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The Menopause Exchange Blog

EXERCISE AT THE MENOPAUSE

Regular exercise can help to prevent heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers, but what isn’t widely known is that it can also help menopausal symptoms. The right kind of exercise can help to reduce mood swings, trigger your metabolism to aid weight loss and boost your energy levels, sex drive, sleep and brain function (zapping that pesky brain fog). It’s also great for bone health and vital organs and helps with whole body healing. But what is the right type of exercise, and how do you fit it into your busy lives at the menopause?

This article was included in issue 74 (autumn 2017) of The Menopause Exchange newsletter.

Let it grow
As people age, they experience something called ‘somatopause’. This is a gradual and progressive decline in the human growth hormone, somatotropin (hGH). This decline usually happens with an increase in fat around your middle and a rise in ‘bad’ cholesterol, as well as a fall in lean body mass, bone mineral density and immune function. Sleep disturbance is also common. The great news is that you can actually slow down the fall in hGH if you choose the right type of exercise, significantly reducing your symptoms.

Get sweaty
To trigger growth hormone release, you need to sweat, and ‘feel it’, so choosing a cardio workout that helps you do this is vital. Interval Training is ideal for menopausal fitness. It consists of short bursts of high intensity exercise with rest periods in between. During an interval training workout you may do three rounds of six exercises back to back, each exercise lasting about a minute with short rest periods between them. You would do a combination of strength exercises (like a press up against the back of a bench) and cardio exercises that get you sweaty (like walking lunges).

Intervals are quick (20 to 30 minutes) and easy to fit into a busy life. It gets you into an ‘afterburn state, when your body goes into ‘oxygen deficit’, and this is what triggers growth hormone release. HIIT helps shift stubborn fat, kickstarts your body’s metabolism and builds lean muscle mass. It has no complicated choreography or complex equipment, just some dumb bells, a resistance band and a mat. The pulling, pushing and lifting exercises will help you perform everyday tasks with better muscle function and alignment. HIIT releases endorphins, ‘feel good’ hormones that can help with mood swings, feeling low or anxious.

How often you do the workouts depends on your starting point. Someone who is new to fitness may start with once/twice a week, and gradually build up to three times a week. Someone who is already quite fit may do three to five sessions a week. Bootcamp-style interval training may not be suitable during the menopause, as exercises like star jumps and planks aren’t advisable if you have any pelvic/core health issues. If pelvic or bone health issues affect you, find an instructor who is suitably qualified and experienced in these areas. If you try interval training and it really isn’t your thing, choose something that appeals more but gets you into a sweaty state, such as dancing, tennis or walking up hill.

Mind and body
Mind and body-type activities like pilates and yoga can be beneficial during the menopause. Ongoing stress, caring for family members, work and home can compromise your adrenal health just as you’re going through major hormonal shifts. Ongoing raised levels of the stress hormone cortisol can encourage your body to store a larger quantity of fat around your tummy and near important organs, which can lead to increased risk of diabetes, stroke and heart disease.

Yoga and pilates not only offer the benefits of strength work, but also include an element of relaxation. They also include release and stretch work, essential for muscle recovery and flexibility, and are excellent for posture. Certain moves aren’t suitable if you have osteopenia or osteoporosis as there’s an increased risk of fracture. Certain positions/exercises also aren’t suitable if you have pelvic health issues, such as prolapse or diastasis recti. Discuss any adaptations with your instructor first, or find a teacher who is specially trained in these areas. Ask at your local fitness studio, village halls and library for yoga and pilates classes.

Where and when
Getting outdoors will increase your levels of vitamin D, which is good for bone health and calcium absorption. This is also great for stress management and hot flushes. With indoor fitness, use a well-ventilated room or stand near an open window or door so any hot flushes don’t stop you exercising. Find a time of day to exercise that suits your body. If you have a pattern of hot flushes in the evening, HIIT earlier in the day may feel more comfortable. If you have a stressful start to the day, a morning pilates class may be more health-giving than a cardio class as it will help to calm your body and mind.

Listen to your body
Good nutrition, water intake and sleep are essential elements of self care in menopause, as well as movement. If you are new to fitness, remember to progress gradually, but don’t be afraid to sweat, as this is what your body needs! Make movement your friend, so ditch the car when you can and walk or cycle. Boogie to your favourite tunes in the living room. Fall in love with movement again.

When looking for exercise classes, find one that speaks to you. Find your love of movement again, in a space where you feel comfortable, with people who make you feel good. See it as time for your essential self care, not a punishment or duty. The more positive your experience, the more likely you are to keep going with it, so your body and mind can reap the rewards.

Take note
Before starting any new form of exercise, check with your GP, especially if you have any pre-existing medical conditions. To find a local qualified and insured fitness instructor, visit www.exerciseregister.org.

About the author
Julia Willmott is a menopausal fitness expert with 13 years experience, and teaches pilates and fitness in Petersfield, Hampshire. She also runs classes for people with osteoporosis and retreats on menopausal wellness. She is training to become a Holistic Core Restore Coach. Find her at www.juliawillmott.com.

Created Autumn 2017

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