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Redefining Strength in Midlife and Menopause with Dr. Maria Luque

exercise menopause midlifewomen perimenopause strength training womenshealth

Navigating fitness in midlife can feel overwhelming, especially when traditional ideas clash with evolving bodies. That's why I invited Dr. Maria Luque, a menopause fitness expert, to shed light on how we need to rethink fitness habits in this new season. 


You'll certainly appreciate how our conversation addresses the challenges of gym culture, particularly for those with a dieting history. Dr. Luque and I debunk the notion that strength training is solely about shedding pounds. The bigger priority here is better overall well-being, and it's high time to steer the narrative toward empowerment and positivity.

One standout takeaway is the idea of finding balance in strength training frequency. Dr. Luque recommends three 40-minute sessions weekly, emphasizing the physiological benefits of managing cortisol levels during menopause. The discussion doesn't stop at the physical; it extends into the mental health benefits of resistance training, offering strategies to maintain motivation when life disrupts workout routines. Refreshing and novel, right? 

We also talk about the art of finding joy in movement and simple exercises you can integrate into daily routines for significant fitness improvements. Any time you take time to invest in your joyful movement practice, relish the sense of accomplishment post-exercise. We have to take time to celebrate every step in the fitness journey, no matter how small.

Additionally, this episode points out the need to tailor fitness approaches to individual needs, especially for midlife women. Dr. Luque shares insights on recovering from injuries and adapting exercise regimens to current capabilities and life stages. We all need a super personalized approach to fitness.

To learn more about Dr. Maria Luque, follow her on IG @drmarialuque and FB  @fitnessinmenopause or her website


Hi and welcome to the Midlife Feast, the podcast for women who are hungry for more in this season of life. I'm your host, Dr. Jenn Salib-Huber. Come to my table, listen and learn from me trusted guest experts in women's health and interviews with women just like you. Each episode brings to the table juicy conversations designed to help you feast on midlife. Welcome to the Midlife Feast.

My guest this week is Dr Maria Luque, who has a literal PhD in menopause fitness, and I am really excited for you to hear this interview because, like me, she's all about kind of quality of life as we go through this season of life and beyond, and working out for lack of a better description or strength training as something that we can add in as fun and joyful, purposeful movement that has nothing to do with weight loss or losing weight and really kind of keeps the diet culture conversation out of it.

So if you have wondered why strength training is so often recommended for women in perimenopause and menopause and beyond, have a listen to this great conversation with Dr Luque. So a warm welcome to Dr Maria Luque to the Midlife Feast. Hi Maria, how are you?

Dr. Maria Luque: 2:23

Hi, I'm fantastic. I'm so excited to be on the call with you here. Oh, I'm so excited. So, yeah, I can't, I can't wait.

Jenn Salib Huber: 2:31

Thanks, well, I'm excited of your work because you are bringing the conversation. You're leveling up the conversation about movement in midlife and fitness in midlife, and you've been doing that's kind of like your thing. So tell us a little bit about how that became your thing Well.

Dr. Maria Luque: 2:49

I have to say it became. It's really, really organic because I was surrounded most of my friends were older than me. So when I was going through my PhD studies and I had to decide on a dissertation topic, I first was gonna go with childhood obesity, because that's what my thesis for my master's degree was, and then I thought this isn't actually not what I want to do, like I don't really wanna work with children. I have a child. I don't really wanna work with them.

Also, I feel like the conversation was missing, that something that I would have to go through very soon, which currently I am, and so and I saw my friends and clients go through it and I thought this is perfect, like I can kind of use them to get in, like some insight into menopause and how fitness and the things that we do together work, and so I just did a research study on it and since then, that's really you're right, it's what I do. I don't do anything else. That's what I do.

