Ep. 307 Metabolic Health, Muscle, and Strength with JJ Virgin

Your trusted source for nutrition, wellness, and mindset for thriving health.

I am delighted to have my friend, colleague, and mentor, JJ Virgin, joining me on the podcast again today! She last appeared in Episode 112, back in August 2020.  

JJ is a thriving and influential health and wellness expert. She is a multiple New York Times best-selling author and triple board-certified nutrition expert who earned a place in the Fitness Hall of Fame.

In our conversation today, we debunk some common misconceptions around weight loss, discussing the role of muscle and examining the importance of macro management- particularly in the context of perimenopause and menopause. We explore the art of aging powerfully and share some great hacks for navigating middle age, including our favorite supplements, like creatine monohydrate. We also look into the value of doing flexibility work like Pilates and yoga, the latest research on grip strength and its implications for overall strength, and the impact of chronic stress, and we share some effective strategies for tackling cellulite.

“When you think of aging powerfully, it’s not just how you move in the muscles you have. It’s how you show up in the space you take in the world.”

– JJ Virgin


  • Where have we gone wrong with weight loss?
  • The optimal amount of strength training for perimenopausal and menopausal women 
  • How changing your macros in middle age is the key to mastering your metabolism, maintaining muscle, and maintaining insulin sensitivity
  • Three things that must happen for you to age powerfully
  • Why is it best to eat the protein in a meal first?
  • Foods that positively impact the metabolism
  • The benefits of taking a creatine monohydrate supplement
  • How Pilates and yoga help with flexibility, strength, and muscle-building 
  • How grip strength correlates with overall strength
  • The importance of thinking strategically about how we move as we get older
  • How to counter the effects of stress and chronic cortisol elevation during perimenopause and menopause
  • How to deal with cellulite

Connect with Cynthia Thurlow

Connect with JJ Virgin

Previous Episode Mentioned

Ep. 112 – Your Body Is Not A Bank Account – with JJ Virgin


Cynthia Thurlow: [00:00:02] Welcome to Everyday Wellness podcast. I’m your host, Nurse Practitioner, Cynthia Thurlow. This podcast is designed to educate, empower, and inspire you to achieve your health and wellness goals. My goal and intent, is to provide you with the best content and conversations from leaders in the health and wellness industry each week and impact over a million lives.

[00:00:29] Today, I am joined by my friend, colleague, and mentor, JJ Virgin. She last joined me on the podcast unbelievably in August of 2020, Episode 112. JJ is one of the most proliferative health and wellness experts. She is a multi-New York Times bestselling author. She is a triple board-certified nutrition expert and Fitness Hall of Famer.

[00:00:54] Today, we spoke at great length about what we have gotten wrong about weight loss, the role of muscle, the importance of macro management, especially in perimenopause and menopause, how to age powerfully, several important hacks for navigating middle age, some of our favorite supplements including creatine monohydrate, the role of flexibility work including Pilates and yoga, recent research on grip strength correlating with overall strength, the influence of chronic stress and how to address cellulite. I know you will enjoy this conversation as much as I did recording it.

[00:01:35] JJ, I would love to ask you, what have we gotten all wrong about weight loss?

JJ Virgin: [00:01:41] Whoa.

Cynthia Thurlow: [00:01:42] I think that this is something that is so interesting. And I’ve started talking about more on the podcast that it’s such a hot topic. What have we gotten wrong about weight loss?

JJ Virgin: [00:01:51] It should be. And now, 40 years into this weight loss stuff, I am convinced that what we’re really doing is looking at the wrong thing. And you think about it like, let’s look at heart health, totally typical or totally similar situation what was it, 30 years ago we looked at total cholesterol and went, “Oh my gosh, you’re at risk.” And that’s what we’re doing with weight. We are not looking at what the weight is made up of. We are just looking at weight and losing weight. And if someone really wants to lose weight, think about it. What’s the best thing they could do? They could just have a little IV drip of glucose, just enough so they wouldn’t get really crazy blood sugar, sit on the couch, do nothing, [chuckles] and you will lose weight. You’ll lose a lot of muscle. Did you get better? No, you didn’t get better.

[00:02:42] So I think what we really have to go think about is and this was a statement that I’m going to credit to Dr. Diana Schwarzbein, who I was so fortunate to work with 20 years ago. And she said this, and I remember at the time thinking, that is going to be really hard to sell. She said, “You do not lose weight to get healthy. You have to get healthy to lose weight.” And really because you’re unpacking well in order for you to hold on to or better yet build muscle, which we should all be striving to put on more muscle, especially us women. That should be our biggest goal is to pack on as much muscle as we possibly can because it is not easy. And in 40 years of taking people to the gym, I have yet to see a woman get bigger with strength training. It has never happened. But if we focused on that and then having people lose body fat, which would naturally happen if you’ve got better muscle, if you’ve changed your muscle quality so that it’s a fillet, not a ribeye, if it’s more insulin sensitive, you’re going to have better metabolism, better able to burn fat. That’s it.

