Why exercise can help you through the menopause and beyond
I train women through various stages in life and each stage brings its own set of highs, lows and barriers to overcome when it comes to finding time for yourself and for exercise. However, it has been really rewarding to see how exercise has helped many clients who are experiencing the menopause, enabled them to feel fitter, stronger and more confident during a time of great change in their lives.
The effects of the fall in oestrogen levels which occurs during the menopause are experienced by women in different ways. Some women sail through the menopause with relatively few symptoms but others experience a range of physical and psychological symptoms including hot flushes, nights sweats, low mood, anxiety, joint stiffness, aches and pains and difficulty sleeping.
As these symptoms can start in the ‘peri menopausal’ period in the months or years before periods actually stop and continue for 4 years or more once periods have finished, quality of life can take a big hit over a number of years. Even if women find the menopause more manageable and don’t suffer too many symptoms, the effects that falling oestrogen levels and aging have on our bodies remains.
As my clients have discovered, maintaining a healthy weight and staying fit and strong can improve some menopausal symptoms and help to combat the effects that falling oestrogen levels and aging can have.
Boost Your Mood
When thinking of menopausal symptoms it’s the physical things such as the hot flushes that often come to mind but it’s the psychological symptoms which can actually prove most challenging for some woman. These can include low mood, mood swings, stress, anxiety, depression and a loss of self-esteem or self-confidence.
There is evidence that exercise can help these symptoms in a number of ways. Exercise activates neural networks and biochemistry in the brain which is associated with a more positive mood and can help to gain a sense of control over your life, at a time when things are changing this can be really empowering. Exercise can also help you to feel better about your competence and what you can achieve so running further or faster than your ever have before or lifting a weight heavier than you ever have or just turning up and completing a PT session when you really didn’t feel like it can provide a much need boost to feelings of self-confidence and self-esteem.
Maintain Your Muscle Mass
Our body composition (the amount of muscle mass and body fat we have) affects our metabolic rate and the amount of calories we burn at rest. A body composition with a higher muscle mass will burn a higher amount of calories.
Many women find they gain weight during the menopause and with age our metabolic rate does tend to decrease. However, as this is generally due to higher levels of inactivity, it doesn’t have to be this way. Weight gain can be avoided by adopting a regular strength training programme to preserve your muscle mass, helping to prevent a reduction in metabolic rate and thereby avoid putting on fat with age.
Resistance can take the form of dumbells, kettlebells and barbells but you don’t need lots of fancy equipment, you can get a great resistance workout just using your own bodyweight and some resistance bands (press ups anyone?…).
Strengthen Your Bones
I am always encouraging women to lift weights and bone strengthening is a very good reason why you should do this. Dense bones equal strong bones and oestrogen helps to protect bone strength. Less oestrogen means an increased risk of developing weak bones in later life.
Weight bearing exercise (such as running, skipping, aerobics) and resistance training helps to strengthen your bones and reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis, a health condition that weakens bones and makes them fragile and more likely to break.
This type of exercise helps strengthen bones due to the action of the muscle tendons pulling on the bones which stimulates the laying down of new bone. It’s not only your bones that will benefit but your ligaments and muscle tendons will become stronger, helping your joints to become more stable. This is also really important as we age as it helps to protect yourself from injury.
Protect Your Heart
Post menopause, women’s risk of cardiovascular disease increases, again potentially due to the effects of lower oestrogen levels but also due to lifestyle factors. Cardiovascular training improves your lung and heart function and blood circulation and therefore by improving your cardiovascular fitness you can increase protection against heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol as well as helping to control body fat.
Cardiovascular fitness can be improved through any type of aerobic activity such as running, walking, Zumba, step, swimming or cycling. With so many options, the main thing is to find something you enjoy and which fits well with your lifestyle. That way you will be much more likely to keep it up.
As above, any activity which has a degree of impact such as running will give the added benefit of bone strengthening.
Improve Your Sleep
Last but by no means least exercise can help to improve your sleep and we all know that good sleep can vastly improve your quality of life. The menopause can bring with it disturbed sleep and sleeplessness can result from anxiety and depression, both of which are menopausal symptoms. Physical activity can improve your sleep quality and the duration of your sleep.
In particular, exercising or getting active outdoors may be effective in enhancing sleep due to greater exposure to daylight. Also, if exercise is helping to reduce anxiety and depression then as a consequence sleep may also improve.
Without doubt the menopause can be a really challenging phase of life for many women but it can also be a perfect time to focus on yourself and getting stronger, fitter and more confident. All things which can help you through the menopause and beyond!
Not all modes of exercise mentioned are suitable for all individuals. All of my Personal Training programmes are fully tailored to individual needs and goals. If you would like to find out more about how Personal Training can help you please get in touch.