Jenn Salib Huber: 3:46

Yeah, well, I mean, obviously, everything that I do is around midlife and menopause too. So, from an intuitive eating perspective, one of the principles of intuitive eating is joyful movement, and I'm very much a fan and supporter of all kinds of joyful movement. But for women in midlife, I'm often suggesting that they try on strength training or kind of working with weights, which I sometimes get some resistance when I mention that. One of the reasons is that I think it's intimidating for people who have never entered into that kind of relationship going to a gym or using weights but also because a lot of the people that I work with have a very long and sorted history with dieting and with gyms and with fitness in general, and they very strongly associate weight training with diet culture and it's really difficult for them to kind of get to a place where they want to do it because A they enjoy it, but also kind of getting to a place where they can even maybe intentionally add it in for health reasons. So tell us a little bit about strength training, cause I know that that's, you know, one of the things that you really are trying to help. You know people and women with your membership in your community. But tell us a little bit about strength training and what women really need to know about it in men and boys. Well, I think you hit.

Dr. Maria Luque: 5:15

All of that is exactly what I do. Right, it's just, strength training is and I can't blame people for being in women, obviously for being intimidated, because the gym culture is intimidating and, sadly, the gym culture is incredibly unhealthy. When it comes to dieting, and because, unfortunately, a lot of the fitness professionals embody disordered eating. It's like dieting down for a photo shoot, you know, like those kinds of things. So we see that on a day to day basis, and for me, strength training, though, is it is the core. It's the core of what I do. I think everyone needs to find joy in moving and finding things that they do, that they like, but we have to find a way to include strength training for non-weight related issues, for health issues as we go through, and so I think we need to change the narrative also of what it means to strength train.

Jenn Salib Huber: 6:09

Yes, I was going to think, let's define it.

Defining Strength Training

Dr. Maria Luque: 6:12

What is strength training? Yes, strength training is anything that requires you to use your muscles. That's how I would describe it like lifting your baby, lifting your groceries, like all of that is strength training. Anything that requires you to actually actively and purposefully engage your muscles and muscles, all of your muscles, right. So where we have a purpose in saying I know what I'm doing and what I'm engaging in, trying to create a well-rounded balance when it comes to that, as you know, and hopefully everyone knows now, our muscles, I mean we start losing muscle and once we go through menopause it's like on a turbo loss, so we start losing even quicker and so we have to get in front of that. And I don't like to use the scare tactics of saying, well, you know you're going to lose all your muscle, but that's really, I mean just what's happening, right and so, and with the loss of muscle mass comes our metabolism slows down and like there's an array of things, balance goes out because you don't have the muscle, bones start getting weaker, like there's a lot of like health related issues that could be prevented by just including some strength training and from strength training.

Strength Training For Women, Age-Related Muscle Loss, and Quality of Life

I try to really bring it down to getting my clients to first realize just how much strength training already do in an everyday life. And when they realize, then it becomes easier than you're just like. Oh, I mean it's not that it's not as intimidating If you like gardening when you have to lug that big bag of soil or compost or whatever you're using on the plants and even planting and like that's all resistance training so we can make it to where we can use those things to help women do it safely. Because how many times have we heard that I was just lifting this and I broke my back, you know, like those kinds of things. So I like to really meet women where they're at. Let's see where you are and what you like to do and let's see how we can build a strength training training program around that to make you be better at what you like to do.

Jenn Salib Huber: 8:18

Because it really is about continuing to live your life with quality of life. That is what strength training is all about for me. So when we talk about this kind of age related decline in muscle mass, that term sarcopenia, basically, is the medical term for it and we see that increase with every decade of life. So there is some age appropriate changes there. But that doesn't mean that we don't do anything about them. And what we know about losing muscle mass over time is that, yeah, it affects our bones, right? So people think about bones as just protecting the bone. But you need to protect the muscles around the bone, you need to kind of create that armor around the bone so that they're strong and healthy. But you know, you're right also about things like balance and even just longevity.

People who you know include ways to protect muscle mass and, you know, prevent the loss of muscle mass Because, would you agree that it's a lot like bone in that? You know the building is one piece, but it's really about trying to slow the loss down. Would you agree that that's kind of the strategy with strength training? So no one's to worry about, you know, becoming like a hulky bulk builder, bodybuilder, unless, like you know, that's a totally different conversation. But, like for most of us, this is maintaining muscle mass and, if we're lucky, building a little bit, but really the focus should be on maintaining your strength, is that? Would you agree with that?