Cynthia Thurlow: [00:03:48] And it’s interesting because we’ve been kind of contrived in this diet culture, that it’s all about the number on the scale. And I am frequently starting to say the scale is a liar. Unless you’re on a bioimpedance scale, it doesn’t give you an accurate depiction or reflection of how much lean muscle mass you have on your body. And I think for a lot of individuals, especially women, especially middle-aged women, when they lose weight, they don’t understand what they’re actually losing is muscle. And muscle is this incredible currency for our bodies. And so, when you’re talking about building muscle and how important muscle is, the byproduct of this incredible organ that allows us to reduce oxidative stress, have less inflammation, understanding it’s so important for metabolic flexibility and helping people understand that if you’re building lean muscle, you may very likely also be reducing your body fat percentage. The scale may fluctuate and that can very much be a reflection of this lean muscle tissue that you’re building. And so, when we’re talking about this lean muscle tissue, how often are we talking about lifting weights? Like, what is an optimal amount of strength training for a perimenopausal or menopausal female to be doing?

JJ Virgin: [00:05:05] So, first off, I think the most important thing you can do is know your starting point. I just had to go in to have a hysterectomy. So, I hadn’t been into the doctor’s offices, the typical ones, because the doctor I go to, our buddy Dr. Lisa Koche, of course, has an invite. And they put me on a scale. I’m like, “Why are they even putting me on a scale? [laughter] What’s the point of this?” But each time they put me on the scale, I go “This is unbelievable in 2023 that we are still doing this.” So, the very first thing is, gosh, shouldn’t it be standard of care that at least annually you are getting a DEXA scan? Because you might even think, “Oh, I weigh the same as I weighed in my 20s, but it’s not the same weight.” So that’s number one. Number two, then take those numbers and correlate them with your bioimpedance scale at home because it’s not going to be as accurate, but it doesn’t matter you’re looking for the relative change.

[00:05:56] And then you do that every day and you take the average over a week and you don’t freak out if one day your weight went up 3 pounds like I got gluten the other night and boom, my weight is up 3 pounds the next day, I did not gain 3 pounds of fat. [laughs] So we need to really calm down about that and really think of the scale as a biometric tool. That’s all. It is not a mean friend. It’s not judging you. It’s a biometric tool. Having said that, I think we need to really think about muscle differently. And everything I’m doing now is around aging powerfully. And the reason I chose that word specifically is because as we age, we are losing muscle mass. However, we’re losing even more strength and even more power. And the statistics are somewhere around up to 1% of muscle mass, 2 to 4% strength and 6% to 8% power. And so, muscle mass obviously is the size of your muscle. And we want quality muscle. We don’t want bigger muscles with fat in them. Again, you don’t want the ribeye, you want the fillet.

[00:06:59] The muscle strength is how much you can lift in one repetition max. Can you pick that heavy thing up off the floor? That’s strength. Power is how fast you can do it. It’s that explosive speed. It’s that ability to quickly shift out of the way or quickly correct yourself. And when you think about it, and you think about just the statistics of hip fractures, obviously we’re so worried about bone density. If you fix your muscle, you fix your bones. So, let’s worry about– the bones are a lagging indicator. The muscle is the early indicator of a problem. And so, if we work on creating this power that helps us shift out of the way quickly, we are going to be in way better shape. And again, it’s a little different than training for strength or training for hypertrophy. Not that you can’t do all of them, but as I’m starting to rethink, I literally just built out an addition in the house so that I would have a really big area to tape exercise videos, and I’m putting together a new fitness program. And I’ve been really thinking about, “All right, what is the biggest, most important thing?”

[00:08:08] Now, if you are very deconditioned, you could work out once a week and it would make a difference. The more conditioned you are, the harder you have to work to make a change, but the easier it is for you to maintain what you have. Like I liken aging as a big snowball going down a steep hill, [chuckles] and you do not want to go down the steep hill. You want the hill to be kind of a bunny hill or flat. And so, the more muscle is leveling out the hill, but it’s also harder to move once you have the flat. So ideally for me, I divided the body into four parts. Upper body pushing that’s things like push-ups and dips. Upper body pulling, things like pull ups and bent over rows, hip and thigh hinging, things like squats and deadlifts and then power core. And power core I really actually don’t focus on as much because if you’re doing those other things correctly, if you’re doing a push up, you’re doing a plank. If you’re doing a squat, you’re working your abs, you’re working your core, ditto a pull up.

[00:09:09] So if you’re doing these things correctly, you’re actually pulling your core in. And the reality is, when you’re going to work out, you are not training to better at training, like you are training to get better at life. And so, the things that I’ve just talked about are the things that we do in life. We have to pick something up off the floor. I mean that’s clear. We have to get up off the toilet or out of a small car. You have to be able to use your arm. So all of those things are integrated in so that you can do it in a controlled environment, so that in life you don’t get hurt when you do it in an uncontrolled environment. So, the goal would be minimum way to me. Hit each of those body parts at least twice a week. I will tell you the most interesting thing, because I’m an exercise physiologist by training, and it’s still not clear cut as to how much we really need and what I learned back in school, both on what body composition metrics were considered to be ideal, which they basically have taken up 30%.

[00:10:08] I go, “No, it all of a sudden didn’t get healthier to have more body fat. I don’t believe you.” We’re just trying to make it okay. And the way we train is also we keep getting new information. So, if it were up to me, I would have you hit each body part three times a week, because that’s going to better for hypertrophy. But again, I’ll look at it and go, “What’s your schedule like?” Because we could design a perfect schedule, but if you’re not going to do it doesn’t matter. So, if you say I can go to the gym twice a week, then let’s figure it out that way. If you said I could go three times a week, we’ll figure it out that way. We have to make it work within your schedule.

