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It's no secret that our bodies change as we age. But even as we cross the 40-year threshold, it doesn't mean we have to concede to a life without strong, toned muscles. Believe it or not, our hormones and muscles go hand in hand. Regardless of how much muscle you have, or how much you'd like to gain to boost metabolism, this is good info to know. Let's dive in.

Have you ever wondered why it seems like men can build muscle more easily than women, especially as we get older? That's where hormones come into play. Testosterone, the hormone most widely associated with men, is essential for muscle growth and strength. While women have less testosterone than men, it's still a key player in our muscle development. The tricky part? After 40, our testosterone levels tend to decline, which can make muscle development more challenging.

Aside from that, by the time we’re 40, we’re also facing the natural drop in estrogen that comes with perimenopause and, eventually, menopause. Less estrogen can shift the way our bodies distribute fat, often resulting in more belly fat and less muscle mass.

Despite these hormonal changes, muscle-building over 40 is not only possible, but it's also essential for our overall health. Building and maintaining muscle as we age can help keep our bodies strong, prevent injuries, and increase our metabolic rate. Striking a balance between hormones and muscle tone is so important for you.

Vulnerability With Age, Hormones and Muscles:  Sarcopenia

When we talk about muscle-building challenges after 40, a term you may come across is 'sarcopenia'. This is a condition characterized by loss of muscle mass and function, which typically begins after the age of 30 and accelerates after 40. This depletion can impact our strength, balance, and mobility, posing potential health risks and reducing quality of life.

In women, this process can intensify around menopause due to decreasing levels of estrogen. Estrogen plays a significant role in muscle maintenance and repair, so its reduction contributes to a faster onset and progression of sarcopenia.

Fortunately, we have the power to counteract some of these changes. Our body's hormone production can be influenced by factors within our control such as our diet, exercise, sleep, and stress management. Studies suggest that consuming protein-rich foods, engaging in regular strength training, ensuring adequate sleep, and managing stress can all effectively help maintain muscle mass and functionality.

Despite the natural course of aging, we can manage our hormones and carve our own path towards staying strong and healthy. Remember, it's not just about building muscle, it's about creating a balanced lifestyle that promotes vitality and well-being at any age.

It's worth noting that sarcopenia doesn't have to begin as early as it does. Medical researchers suggest that muscle loss as early as 30 begins simply because we're more sedentary and eating less healthy. This is usually around the time most of us women are either soaring in our careers or having children. Taking a few precious minutes each day to move more could decrease the odds of this condition.

How Hormones and Muscles Work Together to Create More Tone (and strength!)

When it comes to hormones and muscles, estrogen plays a surprisingly crucial role in muscle growth and maintenance. Contrary to the popular belief that testosterone alone determines muscle composition, studies divulge that estrogen aids in building and preserving lean muscle mass as well. Good for men to know, too!

It achieves this by improving protein synthesis, one of the critical processes for muscle growth. The hormone increases the body's efficiency in using proteins to repair micro-tears that occur in muscle fibers during strenuous activities, facilitating stronger and leaner muscles.

Moreover, estrogen assists in reducing muscle damage, stimulating quicker recovery after workouts. It has anti-catabolic effects, which means it prevents muscle breakdown. This capability helps maintain muscle mass even as we age - a cornerstone in overcoming age-related muscle decline.

However, a turning point in a woman's life occurs during menopause, typically around the age of 45 to 55, when estrogen production starts to dwindle. With the decline in estrogen levels, the body's ability to efficiently synthesize protein and keep lean muscles intact tends to diminish. Consequently, fat storage increases and muscles start to shrink.

This makes it harder for women above 40 to maintain muscle mass, emphasizing the necessity for conscious efforts to build muscles. Yet, with appropriate exercise, diet, and lifestyle changes, it's still entirely possible to stay strong and lean even in the golden years. It's just an empowering reminder: You, woman, are stronger than you think! 

Balancing Hormones and Muscles Over 40: Exercises that Affect Estrogen

Take a deep breath, ladies. Yes, muscle building may seem like a daunting task post-40, but it's far from impossible. Indeed, several exercises can aid in not only boosting estrogen, but also in maintaining muscle mass and strength. Perhaps the best part - these workouts don't require expensive equipment or gym memberships. Let's dive into a simple bodyweight workout routine you can start today (full recap given below descriptions).

The Workout: Short, Sweet...but Strong!

Cornerstone of this routine is squats, the ultimate leg firming exercise. Start by standing straight with your feet hip-width apart, extend your arms in front of you to maintain balance. Lower your body by bending the knees till they're at a 90-degree angle with the floor, just as if you're sitting in an invisible chair. Maintain this position for a few seconds then return to the standing position.

Push-ups, though usually associated with arm muscles, are also beneficial for the chest and shoulder regions. Begin on your hands and knees, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width. Extend your legs back so that you're balanced on your hands and toes, keeping your body in a straight line. Lower your body until your chest almost touches the floor, then push yourself back up. If this is too challenging, keep your knees on the floor.

Finish off with the good old plank. Lie flat on your stomach. Push your body up and support it on your forearms and the balls of your feet. Your body should make a straight line from your head to your heels.

All these exercises contribute to building muscle mass and even boost estrogen production. Remember, consistency and persistence are key when it comes to seeing tangible results.

Recap:

  • Bodyweight Squats: 15 to 20 Repetitions (aim for 2 to 3 sets)
  • Push Ups (on knees if needed): 8 to 15 Repetitions (aim for 2 to 3 sets)
  • Plank (on knees if needed): start with 30 seconds and work up to 60 (aim for 2 to 3 sets)

Start with this three time a week and work up from there. If you're already working out but not seeing results, contact me about my group coaching program.

Your Diet, Hormones and Muscles (of course food matters!)

Focusing on your nutrition is equally if not more important than implementing your workout routine. An unhealthy diet can directly affect your hormone levels, in particular, estrogen. Estrogen plays an instrumental role in maintaining bone and muscle health, but a diet high in saturated fats, trans fats and sugars can negatively impact your estrogen levels. Unhealthily processed or fried foods, as well as those high in caffeine or alcohol, can lower your estrogen. This reduction can lead to muscle loss and decreased strength, something nobody wants, especially as we age.

On the contrary, a nutritious, well-balanced diet can enhance your estrogen levels and thus aid in muscle development. Foods rich in phytoestrogens, a plant-based compound that mimics the behavior of estrogen in your body, can help increase your estrogen levels. Flaxseeds, sesame seeds, fruits such as apricots and strawberries, vegetables such as yams and carrots, and legumes are all good sources of phytoestrogens. Consuming these foods as part of a varied diet can be beneficial in maintaining and even improving muscle mass.

Furthermore, ensuring your diet is rich in lean proteins will provide the necessary building blocks for muscle growth and repair. Consumption of lean animal proteins or plant-based proteins, coupled with resistance and strength training, is vital for women wanting to build muscle post 40.

In conclusion, a healthy diet, rich in phytoestrogens and lean protein, coupled with a consistent workout regimen, can substantially improve muscle health and strength. Always remember, small, gradual changes to your diet might seem insignificant, but over time, these minor tweaks have a profound, positive effect on your estrogen levels and overall health.