Be Well

Women are not small men

Women's Wellness: Embracing Individuality at Be Well Hawthorn

I have noticed almost everyone who sets up a gym, spa, pilates studio or wellness centre is a former athlete, sportsperson, PT, physio, a long committed gym junkie or has come from one of these places prior to establishing their own.

About 70% of these people are also male, although 54.3% of their members are female with the majority being 18 – 35 years of age, with a major decline in participation from there on in.

We’re all outliers at Be Well. In more ways than one! Not only by our gender and age demographic but also our fitness stories. I have been a consistent yogi over many decades and David had been a triathlete and marathon runner in his much younger years, but you would never have caught either of us at a gym or doing Pilates or resistance training.

Only this week two female Members reminded me they too have never been to a ‘gym’ in their life, have never loved exercise and never had time to pursue their wellbeing. They told me how much Be Well have changed their lives. How they feel happier, healthier and stronger after only a few short months.

When we opened Be Well two years ago fresh out of Covid and the longest lockdown in the world, David, who had had a heart attack in 2017, had been researching health and longevity for several years. I, on the other hand, looked like every bit of the comfort food I ate to survive those years, the limited exercise sitting on Zoom for 10 hours a day, and time spent caring for my 86 year old father-in-law and family.

Unlike in my 20’s, 30’s or 40’s, it’s taken me a focused year to shed my extra Covid Ks. I totally neglected to take into account post-menopause. It takes physical and emotional time to reset and its a shock not to have the bounce-back-body I relied upon when I was younger!

I have seen so many physical, mental and physiological changes in our Members since we opened the doors of Be Well nearly two years ago. There is still very limited research and information, particularly about women like my mother who had children, raised families, went through menopause, did some grandmothering and then pretty much faded into the curtains. No one anticipated the need for an entire New Chapter in health due to most of us living well into our 90’s from here on in.

We’re all on journey to a new frontier and women need to rethink their health and fitness plan.

Dr Peter Attia is all the buzz globally with his book Live, which is great, but I’ve been interested in learning more about women’s health and longevity over the past few years. I’ve discovered way more about my health from Dr Stacy Sims, nutritionist, exercise physiologist and leading expert on women’s exercise science than from any of the ‘guru’ blokes trying to find the fountain of youth.

‘Women are not small men’.

Stacy coined that phrase. She is an incredibly knowledgeable researcher and practitioner in womens health and fitness with peri-menopause, menopause and post-menopause areas of specialty. Here’s just two golden quotes and one myth-buster from a recent interview I listened to:

“It’s all about our hormones: Estrogen acts on a woman like testosterone acts on a man when we’re talking about lean mass. And we know that lean mass is one of the first things to go in menopause. A lot of women will say, I don’t know what happened. I’ve been doing the same things and all of a sudden I’m squishy!

Women start to see these changes in their bodies and try to exercise more, or eat less, or follow fad diets. This doesn’t work because its not about metabolism per se. It’s about how hormones are affecting the basic cell of the muscle fiber. Estrogen is responsible for stimulating that basic muscle cell to grow and develop. It’s also responsible for how two proteins come together – actin and myosin – they bond together and shorten the fibers and that’s what causes your muscle contraction.

Estrogen is responsible for how myosin attaches to actin. So when we start to have different levels of estrogen, the combination of actin and myosin is thrown off. We don’t have as much strength because we can’t stimulate the muscle fibers to contract as strongly as they used to.”

“Women need some muscle: women have to be very specific regarding exercise before, during, after menopause. Why? Because we need to invoke a response to build lean muscle mass. We need to invoke a response to maintain and build our bones. We need to invoke a response that’s going to help with our serotonin and our norepinephrine – these two are tightly tied to hot flushes. We also want to invoke a stress that’s going to change our gut microbiome, because we see a significant decrease in diversity, especially in late peri-menopause.

The more muscle you have, the better your blood sugar control. We see how it changes the diversity of our gut microbiome. It improves brain health and yes, you’re going to look better. You’re going to get some definition, you’re going to be stronger.

And it’s just so important to break that socio-cultural idea that women shouldn’t be lifting weights.”

“Fasted training: the aging trajectory for men is different to women, and the responses are different. Fasting before exercise is one of the things I really want to push back on. When women do fasted training the first thing to go is your lean muscle mass. And after four days of fasted training, we end up with a decrease in our thyroid


Doctors often tell women they should do fasted training for mitochondrial

health and to lose weight.
It’s based on male data. When we look at female data it’s a different story.”

You can dive into Dr Stacy Sims, her book ROAR and podcasts more yourself – you’ll learn an entire new scientific language besides anything, else but also fascinating information about women’s health. Turns out we’re definitely not just small men 😉

Our mantra ‘your lifestyle is your medicine’ remains a critical and fundamental anchor in all the research and evidence we read. Be Well’s mission is to make lifelong health simple, clear and accessible for you so that you can live life to the full.

Look forward to seeing you at Be Well again soon!

Be Well is the first-of-its- kind urban health, wellness and lifestyle club in Melbourne, Australia.  Informed by the science of longevity, Be Well nurtures the relationship you have with yourself and others, to optimise your lifestyle, and live your longest, best life.