[00:10:43] And then the final piece of that is you don’t have to go to the gym. This can be done at home so easily. And that used to be the biggest thing I would hear from people, “I’m too out of shape to go to the gym.” Which I was like, “Well, wait a minute.” [laughs] It’s like, “I don’t have job experience. I can’t get a job or I don’t have time.” I know as far as I don’t have time, you just have to make time. You do. You have to find it. But you can easily do these things at home now with things like the TRX and some bands and some free weights and you can do a major workout. I think the pandemic proved that.

Cynthia Thurlow [00:11:16] 1 I think it’s such an important point that this bio-individuality piece of understanding that we make things way more complicated than they need to be. And I think keeping things simplified is a way that people can do it consistently. And you use the term or the terminology age powerfully. And I think this is the right way to find that reframe in middle age. I think there are far too many individuals that are still doing the chronic endurance work. They’re no longer lifting. I see so many of these women in my programs, they’re like, “I don’t understand. I’m so haggard. My cortisol is up, I’ve got a menopause belly, I don’t sleep well.” And we start to turn things around and we’re like, “Okay, let’s back down on the intensity of this chronic long-haul cardio.” I’m not suggesting that you don’t want to move your body. That’s not it at all. But really being fine-tuned about this strength training piece and understanding this complex interrelationship with maintaining muscle mass, maintaining insulin sensitivity and being able to think about and as two individuals who do a lot of travel. I don’t ever want to be at a point where I can’t pick up my suitcase on a plane and put it in the overhead compartment. And maybe that’s prideful, but for me, I always say to myself, “I don’t ever want to be that person who can’t pick the suitcase up.” And so, maintaining strength and muscle mass is so critically important. And I’m so glad that you brought up this kind of push pull two times a week, because I think for most people listening, they’re like,” I can do that. I may not have a gym membership, but I can buy enough equipment, do it at home,” and I will be completely transparent and say, I love doing home workouts.

[00:12:50] I’ve learned that during the pandemic. I was like, “If I can just stay in my comfy clothes and go do a workout and not have to get to the gym and get in the car and all the other things that get in between, it allows things to be simplified so significantly.” So, when we’re talking about some of these muscle-focused metrics, nutrition plays a huge role in this as well. And I know for you, you and I are both very protein centric. What is it about changing up our macros in middle age that really is the key in so many ways to mastering our metabolism, maintaining muscle, maintaining insulin sensitivity, and the acknowledgment that we can’t eat the way we did when we’re 18. I hate to say this, [JJ chuckles] ladies, but it really is the truth. We do have to change what we’re doing.

JJ Virgin: [00:13:37] I think we figured it out though. I think whether we want to admit it or not, we all realize we can’t do what we did at 18. So that ship sailed and things are very different. I mean, remember in your 20s, you wanted to lose weight. You just thought about it and you lost weight in the good old days or you would go like, eat something you shouldn’t ate and next day no big deal, not so anymore. The next day you’re inflamed and you feel like crap. There’re a couple of things going on and I think the most important one is this concept of anabolic resistance. And it’s really like nature working against us. And the nice thing about all of this, because you were talking about putting the suitcase in the overhead, for most of us, these are just choices. And when you make the right choices, then you’ll be able to do all these things. And when you look at this, when you think about aging powerfully, there’re three key things that need to happen. Need to be able to lift heavy things. And again, the things that I described were all things that you could do at a home workout. So that’s cool. You can do a push up, you can do a dip, you can do a pull up. And your first pull up might just be hanging from a pull up bar, totally fine. You can do a bent over row, you can do a squat, you can do a deadlift. All are things you can do at home, very easy to do. So that’s the first thing.

[00:14:56] The next thing is I tell people to eat protein first. And the reason I tell them this is because I don’t want you to get full and realize that you didn’t eat your protein. And if you eat your protein, likely you’ll be full and then you won’t be tempted to eat the other stuff. In fact, it’s a great study that showed that people who eat protein first made healthier food choices overall. Protein, as we know, is the most satiating macronutrient. When we look at metabolic rate, we’ve got our basal metabolic rate. So, age, sex, thyroid health, how much muscle you have on your body that’s to me the biggest modifier for basal metabolic rate is putting on more muscle. And then we have your daily metabolic rate. And that’s going to be divided between your exercise, activity, and food.

[00:15:44] Now, I think that we underestimate like we’re focused on exercise where we might want to be focused more on activity. Because if you do exercise for 30 minutes a day and sit on your butt for the rest of the time, you just lost a huge opportunity. And that can be as simple as standing instead of sitting or having a walking treadmill and walking the dogs, all those things. But thermic effect of food is another big one. And if you think about it, if all you did was start to eat protein first, if you optimized your protein so it was the right amount for you, which I do 0.7 grams per 1 gram to 1 gram per pound of target body weight, and I push it higher if you’re doing a more plant-based diet, because we are not going to get the amino acids we need easily. So, we need to work harder, get more. And if you’re recovering from something, if you’re under stress, older, etc. So, once you know how much protein you eat, let’s say that all you did was start by eating that first. And by doing that and getting full, you actually started to eat less of carbs and fat. Just that even if it was isocaloric, you would actually start to lose weight because of thermic effect of food. Because the fact that protein is 20% to 30% more of a thermic effect than fat does. It’s like 3% and carbs are 5% to 10%. So just that alone will make a difference. But the bigger thing is it’s going to make sure you actually get what you need. And as we age, we need more, not less, and our appetite is going down. And so, this is the insurance policy to make sure that you get what you need first and overcome that anabolic resistance, which, of course, exercise resistance training is going to help you do too well.

