hours uninterrupted nightly
- You must be eating well, meaning enough calories & fruit, and veggies daily
- No stress in day-to-day life
- Must include a rest day in between sessions
What is most important for women in menopause to remember?
We need to learn to manage our stress levels. Ladies, that means we need to learn to let that stuff go! We also need more muscle to help us increase our daily caloric expenditure and protect our bones.
Tips for Women after the Age of 40
- Get your heart rate in zone 2 for 30+ minutes 4-5 days a week to burn fat!
- Add weights to your workouts to build muscle.
- Practice yoga, Pilates, barre, or tai chi for balance, flexibility, & stability!
- Include restorative yoga or meditation to help lower cortisol levels!
- Stay active during the day! Every bit of movement counts!
I created four programs for women who are in menopause to help you build muscle, get into zone 2, and lower cortisol levels:
- My FAST program is great for those who want to include intermittent fasting and want to lose weight. I have also included daily meditations and plant-based recipes to try.
- PERFECT10 is for those that are busy but want to start weight training. All of these workouts are under 15 minutes.
- Metabolic Movements is awesome to help boost your metabolism, gain muscle, and relax your nervous system.
- My NEW Strong & Stretchy Yoga Sculpt program is a fantastic blend of traditional yoga and weight training, balance, and mobility.
Please try any of my programs for FREE for 7 days!
Please also read my other menopause blogs on this topic if you want more information!
Please feel free to ask me questions! I’m here to help!