Dr. Maria Luque: 9:48

100% yes, and we are really just trying to prevent what you were describing normal age related loss of muscle and bone mass, which is everyone's going to go through it. As women, we have the additional challenge that menopause accelerates some of that, once we lose estrogen and so it does become more of the. Let's just hold on to what we have and not, like you said, it's like that fear of getting bulky. Is it's really such a I mean at this point that myth? It just needs to go. It's a myth. Very hard. I have always. I've enjoyed weight training most of my life and I have used to be a lot more muscular. And I have to tell you it's just like as I'm aging, I'm having a hard time holding on to what I have and it's just and I do. I don't work out quite as much, but just to kind of highlight that it is hard to hold onto it. So you're just really trying to hold on to what you have and stay strong. It isn't really only about growing muscle but making the muscle that you have functional.

And when I talk to my clients, it's like when we're talking about changing the narrative, when we reframe what you can do with your muscle, like I was mentioning earlier, like lifting things that you have to lift. In normal life If you travel, it's your suitcase. When you have to those kinds of things, you want to continue doing them and that increases obviously it quality of life, like you were mentioning, which is my entire the threat throughout my career and my studies and my research study was actually on the quality of life in physical fitness. Like that was the thing. It wasn't about weight loss, it wasn't about getting bigger or smaller or stronger, it was how does it improve your quality of life, and that is all I do.

Jenn Salib Huber: 11:33

And it really, when you're moving your body in ways that feel good and in ways that support feeling strong, it improves, it brings you back into your body right, and I'm all about like feeling good in your body more so than about your body, and I think for a lot of people, the conversation or their motivation around movement and fitness has always been feeling good about their body and I can I always tell people that I feel strong and feel good in my body every time I lift my kettlebell. There is something about kettlebell workouts that just make me feel fierce, like I feel strong, I feel powerful and I'm lifting the same weight every time.

So it's not that anything is changing, but it's because there's an emotion that is connected to that feeling of strength and that gets reinforced every time that I do it. And it has nothing to do with how it's changing the scale because I don't weigh myself or kind of changing what I'd see in the mirror. It's changing how I feel in my body and that self-image, body image that can last a lifetime, like you can build on that until the day that you die, versus going to the gym to try and reach a number on the scale. That gets old really, really fast. There's no internal motivation for that, because if the scale doesn't move, you don't want to do it anymore.

Shifting The Motivation From Weight Loss to Positive Body Image

Dr. Maria Luque: 12:59

Yeah, yeah, yeah, it's discouraging right.

Jenn Salib Huber: 13:02

Yeah, so how often? Cause that's a question that I get a lot when I have the conversation around. Okay, let's try and add in some strength training, whether that's body weight training, whether that's lifting weights, whether that's whatever. How often should people be aiming to include this if they want to get some benefit from it? Is there a time that you recommend?

Dr. Maria Luque: 13:28

Absolutely so. Just from the research perspective, like most research studies show that three times a week is kind of like that sweet spot, right, three times a week, at least 12 weeks. And I mean I hate saying the 12 week thing because I feel like it should be three times a week forever because it is about sustainability. So not thinking I don't like to set those goals of like, well, just do it for three weeks and then we'll see how. Because what happens at three weeks?

Like I hope for you to do it. I don't put those times on it and I try to get my clients and I recommend everyone to not put that time limit on like I'm gonna do this for three months, because then it becomes a challenge almost, and the challenge is this weird thing, right, that we do and then what happens after the challenge is over. But three times a week is kind of like that sweet spot. Now I do always prefer and I recommend people to do more days and less time. So if you have a time limit, also from a menopause, like from a cortisol perspective, there's a big benefit to not working out long bouts of time. So 40 minutes is kind of like that sweet spot, keeping it at work. It's around 40 minutes, so you don't get that increase in cortisol, which has all sorts of other issues right During menopause especially.