Cynthia Thurlow: [00:17:21] It’s really interesting because I trained at a time when the Women’s Health Initiative came out and so many of my female patients were taken off of their hormone replacement therapy. And so, when I talk to women about the physiologic changes that are happening in our bodies around perimenopause and menopause and as we have less circulating estrogen, so kind of towards the end of perimenopause into menopause and high follicular stimulating hormone, how it creates this catabolism. So, we’re breaking down muscle and a lot of people don’t understand, irrespective of whether or not you’re using hormone replacement therapy. We are at this incredible disadvantage mechanistically in our bodies, and so helping women understand this protein leverage hypothesis, if we don’t eat enough protein, our body will figure out a way to get more food in and it’s probably going to come from carbs and fat and not from protein.

[00:18:14] So really important to understand that we need more protein as we’re aging, not less. The amount of protein that my teenagers can eat that stimulates something called muscle protein synthesis could be 10 to 15 g of protein. It’s very little versus, as we’re getting older, we need 30 g to stimulate that same muscle protein synthesis so we can make muscle tissue. And so, helping women understand when we talk about more protein, it really is for many reasons. It’s the satiety, it’s the muscle protein synthesis. It’s for all these things, mechanistically, that are happening in our bodies. What else do you think is important when we’re thinking about protein and looking at our plates? What are your thoughts on foods that positively impact metabolism? Do you buy into peppers and ginger and things that have some research behind them that can be helpful for improving our metabolism? Do you buy into that or do you think that’s sometimes kind of contrived?

JJ Virgin: [00:19:09] I think that I always look for the little hinges that swing the big doors and those are maybe the tiny little nails in the little hinges. [laughter] Like if you think adding peppers to your meal is going to have this massive metabolic effect, is it going to help a little bit, lemon juice or vinegar before a meal? Yes, good. Could help with some blood sugar control, although I think we’re starting to focus too much on a blood sugar spike rather than the area under the curve. It’s like if you say, “Oh, I could eat some vinegar before the meal and eat some crap, I think you’ve missed the point completely.” [chuckles] That’s not really helpful. So, there are all these things that can be great hacks. Here’s my thought on hacks. To me, hacks are like, you’re going to get a new car and the first thing you’re going to find out, depending on the car you’re going to get is what the battery is like or what the engine is like, how safe is it, what’s the fuel efficiency, all those things.

[00:20:09] If you go and you go, you know what I really care about with this car? The paint job and the interior, well, those are the nice to have, but they are not the need to have. So, we have to first start with the macro stuff. How much protein do you need? Okay, after protein, what’s going to come next? I put non-starchy vegetables next and then I look at how much fat I’ve gotten in between the protein and the non-starchy vegetables, add a little fruit and then I’m going to see what I need from there. I basically have people dial in their protein, focus about 100 g of carbs as a starting point and as close to nature as possible so that we’re getting in at least 30 g of fiber there and then adding in maybe 60 g of fat. And then we start to play with it. Some people do better, they’ve earned more carbs with exercise, they do better higher carb, some people do better higher fat, lower carb.

[00:20:58] Everyone’s a little different and what they like is a little different. But then you can start to look at, “Oh, okay, what shall I put in? What herbs and spices and things? I think they’re fantastic to do.” But if you think cayenne pepper is going to be your secret to burning fat, [Cynthia laughs] I don’t think so. I will say one thing that I’ve seen and I know you’re on this one too, and if I was going to pick one supplement, one extra thing for a menopausal woman peri/post as something that you should be on for the rest of your life, it would be creatine. I think creatine. And I will tell you what, Cynthia, it’s almost like I feel like I’ve been time traveled back to the 80s when I was bringing women to Gold’s Gym in Venice to lift weights, and I was taking them on field trips because they were so afraid, they were going to get big. I said, “I’m going to take you into the gym. You’re going to see 70-year-old women whose bodies you would die to have.” Lifting heavy weights, not big. So, I feel like that when I talk about creatine, the first thing I hear from women is, “Oh, I hear that it’s going to make me gain weight.” I go, “Well, if you gain any weight, which usually doesn’t happen with women, it’s going to be water in your muscles.” This is a good thing. “Oh, no.” I’m like, “Wait. Hello?” [laughs] So, I feel like I’m catapulted back to that time and women are afraid touch it because they think it’s going to make them bigger. Not understanding that if it were to bring a little bit more water in your muscle, this is a great thing. You want well-hydrated muscles.

Cynthia Thurlow: [00:22:27] Absolutely. And I think the research around creatine is so interesting because for me, it was initially this desire to improve metabolic health, help with strength in the gym, I have my teenagers taking it, they love it and then it evolved to understanding. It helps with sleep architecture, it helps with bone health, it can help with traumatic brain injuries.

JJ Virgin: [00:22:49] My son’s on it.

