penny barnshaw garage fitness girl

Sleep, Stress & Strength Training: The keys to unlocking Fat Loss in your 40’s


You train hard and eat well but your usual exercise & diet tricks aren’t shifting the weight? 

In fact, it feels like they’re making things worse.

No, it’s not in your head.

The physical changes that occur in our bodies during midlife are real.

It’s understandable to feel depressed and discouraged when despite your best efforts to eat less and workout more, nothing seems to change. 

I can relate because that was me 6 months ago.

My stress and anxiety levels were through the roof.

I was having regular heart palpitations & my weight was creeping up.

My usual high-intensity workouts were leaving me feeling exhausted and miserable.

Despite tracking my macros and eating a healthy diet my belly fat was increasing and I started noticing more and more cellulite covering my entire body.

I was at a loss as to what was happening and it was taking a toll on my mental health.

I knew there had to be a better way and that I had to think outside of the “Eat Less, Exercise More” box to see real change.

That’s when I changed my approach to what I’m calling the Sleep, Stress, Strength Blueprint.

Sleep Tight

I remember being in my 20’s and saying things like “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”.

I put sleep deprivation up on a pedestal. Not understanding how critically important it was to both my physical and mental health.

Fast forward to my 40’s where most days were spent thinking how “I’d kill to get more sleep”.

(It would almost be funny if it wasn’t so seriously important).

As a fitness professional of 20 years, I’ve always recommended exercise as one of the best ways to lose weight.

But in Peri/menopause our bodies are different.

We’re often so exhausted from not SLEEPING that exercise is the last thing we care about or want to do.

Not sleeping disrupts the hormones that fat burn overnight.

When we don’t sleep our blood pressure and heart rate stay up which increases hormones (insulin and cortisol) which impact weight gain.

When we’re stressed from not sleeping our testosterone and cortisol levels increase which keeps belly fat going up.

If we aren’t sleeping, muscle loss increases which affects our metabolism. 

As we lose muscle density, the number and size of mitochondrial cells (cells that store oxygen where fat is burned) decrease.

All these factors combined have the greatest impact on our health & weight gain.

If we want to start losing weight we have to focus on sleep first.

Some things that worked for me:

  • Implemented a screen curfew 30 minutes before bed
  • Implemented a caffeine curfew
  • Created a bedtime routine
  • Made my room cool & dark
  • Started taking magnesium 30 minutes before sleep

Stress Less

If you feel stressed & anxious all the time and find yourself constantly worried about your increasing tummy fat, it might be linked to the sneaky culprit known as cortisol (your stress hormone).

Elevated cortisol levels prompt an increase in blood sugar, pushing our bodies into fat-storage mode.

Finding ways to manage your stress is key to taking back control of your body.

It involves more than just watching what you eat or how much you exercise.

Some things that helped me:

  • Took back my mornings (no phone before)

~ meditation

~ Journaling

~ Walking (movement – this could be stretching/dancing/gardening)

  • No news in the morning just music
  • Swapped HIIT for strength workouts
  • Unfollowed people that gave me comparison-itis
  • Social media free weekends
  • Gave myself a coffee curfew
  • Started taking play breaks through the day with the puppies (no phone allowed)

Build to Burn

Halfway through 2022 I hit a mental and physical wall.

My weight was creeping up and the mere thought of having to film and put myself through another HIIT workout gave me massive anxiety.

I was confused as to why I suddenly wasn’t coping with the exercise that I’d been doing for years.

I was motivated to exercise, but working out was much harder than it used to be, and it would leave me feeling exhausted rather than energized. 

On top of that, the exercise I was doing seemed to be having the opposite effect on my weight.

I spent 6 months thinking that maybe I was just being lazy and that I needed to try harder and be more disciplined.

But the more I tried the worse I felt.

Turns out I wasn’t just being lazy and I didn’t need to summon up more willpower.

Research has shown that the wrong exercise can actually lead to weight gain, increased belly fat and worsening heart health.   

I realized that the high-intensity workouts I thought were best for burning fat and keeping me in shape were raising my cortisol levels to the point where I was storing fat instead of burning it.

Once I understood the hormonal shifts I was experiencing and accepted that I was in fact “perimenopausal“, I knew I had to change my approach to exercise and focus on my health.

That’s when I decided to quit doing HIIT workouts and switched to an exercise plan that focused on building muscle and burning fat without leaving me feeling exhausted.

I did 5x workouts a week for 45 minutes max that included moderate weight training (8-12 rep range) for hypertrophy (muscle building) and heavy strength training (3-6 rep range) workouts for building strength, and power and increased metabolic rate and I complimented that with walking outside, on my treadmill or by doing a YouTube walking workout for 30-60 minutes every day for my heart (and mental) health.

I noticed changes immediately.

My anxiety decreased because I no longer felt stressed about putting my body through exhaustive routines that I hated (I started looking forward to training).

I started sleeping again – Deep, restorative sleep.

My weight stabilised and the appearance of cellulite improved dramatically.

Most importantly, my energy returned and I started feeling like myself again.

Even now I’m still shocked at how such small tweaks to my lifestyle have had such a big impact on my weight and overall health.

You don’t have to implement all of these strategies at once.

If you’re not sleeping or feel chronically stressed, focus your energy on creating healing habits in those areas first before moving on to creating an exercise routine that will help build you up rather than burn you out.

Every small step taken and implemented is a step in the right direction toward empowering yourself and fostering a positive lifestyle for a healthier, happier you through Peri/menopause.

If you want to try some weight training workouts designed specifically for those over 40 check out this 30-Minute Weight Training Workout Over 40 or Full Body Compound Lifts for Fat Loss | Over 40 Weight Training or for workouts I’ve designed with Peri/menopausal women in mind try this Powerful Perimenopause Workout on YouTube and for more tips and tricks to help you navigate your Peri/menopause journey be sure to follow me over on Instagram.

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