February 01, 2007


Muscle Your Way Through Menopause…and Beyond. By Judith Sherman-Wolin. Da Capo. $17.95.

      This book has only one idea. But it happens to be the idea for women facing or going through menopause – or having passed through it. The idea is to exercise regularly to keep your muscles toned and your strength up, so that the negative aspects of menopausal and post-menopausal life will be minimized.

      Fitness instructor Judith Sherman-Wolin’s book is designed to show women how to implement the advice that their doctors are sure to give them: stay active to stay healthy. The hormonal changes that bring menopause about can slow a woman’s metabolism, sap her energy, reduce her strength and make her vulnerable to falls, broken bones and a significant deterioration in her quality of life.

      It doesn’t have to be that way. There is no “magic bullet” to make the process smoother – hormone therapy, once thought to be the solution, was shown in recent years to be fraught with its own problems and to be useful mainly in small doses for a limited amount of time. What women need to do, as Sherman-Wolin points out, is to exercise more regularly and in a more focused way than ever before, not to stave off aging (no one can do that) but to stave off the feelings of weakness and deteriorating physical condition that make a woman look and feel older than she really is.

      Doctors tend to urge regular exercise without getting into the specifics of what to do and how to do it. Those are the specifics that Sherman-Wolin provides in Section One of her book – using photo illustrations that, thankfully, include women of the age range for which this book is intended. Rating each exercise on a scale of one to three dumbbells (one is least challenging, three is most), Sherman-Wolin presents activities that focus on specific muscle areas: legs, hips, buttocks, chest, back, arms and so on. She includes both exercises using equipment and ones that require nothing but the body itself. Each description tells how to do the exercise and – this is particularly handy – explains just what muscles it works, how hard it is to do, what equipment (if any) it requires, what body position to do it in, and what to watch out for when doing it (Sherman-Wolin calls this “form watch”). The simple presentation, clear page layout and straightforward photo illustrations make the exercises easy to try.

      Less effective are the introductory pages to each section, in which Sherman-Wolin explains why women should do these exercises. If you are not already convinced of the importance of working your muscles, Sherman-Wolin will not provide much motivation – she has nothing new to say here and no new way to say it. A more serious flaw in the book comes in Section Two, “The 6-Week Body & Health Reclamation Programs,” which offers three forms of an “anti-aging workout system.” This section is as intimidating as the preceding ones is user-friendly. Packed with page after page of type – no illustrations – the “Reclamation Programs” look like pages out of a fitness trainer’s handbook, with columns for sets, reps, heart-rate goal, hold time and more, including different requirements at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels. There is nothing wrong with the exercise programs themselves (although the “anti-aging” title is an overdone cliché); but coming in the wake of so many pages of easy-to-use, approachable exercise recommendations, the Section Two programs are off-putting and seem more like demands than recommendations. Sherman-Wolin is right about the importance of exercise during and after menopause (and before it, for that matter). But her book is really two works: a friendly, engaging and helpful one and a forceful, demanding one. It would be more effective as one or the other.

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