Hitting That Sweet Spot & Not Overdoing It

Jenn Salib Huber: 14:45

We're trying to keep it controlled somewhat, and so there's a twofold Sleep is a big one and would you agree like strength training in the evening for women is not the best time because of that association with cortisol, like I often suggest doing it in the morning so that if there is any increase in cortisol that it's happening at a more physiologically normal time of day?

Dr. Maria Luque: 15:08

Well, I'm always careful with those recommendations, just because there's a mental benefit to the resistance training right. So it's like if you set the parameter of well in the evening, it's better than some people. I'm incredibly discouraged at that point because they're like well, I'm just not an evening person, I don't have time, so I might as well not do it right. So I'm always like, if you can make it any time of the day that works for you 30 minutes, 40 minutes and if we keep the workouts short, you're not going to get that cortisol output like you would. That said, you're absolutely right. Most everyone benefits from earlier workouts. Like working out really close to bedtime kind of gets you. Also. It gets you like energized. So it might not be the best time, but some people get tired like they feel really good it's that you know and then they can go to sleep. So if the mental aspect is that you get a stress relief and you do you might get a better workout in the evening.

But you're right. So there's a general perspective. I would say it's probably easier in the morning. However, get your workout in whenever you can. Keep them short, keep them short and make them intense. So it's just like high intensity workouts, heavier workouts for shorter periods of time is much better than those long bouts on the treadmill for two hours where you're really not doing anything. So, yes, but so I would always say to people if you have an hour because some people are only have an hour well, they make that two 30 minute workouts. It's also more doable, right? If you have 30 minutes, you can hop on your bike or you can get in the wherever you're doing and grab your kettlebell and do something for 30 minutes.

Jenn Salib Huber: 16:47

So let's talk about like do ability, because what you were talking about you know three times a week for 12 weeks and I totally appreciate what you're saying about not making that like a hard and fast rule. I think that for a lot of listeners to this podcast but certainly conversations that I've had with people who are, you know, recovering from diet culture that all or nothing thinking really can sometimes take over and like oh, I have any, it's Thursday and I haven't even gotten it in once yet. I'm just going to wait till next week to start.

Or I did three weeks and then missed a week. Oh, those three weeks don't count, you know, and it's you know. We know that that isn't the way. You know it happens. Any movement counts, and I'm saying that in air quotes. So how? How do you have conversations around having the flexibility for life getting in the way of the best late intentions, and how do you stay focused on the longterm goal of even if I only do this twice a month, it's better than none, right? Like, how, how can we keep people out of that all or nothing thinking with strength training, because it is the long game that we're playing?

Staying Out of All Or Nothing Thinking with Strength Training

Dr. Maria Luque: 17:53

Yes. Well, for me it is always the always the questioning, not questioning that sounds harsh. But when someone feels bad about not having done the workout and I completely agree with you I think flexibility is the must for any kind of new habits or anything you have to be able to say, well, I didn't do it the three times but I'm going to do it two times, or like set a goal, and then be able to say I didn't do it. But then kind of asking the questions, gentle questions of why didn't I get to do it? And it's okay not to have done it, but it's just like investigating a little bit of maybe there was fear involved, maybe there was that self-sabotage involved, maybe there was. So I do feel like it requires a little bit of looking inside and analyzing. So I always talk to my clients when they are hard on themselves of just, first of all, self-care, right, be kind to yourself. Let's see why you didn't work out. There was probably a good reason. And then, third, how can we change that? And maybe change that you set yourself for 30 minutes. How about next week we just aim for 10 minutes? Like, how do we make it to where that first initial step of like just getting that movement in.

Yeah, like sometimes for some clients of mine that are on the computer pretty much all the time because that's their work, and I mean we see more of that right With the pandemic. What if you, every time you get up off your chair, you do 10 squats onto your chair? Boom, I mean that's it and that's all I say. Like that's it, that's the whole goal for today or for the next week is for you. Every time you get up, you do 10 squats.