Cynthia Thurlow: [00:22:50] Exactly. It can help with jet lag. We just got back from a trip a couple of weeks ago and right around that time I was preparing for a podcast and literally just started doubling my dose of creatine and it cut my jet lag in half. I usually struggle more when I go West as opposed to East. And so, it’s really interesting to me. Unfortunately, I think creatine got a bad rap back in the probably 1980s, 1990s, when people were abusing anabolic steroids in conjunction, we’re also using creatine, so it kind of got looped in. But all the research that I have read and talked with creatine researchers; it is a very, very safe supplement. It is a supplement that has been probably more research behind it than any other ergogenic aid, which just means supplement. And so, I love that you also are such a big fan. I think for me, because I’m not a very tall person, I’m not a very big person. For me, being able to get into the gym and see consistent changes in the amount of weight, even if it’s 2.5 or 5 pounds each week, I’m seeing consistent improvements in what I’m doing. And as a menopausal female, it’s so important to me to make sure I’m maintaining and building muscle. And it’s interesting, I take Pilates for two reasons. One, it’s really helpful for strength and flexibility for me, a lot of stretching. But it’s interesting being in that class. There’re a lot of women that have– they’re very tiny, they are so sarcopenic because they’re thinking, I’m in Pilates and that’s what I’m doing and I’m building muscle. And you’re probably helping with some toning, but you’re not necessarily building muscle. So, I tell– [crosstalk]

JJ Virgin: [00:24:25] What is toning? [Cynthia laughs] Toning is this word I got into this whole thing with the person who helps me with my YouTube because she says, “You need to put in the title toned arms.” I go, I hate the word. What does toned mean? Really, what they’re trying to do is build more muscle. I think Pilates and yoga definitely have a place. I do yoga once a week because I want to make sure that I can balance and get up off the floor. And I’m not going to at home just go into a crow pose or an airplane. It’s just not going to happen. So, I have to go to a class and count every minute. [laughter] But Tim and I do it because if you look at the research beyond the grip strength research and I’ll tell you, Cynthia, it was interesting. A couple of years ago, I’ve been working on all this research for my next book and I was looking at the grip strength research, and I went, “Oh, my gosh, I’ve been handing the jars to my husband or my son to open for the last couple of years.” I used to be the jar opener.

[00:23:18] And if I’m having trouble opening jars and I’ve been lifting weights since I was 16 with the high school football team, wow, this is something. It doesn’t mean go squeeze tennis balls. It means go carry heavy stuff around, like do a farmer’s carrier or do a flexed arm hang or something. But then you look at not just that, but your ability to bounce on one leg, your ability to get up off the floor. So, these are things that it’s not like you’re going to go, I think I’m going to start getting up off the floor and practicing. You’ve got to do the things in your life that whether it’s working with the trainer or going to a yoga class, that force you to do the stuff that you won’t do on your own. Because the stuff you do on your own, you don’t need to do that.

Cynthia Thurlow: [00:26:03] Exactly. And it’s interesting because I usually will say I do Pilates for posterior chain work to help with core work. But it’s the balancing, like, I am the fiend of being able to balance doing crazy things on a reformer. And I’m so proud of that. But I go there and it’s one of those things, it’s an adjunct to what else I do-,

JJ Virgin: [00:26:21] Right.

Cynthia Thurlow: [00:26:21] -Zone 2 training, strength training, etc. And I’m so glad that you brought up the point about grip strength because can you share the significance of this? Because I think people listening are like, “Oh, yeah, so I hand off the jar to my husband, no big deal.” But it is-,

JJ Virgin: [00:26:36] [laughs] No, it’s a big deal.

Cynthia Thurlow: [00:26:37] -it’s a big deal. Let’s talk about that research, because it is quite interesting.

JJ Virgin: [00:26:41] Yeah. Well, and because grip strength correlates very well with overall strength. So that’s what we’re looking at is we’re really looking at your overall strength by looking at your grip strength and they did a study. They looked at 2 million people in this study and they found the people that had the lowest quartile for grip strength were in the highest quartile of all-cause mortality. It was a significant thing. And here’s what’s fantastic about that. We can change it. We’re not saying, “Oh, your genetics put you into this.” No, we’re saying, “Your grip strength, you can train for this.” So that’s what’s so exciting about so many of these things.

[00:27:18] I’ve been telling the story lately about my mom and dad both, I’m adopted, so no genetics here. My dad was 6’4”, 220, big strapping guy who was stressed to the max, on blood pressure medication for as long as he could remember, five martinis every night, smoked, drank, would scoff at me, ask me to bring him butter to butter up his cookies, like, just like a health train wreck. And would always talk about his ship coming in and he worked for a company and they were going to sell, and when they did, he was going to like, then life would be great and he would go fishing all the time and have a boat, blah, blah, blah. My mom always ate healthy, did all her own housework, didn’t go to the gym per se, but she went and walked the golf course three days a week. She lived up and downstairs. She carried everything, did everything, didn’t smoke, had a martini every night. My dad’s ship came in and my dad was in our bedroom, and my mom in dad’s bedroom in a hospital bed weighing 150 pounds, dying of cancer.

[00:28:16] My mom just passed recently, lived 23 years longer. Basically, had the kind of life that we all want to have where she was completely independent, living in that same house, doing all of her housework, all of her shopping, going up and downstairs. In fact, during the pandemic, we got in a huge fight because she was, like, insistent that she had to go to the store. I’m like, “No, you don’t.” [laughter] Doing all her stuff, walking, eating healthy. And then just last couple of weeks, we’re like, “Boop. She was out the way.” We would all love to go. I look at that and go, they had choices and look at what happened with those choices.

[00:28:49] Now there’re things beyond our control, but there is so much that’s within our control. And it’s just making those decisions. And I think for women, what scares me the most, Cynthia, is that for so long we’ve been taught to make ourselves smaller. Smaller in the way we behave, smaller in the way we show up, and that’s why I am so focused. When you think of aging powerfully, it’s not just how you move and the muscles you have, it’s how you show up in the space, you take in the world, it’s everything. Because the way you do one thing is the way you do everything. And it’s really like it’s your time now. If you’re not going to step out now, when the heck are you? So, all of this really is a choice. And this idea like a Pilates or yoga, these are great things. They’re add-ons. Walking is great. Someone got really mad at me at social media because I go walking isn’t exercise. Walking is an activity. It’s an activity of daily living. We should be doing it every day. We should be moving so much more. It’s an activity.

