Exercise: A powerful tool for women as they journey through menopause

Tuesday 08 Feb 2022
Woman doing yoga on floor mat in group class

The journey from perimenopause to post-menopause brings a unique set of physiological changes and challenges for women looking to keep healthy and fit.

Common symptoms often endured during this journey include; brain fog; hot flushes; middle age spread; low mood and anxiety; insomnia and fatigue; joint and muscle pain… the list goes on. Therefore, exercise strategies that can help us keep healthy during this journey, can only be a good thing right?

'It's the Menopause!' is a statement often flippantly banded about when we talk about changes in 'women of a certain age' but do we know what the word menopause really means? The word Menopause refers to the point in the menopausal timeline when a woman has not had a period for at least 12 consecutive months, on average this can occur between 50 to 55 years of age. However, our genetics, environment, ethnicity and smoking can all have an effect on exactly when and how menopause can occur.

Between 2 to 8 years prior to the onset of menopause, our ovarian function and hormone levels undergo enormous changes. This is known as Peri-menopause and many woman during this time may notice changes such as irregular periods; hot flushes; worsening PMS symptoms; fatigue and heightened anxiety.

Whereas Post-menopause is the time after menopause has occurred, when our oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone and other hormones levels are considerably reduced. Women on average spend at least 30 years of their life, Post-menopause, so it is definitely worth considering with respect to our health.

So how can exercise help?

The physiology of menopause can affect a woman's strength and functional capacity, metabolic health, brain health and recovery. Exercise can be one of the most powerful tools to alleviate, and in some cases even reverse, the most serious physiological impacts of the menopause.

The fluctuation and eventual drop in a woman's oestrogen levels can often accelerate things that occur naturally as we mature, such as the loss of muscle mass (sarcopenia); the decrease in bone density, resulting higher risk of osteoporosis; the ability of our muscles to contract and our joints to accommodate a full range of motion, exacerbated by joint pain. Therefore,mobility and flexibilityexercises can help alleviate joint pain and are fundamental in keeping us mobile.

Oestrogen has a protective effect on our cardiovascular system. As oestrogen levels decline in menopause, we are at heightened risk of heart disease. Often the menopause is associated with weight gain, the dreaded "middle age spread". Exercise forHeart healthis vital as if weight gain goes unchecked it can lead to obesity, substantially increasing our risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

The menopause is a time in our life when we need to preserve muscle mass, so losing fat by incorporatingstrengthtraining into a regular exercise program, combined with a well-balanced diet is proven to be far more beneficial than low calorie dieting.

According to the reports of some women, "hot flushes" and "night sweats" can be alleviated by exercise and thus improve our sleep patterns. None of us feel our best after a rotten night's sleep. Add to that; heightened anxiety; loss of self-confidence; low mood and 'brain fog', highlights why we need to ensure we take time to look after our "brain health". The good news is, exercise enhances ourmoodby boosting metabolites such as serotonin and endorphins in our body.

All exercise is known to promote good 'brain health', from a walk outside in the countryside with a friend; a relaxing mind and body exercise class; a weight session in the gym; a refreshing swim in the sea; a jog in the park or a run on the treadmill... it's just about finding the ones that work for you.

So which type of exercise should I be doing? Below is a list of different types of physical activity that I suggest can be beneficial for women as they navigate through the menopause.

For Mobility and Flexibility

● Pilates
● Ambient Stretch
● Yoga
● T'ai chi and other martial arts
● Swimming
● Dancing

For the Heart

● Aerobics
● Hill walking
● Jogging
● Running
● Cycling
● Spin classes
● Using a treadmill or rowing machine or cross trainer
● Boxing
● Dancing

For Strength

● Total Tone classes
● Les Mills Core
● Resistance training using your own body weight and resistance bands
● Weight Lifting
● Circuit training
● Body pump or Muscle Pump classes

For Mood

● Ambient Stretch
● Yoga
● Mind and body classes
● Exercising with friends
● Team sports
● Exercising outside

Before embarking on a new exercise regime it is always important to make sure you are medically clear to go, so it is worth consulting your doctor. If you want to try a new form of exercise, please ensure your technique and body position is correct, so you can avoid injury. The best way to do that is to join a fitness class led by a qualified fitness instructor; join a recognised sports club; get advice from the qualified instructors in the Gym, or hire a personal trainer. At Active all staff in the Gym are qualified fitness instructors and will be able to help point you in the right direction.

Recommendations on how much exercise is enough vary but I am a strong believer that something is better than nothing at all. Words my fitness class members often hear me say is "movement is medicine", and I firmly believe that.

Some days, certain types of exercise may really not appeal depending on how menopausal symptoms are making you feel, so adapt your exercise routine to fit in with your lifestyle so that it feels fun and not a chore. It is never too late to start or try a new form of exercise. Give it a go and see what a difference regular exercise can do to your body, mood and overall wellbeing as you navigate through perimenopause, menopause and beyond, into a new chapter in your life.

This article was written by qualified Fitness Instruction and Adult education Tutor Lisa Troy.  Lisa teaches the popular Active fitness classes Ambient Stretch and Total Tone. References; 'Fitpro in Exercise Strategy for Perimenopause to Post Menopause course' presented by accredited Austrailain exercise physiologist Marcelle Malan 'Natural Menopause'. Consultant Editor Anne Henderson MA MRCOG. Published by Dorling Kindersley Limited in 2021