Every time you go and sit down, you do another 10 squats. Don't think about it, don't count it, just do it and then feel how it goes. And then I feel like those tiny little, it's like a tiny little adjustment. It makes a huge difference. Because then they come back and they're like, oh, isn't that hard, and I, you know you didn't have that hard goal of I needed to work out for 30 minutes, sit down, do it, go somewhere and do it, because that can be scary, like the OK, now I'm going to get up and go work out and that's scary. So how about we implement some stuff into your daily routine that might just it's like a hidden nugget really.

Jenn Salib Huber: 20:07

And also just the science of habit. Stacking right, you know, like what are you already doing, that we can add to that, we'll start to make that association in your mind, right? So you know, I think the idea of you know every time you get up, or you know when you take a break, or you know, I had one person who said that they, they, what they did is they had a little egg timer, but it was in the shape of a dumbbell. They found it, or they found it, but they actually put it next to their water bottle. And so you know, when they had like some hand weights in their office and so when they went to refill their water bottle, they would stop and they would do like some, you know, standing lunges with their weights or things like that.

And I think that those little kinds of like cues is how we form habits and that's when it becomes with anything. When it becomes easy is when it's a habit. And so if you're not in the habit of doing these things, it might take some intention and some planning, but it doesn't have to be perfect. All of it counts. So anything that you do is worthwhile doing, even if you don't get up at 530 in the morning and manage, for you know, five hours a week.

Simple Ways to Incorporate Movement Throughout the Day

Dr. Maria Luque: 21:15

Yeah, I think it is. Also it's you write. It's intimidating because there's a lot of people that that's how they function and then other people feel like that is the only way to do it. The same with resistance training. Right, when you say strength training or resistance training, a lot of people immediately think someone in a CrossFit gym lifting some heavy weights or doing something like that is the instant thing that they think about. And a lot of my clients hate going to the gym, always have you can't get them in there. And we do outdoor work. Yeah, we do outdoor workouts, we do social workouts, we do like it's like those kinds of things where really we're trying to figure out how can we kind of almost sometimes hide the resistance training in a social activity to where it's like we're just getting together so we can gossip but we're working out and so those kinds of things. But I do feel like the like bundling, like you were saying, is like kind of like that habit.

Stacking or bundling things is one of the most successful ways to really get create that kind of association that strength training isn't really that difficult and that we already do it anyway. And I think that when we are able to. But I think the missing piece is also the connection, like the intentional connection, of how does it make us feel right when you do those 10 squats or you do those dumbbell curls or whatever that you're doing, or lunges. How do you feel after? I mean, you've been doing it for a week like that. Those are my questions. You get gentle questions to yourself how did it make me feel? Was it that difficult? And then when you pass that hurl of just like you know what it felt really good, it was doable, like it's something I can do. Then you automatically I feel like, well, maybe next time I do 20 squats or maybe I do so. It automatically creates this kind of like positive reinforcement of the feeling. Like I think, when we connect the feeling yeah, that's where the magic happens.

Jenn Salib Huber: 23:04

Yeah, it's all about that, but and you know, and I think that it's also important to that, you know, for women in, you know, midlife or really any stage, if you haven't explored a midlife relationship with movement or strength training, please don't compare it to your 20 year old self, Because what I did at 20 and 25 isn't applicable or relevant to my life. You know, going to a 60 minute step class in my university gym, you know, because that's what everyone did, or you know, those kinds of things, look at, that just doesn't fit into my life barely fit into my life then, but it just doesn't fit into my life. And having the flexibility of what is it that I want to feel and what do I want to accomplish, there are many paths to roam. You know, a year ago I tore my meniscus and this you know, like as I'm recovering from surgery as we speak.

But you know, the advice I was given was that you have to stop running, which was fair, and you really can't do anything. High impact anymore because the more impact on this torn meniscus until we get it fixed. You know, you're like advancing your arthritis. You know, like light speed and all of a sudden I was thrown into like I couldn't do the things that I just were part of my life and I really had to like explore.