[00:29:50] Exercise, you have to get hot, sweaty, it should hurt a bit. You should be doing high-intensity interval training and some sprint interval training in there, but not a ton of it. I actually don’t love this moderate, long, slow distance activity. I think we should walk easy or we should do HIIT training, but this like jogging at a regular tempo for an hour, not a fan of that. Oxidative stress, high cortisol, breaking down muscle, no thank you, I don’t need to age faster. That’s what that does. So, a perfectly designed exercise program to me would be doing some assessments like grip strength, which you can get a hand grip dynamometer to see your DEXA, getting a VO2 max test and then designing your program to optimize these things and then committing to it.

Cynthia Thurlow: [00:30:41] And I think that’s so important for people to hear that as we’re getting older, we have to think more strategically about what we’re doing in terms of moving our bodies. I agree with you that walking should be a part of what we’re doing. In fact, someone was surprised to know I have an 11-year-old dog and a 10-year-old dog. And the vet said, “You walk how many miles a day with your dogs?” And they said they don’t look their ages. And I said, “Please don’t tell me that because you’re trying to make me feel good.” And they said, “No, actually, most dog owners don’t even walk their dog’s half a mile. And your dogs are getting several miles a day. The dogs are so much healthier.” And I said, “It’s great.” It’s like we walk up and down the hills and I look at it as just movement. That’s usually how I refer to it. It’s just movement.

[00:31:21] Now when we’re thinking about other things that are of benefit for us in terms of aging powerfully, you’ve kind of touched on the cortisol piece. And so, we’re coming out of the last three years, the pandemic, the stress of that. What does stress do to our bodies that’s significant in perimenopause and menopause? I always say we’re a little less stress resilient at this stage of life. What are the things we can do to counter some of the effects of chronic cortisol elevation?

JJ Virgin: [00:31:48] Yeah. So, the biggest ones, when you really look at it, besides what it can do to disrupting your thyroid function, disrupting your estrogen and progesterone, lowering testosterone, creating problems with putting on muscle, breaking down muscle and interrupting sleep and making you more insulin resistant. But the biggest one is really belly fat, that’s the biggest one. And probably some cravings and leaky gut. [chuckles] It’s like you can just start making the list and it’s a matrix, everything is combined. And I’ll tell you, I think the challenge with stress and I can just talk personally, is because it’s so hard to quantify. I still think back. It was probably 20 years ago, I had a doctor who forced me to take an adrenal salivary index.

[00:32:36] Now, the silly part was I was putting on seminars with him for other practitioners on how to interpret adrenal salivary index, but I wasn’t taking one. And he like, “[unintelligible 00:32:44] you have to take it.” And I’ve been under ridiculous stress for quite a long time now. However, I’ve really learned how to be super resilient. And so, I did this test and I was absolutely adrenally exhausted. And I went through the protocols to bring my adrenals back. And then when they were back, I did it again and I got them back and I did it again, and I finally was like, “Okay, let’s just stop doing that.” So, I finally got to the point where I didn’t feel the need to fix them, crash them, fix them, crash them. But that is part of the challenge. It’s hard to quantify, it’s so out there, “Oh, you’ve got stress.” And for most of us, we can’t remove the stress. Like, I can’t remove the stress of having a son who nearly died at 16 and has a traumatic brain injury. I cannot remove that stress.

[00:33:33] And so, we all have those things. What we can shift is how we perceive them and how we handle them. And what I find with people who are successful at life is they have just gotten really good at handling, managing, tolerating higher levels of stress. And so, for me, the big shift happened during the pandemic when I actually had a little time and one of my friends went to a Joe Dispenza retreat. Perfect thing to do during the pandemic, [Cynthia laughs] go to a retreat with 1200 people doing breathwork in a room. And the craziest thing is, we go to these Joe Dispenza retreats. So, I go to the first one. I went in April 2021 with a group of friends, and it’s seven days now. I don’t know what it is. I’ve studied his stuff, but I’ve never meditated. I was a meditation failure. So, you were supposed to practice apparently before you went. But I thought, I’m going there. Why would I practice beforehand? I’ll do it when I get there.

[00:34:29] Anyway, we go in, it’s like 38 hours of meditation. It’s something insane. And everyone around me is having these tremendous experiences. Me, I’m in my head, having a battleground. And at the end of that week, I thought to myself, I thought, “This is like taking your nervous system to the gym.” And there’s no way I would go to the gym, go to a spa for a week and work out every day and think, I’m done. So, I am going to commit. And so, what I did was I signed up for the next one, which was in June. Now, fortunately, I have Tim, my husband, who will pretty much go along with things with me. So, he was in too. So, we were supporting each other. I go to June, I have the good fortune of having breakfast with Dr. Joe and kind of like going, do Type A people have trouble with this? [laughter] Because everyone around me is like, having these incredible experiences. And I’m still like, “Oh, gosh, I’m just having this battle.”

