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How Women Can Get Fitter and Sleep Better as They Age: Sleepin’ It Real, Episode 4

By Seth Davis

adult sleep, adult sleep coach, cortisol, perimenopause, womens fitness

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Welcome back to the Sleepin’ It Real podcast. In this episode, fitness rockstar Mahri Relin joins us to discuss how aging impacts women’s sleep and how the right approach to fitness can help to improve women’s sleep during perimenopause. Mahri runs a women’s fitness studio called Body Conceptions that uses dance to create a fun and motivating exercise routine.

About Body Conceptions

First, we asked Mahri to share about her business and what she does there: “My business is called Body Conceptions. I started it almost eleven years now in New York City, and now we’ve expanded to Denver and San Diego. We began originally as a dance fitness company. You don’t have to be a dancer in any way to do it. We just use dance principles and music-driven exercises.”

“But when we began, we were really focusing on prenatal fitness and postpartum recovery. Then, when I moved to Denver, I expanded my interest in fertility as well as perimenopause. My special interest is in women’s lives and those transitions when they could really use support, especially from fitness. We do primarily private training or small group fitness. We do some in-person work, especially in New York City, Denver, and San Diego. But we [also] work virtually, which has really been a great benefit post-pandemic. 

What is Perimenopause?

Women’s bodies go through a lot of changes during perimenopause, so Mahri’s passion is to provide support throughout that transition: “Perimenopause can be a really extended period of time. It can start for some women in their 30s and go until women reach their mid to upper 50s. But it’s a time when hormones tend to be sort of all over the place and somewhat unpredictable. And especially as you get closer to menopause, certain kinds of things happen that can really disrupt your sleep. It can make you feel extra anxious and cause weight gain and breast tenderness. There are so many different symptoms that women can experience in perimenopause that really interested me and especially that intersection with fitness.”

How Does Cortisol Affect Women’s Sleep?

Cortisol is a stress hormone that can make it difficult to fall and stay asleep, so Mahri tries to address cortisol production in her workout plans: “Often when you have lower estrogen levels, cortisol levels go up. Cortisol also interacts with melatonin. So, in general, this can look like middle-of-the-night wake-ups where you suddenly wake up, and you don’t know exactly what’s going on, and you can kind of spin out, and you can’t you have trouble falling back asleep. But what we’re interested in from a fitness perspective is how cortisol factors into this because fitness can increase cortisol levels, especially high-intensity fitness. And what often happens to women also during this time as they experience some weight gain.”

“So a lot of women turn to not eating and over-exercising. And what happens is, especially with high levels of cardio and really high-intensity fitness, is that it increases cortisol. So it actually has the potential to achieve the exact opposite of what you want. If you’re doing high levels of cardio and your cortisol levels are going higher, then that can further disrupt your sleep and lead to further weight gain. So what we need to do is look at our fitness differently in different ways than we ever have before as women and potentially consider doing lower-impact fitness and more muscular work.”

On Listening to Your Body

Mahri sees a lot of women overworking themselves to try to counteract the changes in their bodies, but this can do more harm than good: “This mentality like, ‘I have to ignore my body signals. I have to not listen to the pain I’m experiencing; that is the only way to achieve change.’ We think we have to experience pain to have change. And instead, helping prepare ourselves for things like sleeping and resting later by really listening to what we want to do can actually create a more effective fitness experience.”

Making Exercise Fun

Mahri believes that finding ways to work out that bring you joy can help decrease cortisol and improve women’s health: “I’ll tell people, find songs, music that you absolutely love. I personally choose higher energy songs, things that are a little bit faster, because it gets me to move. You might choose whatever it is that makes you happy. Maybe it’s even a sadder song, but whatever it is, make a playlist of your absolute favorite songs and then just let yourself move to that music naturally. And in many ways, just noticing how your body wants to move naturally helps you learn, even on a bigger scale, what does your body like and want to do?”

“It can literally be walking every day, especially if you can walk outside in the morning, get your melatonin levels balanced and in check, and feel the sun. And these are certain things that you can do that really set you up on so many levels for more hormone balance and, then again, better sleep.”

How do You Cope with Your Sleep Issues?

Mahri shares about her own relationship with sleep: “My issue is that I fall asleep, and then I wake up in the middle of the night. So I do a number of things. I fall asleep, actually, by going through a progressive relaxation exercise. And I think this really does tie into my connection with my body and my work and fitness. But I’ll literally go through from the top of my head all the way down my body, through my toes, and I’m really paying attention to each part of my body that potentially holds tension. So for me, it’s usually my jaw, the corners of my eyes, and my shoulders. So I actually have to really look at and think about each part of that body and relax it.”

Advice for Women Going Through Perimenopause

The biggest piece of advice Mahri shares for women going through these changes is to find a community: “What’s really incredible is realizing that you’re not alone. It helps me to talk to my friends or my clients and let them know that these symptoms they’re experiencing are not unique to them, that a lot of people are going through that.”

“And having a group of people around you who can support you in this reduces anxiety, and it also really helps inform you about what to do to help support your hormone balance and get through it.”

More from Mahri

This is just part of our amazing and educational conversation with Mahri Relin, so make sure to listen to the complete podcast. You can also connect with Mahri on her website or using Facebook or Instagram. She offers free 20-minute fitness consultations, or you can DM her on Instagram with your questions. Make sure to follow us on Facebook or Instagram as well to keep up with our latest podcast episodes. 

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