Okay, I can still get that feeling of feeling strong and feeling like I've moved my body in a way that feels really good, without running and jumping lunges. You know, I had to do that and it was funny, though, because I saw a video that you'd posted, I think, today and you're doing these jumping lunges and I was like, oh, I miss those, you know. But at the same time, like I can still do lunges, I can still do those things that still give me the feeling of being strong, having the flexibility that even what I do now may not be, you know what I can do in 10 years, but if I focus on the end goal and what I'm feeling, I don't worry about if it has to change for whatever reason, right? So that's, I think, kind of the mindset of joyful movement versus movement for weight loss.

Keeping the Focus on Joyful Movement, Not Intensity

Dr. Maria Luque: 25:13

Yeah, absolutely. I mean all of those things that you say is I'm about to launch my masterclass, which is based on that exploring. We want to explore your association and with with movement, as it was like old pack called the old passions what did you like to do? But how can we? Because, like, for instance, I have a herniated disc in my neck, I have dislocated shoulders, I have a labral tear in my hip, like those things like what you were describing. I felt the pain with you because I've been there and it psychologically it's such a hard hurdle because you're thinking, well, now I can't do anything anymore at night, I never going to find joy in movement again. But it's exploring why we felt that joy. Right, like sometimes is if someone liked I don't know, like the marathon running or the running, was it the social aspect, if you were in a social group, right, it's like, how can we replicate those feelings that you had with that type of movement and create a new, new movement that works with it?

Yeah, you might not do jumps, but you might still be able to do the line. That is the really great way to looking at things. But those are essential steps, I think, especially in midlife, because by the time we're late 40s, 50s, 60s there's a chance we've had injuries. There's a chance we've had surgeries. There's a chance we've had other things happening that cannot that prevent us from doing things that we may have really loved doing. So there's got to be some thinking and some honesty within ourselves and saying, well, why was it so good, why did I love it so much, and how can I find something else that does it Right? You want to replicate that feeling and that does become. It's hard, right, but there's people like you and other people out there, and I'm out there, I'm trying to help, so that we're trying to help to kind of get the conversation going and really trying to feel like we can do this. There's a community out there we can find out.

Jenn Salib Huber: 27:08

Thank you so much. So, before we end, and before you tell everyone where they can find you, what do you think is the missing ingredient in midlife? I think I have an idea what you're going to say.

The Missing Ingredient According to Maria

Dr. Maria Luque: 27:19

Well, I know it's fun. Fun is the missing ingredient. It is. I can't even if I mean. Anyone that follows me on Instagram knows that I have the biggest smile on my face when I work out. You do. I'm trying to make it silly, Like to me, it's silly and so that is. If you find the fun, it doesn't matter. Nothing else matters. That is the missing ingredient in everything.

Jenn Salib Huber: 27:41

Yes, oh, I love that. Thank you so much. So where can people find you if they want to learn more about your approach and your? You mentioned a master class.

Dr. Maria Luque: 27:50

What's the best point? Yes, I'm on my website at fitnessandmenopausecom, and I'm also on Instagram and Dr D R Maria Luque, and then Facebook the same and I'm on LinkedIn and all of those social things, but Instagram is probably the best, and then my website. You can sign up for my newsletter and the waitlist for my course that's starting in April 1st. It's launching Awesome. I'm so excited.

Jenn Salib Huber: 28:14

So hope to see you, and I'll have all those links in the show notes for anyone who is looking for them. Thank you so much. Thank you so much for joining us today, and I know that you'll have inspired lots of people to move in midlife.

Dr. Maria Luque: 28:27

I love it. Thank you so much for having me. It was great.

Jenn Salib Huber: 28:31

Thanks for tuning in to this episode of the midlife feast. If you're looking for help with menopause nutrition or just want to figure out how to make peace with food and midlife, check the show notes so you can learn about how to work with me and sign up for one of my group programs. And just a reminder that, beyond the scale, my most popular group program will be starting up again in May and registration opens mid March, so make sure to get on the waiting list if you'd like to be the first to hear about it.


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