[00:35:22] And he’s kind of walked me through it. And then I went into a September event, and that’s when things started to shift. I went back in January, and at that point, my team’s like, “Since you started this, we’ve noticed a big difference. We’d like you to keep going, like, just keep doing this.” [Cynthia laughs] But what I noticed was I have had shortness of breath from my early 20s, always, chronic anxiety, shortness of breath. And I actually even went to a doctor in my 20s and said, “I have exercise-induced asthma.” And he goes, “You have anxiety.” And he put me on Zoloft, which I took for a week and threw away. I was like, “I’m not going to do this,” but never gave me any tools for what should you do? Just was like, “Oh, you have anxiety.” I’m like, “Okay, great.”

[00:36:08] And so, all I can tell you now is that the shift in these tools and it was funny. In January, I was having dinner with him, and I go, “You know, this is crazy.” I understand how this works. I know exactly how this works. But it’s just wild to see it in practice. The only thing I’ve changed in my life is adding in meditation anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour a day, pretty much I might miss a day a week, but I’m very consistent. And by doing that, my weight went down 5 pounds. Now, it wasn’t muscle loss [chuckles] because I’m monitoring on a bioimpedance and I’ve always taught this that you’ve got to reduce cortisol in order to drop belly fat and be able to build muscle, but to see it in action so clearly when it was the only variable that changed was pretty amazing. But the other variable that changed for me was that I just figured I was one of those people in life who just wasn’t a happy person.

[00:37:06] And in fact, in the January event, I was one of the [unintelligible 00:37:07] healees, and all I decided was that I’d like to really feel happy. I always felt guilty if I felt happy. And it was funny. It was like the very first healing I came out of, the woman put her hand on my hand, didn’t know it what I’d said, and said, “You deserve to be happy.” I’m like, “Well, that’s very weird.” We did another one and at the end of it, everyone started to laugh, and they played, “Don’t Worry Be Happy.” And I go, “Okay, now, this is just bizarre.” [laughter] It’s just weird. But it’s just been a lot of synchronous events since I put that into place.

[00:37:41] And it’s interesting because you can understand it logistically and it’s a challenging thing to get started especially for a Type A person, because you have no idea if you’re doing it right or wrong. I loved math in school because it’s right or it’s wrong. English, I did not like, because it’s gray. Meditation is gray. There is no right or wrong. You just have to go in and do the work and kind of break the habit of being yourself. And when you really look at what can be some of the biggest shifts in your life, that ability to tolerate higher levels of stress, because the idea that we’re not going to have stress is ridiculous. I mean, if the last couple of years showed us anything, hey, just even the last six months, I totaled my car, my mom passed away, the house flooded from the hurricane, and I had a hysterectomy, and honestly, it was no big deal. It was like, “Man.” And I think probably for most people, any one of those things would have taken them out.

Cynthia Thurlow: [00:38:39] Well, what an incredible story, because I know you personally as well as professionally and I would not have known that you had really struggled with meditation, but clearly you were drawn to these events, something intuitively in you was drawing you to these events and Dr. Joe and I’ve had the honor of meeting him, and he has such a peaceful kind of exterior. I mean, everything about him, you’re just drawn to his energy. He’s such a positive person. And I love that you have had such a profound transformation with this work that you’ve been doing. And I think a lot of people think of meditation that it has to be an hour, it has to be hours long, and understanding that even 10 or 15 minutes can have a tremendous net impact on your autonomic nervous system is really exciting.

[00:39:29] Now, before we close the conversation, I got a lot of questions for you specifically about cellulite. Everyone was like, “JJ is going to be able to tell us all the things about cellulite.”

JJ Virgin: [00:39:40] Oh, that’s so funny.

Cynthia Thurlow: [00:39:38] I’m not kidding, like, 10 people. And I was like, “Okay, I’m going to weave this into our conversation I’m not sure when,” but we’re going to pivot from talking about meditation and managing stress and resiliency, and we’re going to talk about the topic that came up multiple times for JJ. They want to know, how does JJ look so amazing and how do you deal with cellulite? What is it? Why do we get it? How do you address it with your clients?

JJ Virgin: [00:40:06] It’s because I did a YouTube video on cellulite and I was like, “Really, do we have to do this? Okay.” [Cynthia laughs] Because cellulite is just a sucky thing, let’s be honest. Apparently 90% of women struggle with cellulite and there’re a lot of genetic factors at play. But there are some things that you can do, and there’re some things that you can do for a temporary fix, and then there’re some things that are just going to make it better. And I still remember the first time that I really faced it with a client because she was like 17% body fat and still just had cellulite. It was just not a lucky thing for her. And so some of it, again, is genetics and the way that your skin, how thin your skin is, what’s happening with your cross linking, there’re these little strands that pull, and if the fat pushes up and the inflammation, you get, horrible and I hate the term, the orange peel or cottage cheese, but let’s you know because it’s icky, but that’s what it really looks like. So how do we minimize all of those things?

[00:41:08] Well, the first one that is obviously helpful is to get lean. Now, because there’s some issue with inflammation and some issue with body fat. And so ideally, if you’ve got more muscle and less fat that’s going to be a big help, so that’s the first one. And I will tell you, for me, I just turned 60. And I decided as I turned 60 that I wanted to just do an experiment because everything around is like, “Oh, you’re turning 60, over the hill.” Like over the hill is 50. So, 60 is like really over the hill, [Cynthia laughs] And I thought, “Well, yeah, I could get into the best shape of my life at 60. What if I could be stronger, fitter.” And so, Tim and I now go to this class once a week that we’re like, “Could be everybody’s parents, maybe even grandparents in this class.” They’re in their 20s and it’s a really high-intensity– HIIT and sprint interval training class that they just kill you, walk out, just like done. But those are the types of things I was like, “Game on, let’s do this.”

[00:42:08] Tim and I went and got DEXA. I was 59, it was last year. My DEXA at that point was the exact same as my DEXA when I was 39, which was same weight, 154. Because I actually went into this DEXA, I put some weight on, which was a little bit of a mental thing because [unintelligible 00:42:26] I’m going to build some muscle. So, I put on probably 3 pounds of muscle, 1 pound of fat, because I knew what I was going to do next, which was going to be to start to lean out even more.

[00:42:36] Now, I’m naturally very lean. Like, women have 10% to 15% essential fat. Most of my life, I’ve sat somewhere in the 13% range, but I’ve been down as low as 10. So, it’s just my genetics. Some women genetically sit very comfortably at 18%, some are at 22%. This idea that we can be 30% or 40%, I kind of think it’s around the same idea as health at any size. But I will tell you that we have to really look at where that body fat is because visceral adipose tissue is a way different thing than just having subcutaneous fat in terms of risk. But generally, they tend to go hand in hand, higher body fat, more visceral adipose tissue. Anyway, I went on a very specific training program and went from 13.9% down to just under 11% body fat and dropped down 10 pounds, which was pretty crazy at 60.

[00:43:30] But I’m just saying this because genetically I’ve always been a very lean person, so I don’t have a lot of fat cells to begin with. And the only time I ever really struggled with cellulite, visible cellulite, was during a bad time in college when I was experimenting with being a vegan and I kind of was a beer, licorice, pretzel vegan, [laughter] so it wasn’t very good. And it was interesting, when I did the vegan experiment, my body fat went to 25%, and that’s when I started to show more cellulite. So back over to this. One of it is getting to what your genetic leanness is and really focusing on building muscle and losing body fat. So that’s a piece of it that’s going to be important. The next piece of it, of course, is reducing inflammation, because that’s going to be a problem. And along that line, so reducing inflammation one of the places that we can get inflammation is by eating foods that don’t work for us. That was the Virgin Diet. So, if there’s foods that you’re intolerant to those can create some inflammation. Of course, more body fat means more inflammation. So, if you’re dropping fat, you’ll get rid of that. But then just specifically to those areas, really getting some good massage, lymphatic drainage going, so that can be foam rolling, that can be dry brushing. Something to really help focus in on that area can be great there too.

[00:44:51] Then the final thing is those are kind of the macro things that can help a lot. Red light therapy is another one that can help a lot. So, we’re actually redoing now that we’ve done this gym, we’re turning our gym into the biohacking area, which we’ve got a bigger sunlight and sauna now and bringing the cold plunge inside and we’ve got the red light. So red lights have some good research to help with cellulite, probably because of helping with inflammation and along those lines, then you would think that cold plunging would too. So, there’s that piece of it. But along with all of those things that are the longer-term strategies that could take you six months to see a change. Because the reality is, if you can put on a pound of muscle a month, that’s amazing. We can drop one to two pounds of fat a week. The less you have to lose, the harder it gets. And if you try to go too fast, you’ll just lose muscle. But this is almost like watching grass grow. So, you really want to take a picture in the terrible lights, like go to one of those horrible fitting rooms and take a picture and then do it again in three months and just don’t look every day because you’re not going to see anything, again it’s like watching grass grow.

[00:45:58] But if you need a quick solution because you’re going to a pool party or something, nothing strikes terror in people’s hearts like a pool party. We have a pool party after Mindshare and I go, you don’t have to wear a swimsuit, just come to the pool. [laughter] It’s like, “Don’t worry.” But if you are going to a pool party and you have to wear a swimsuit and this is not making you excited, the things that you can do there is caffeine cream, because it’s going to dehydrate a little bit. So, caffeine cream and a spray tan do wonders or a bronzer. [chuckles] So those are the two hacks for it as you’re going through this process.

[00:46:36] And the other piece of it is this. Could we all give ourselves some grace? I think one of the things that happens at 50 and gosh, I wish I could have turned 50 at 20, Cynthia, and not gone through all of those years is that remember that the people that you’re seeing in the ads have been airbrushed. If you think that about it. That 90% of all women have cellulite, but yet you never see an ad with a woman with cellulite ever. But they’ve all got it. So, it’s pretty much normal for us. Women have body fat; we have curves and we’ll have a little cellulite. And give yourself some grace because you’re a badass and you’re beautiful.

Cynthia Thurlow: [00:47:16] Well, I love the message. I’m so glad we’re able to make this podcast happen. Obviously, I’ll have to have you back again. Please let my listeners know how to connect with you, how to connect to your podcast, which actually we’re recording next and how to get on your email list with all your amazing content and social media.

JJ Virgin: [00:47:34] Thank you, thank you. Yes, we rebranded the podcast to Well Beyond 40. And which I’m just in love with that name because the double entendre. And then we also created a calculator to help you figure out how much protein you need and then how to eat that throughout the day. Because, again, there’re nuances there, especially that first meal, the bumper meals being the most important. And so that is at jjvirgin.com/proteinfirst, and then everything is at jjvirgin.com, the podcast, Instagram, YouTube. I’m really focused right now on the podcasts and YouTube. That’s where I tend to put the most energy and effort.

Cynthia Thurlow: [00:48:12] Well, I can clearly see that. So good to connect with you, my friend. 

JJ Virgin: [00:48:14] You too.

Cynthia Thurlow: [00:48:17] If you love this podcast episode, please leave a rating and review, subscribe and tell a friend.