If you’re going through peri-menopause, or menopause, you may be wondering if you should exercise more, or less, or indeed what type of exercise you should be doing if you want to avoid weight gain but strengthen your muscles to help protect your bones from osteoporosis.
Numerous studies have found that there’s a link between physical activity and menopause symptoms, with a recent one suggesting that losing weight through diet and exercise could ease hot flushes, which along with night sweats is the most common reason that women seek medical help for menopause.
Researchers found that sedentary women, who don’t exercise and spend a lot of their lives sitting down (either because they’re desk bound in office jobs all day, or watching television in the evenings), were 21% more likely to experience hot flushes and they were also 17% more likely to feel sad or depressed.
We asked Jane Dowling, 49, who has been a London-based personal trainer for over twenty years, and writes the blog MenoandMe which is aimed at breaking the taboo surrounding talking about the menopause, what her professional opinion is about exercise at this time of life:
“If you are menopausal and have exercised regularly for years and feel good, keep on doing what you are doing, but make sure you are incorporating resistance exercise especially in the hips, wrists and spine, which are the major site of osteoporosis,” Jane tells Lumity.
“Basically, if you haven’t exercised for a while, then start moving, build up slowly.”
Cortisol, known as the stress hormone, is widely blamed for being responsible for unwanted weight gain during menopause with many experts suggesting that HIIT (high intensity interval training) is the answer to losing weight. The reasoning being that intense bursts of short exercise raise growth promoting hormones like testosterone and HGH, and these hormones work with cortisol to burn fat and build or maintain muscle.
But Jane says to be wary of this theory, because cortisol can fluctuate depending on a variety of factors:
“Cortisol is released when the body experiences too much physical stress or is not sufficiently recovered from a previous workout,” she explains. “It is and can be released during every day life.
“However everyone’s baseline levels are different. For one, too much physical stress could be walking up one flight of stairs and another person would be sprinting up and both individuals recovery time would be different.
“While cortisol helps promote fat metabolism, yes, exercising for too long can elevate levels of cortisol which uses muscle protein for fuel instead of conserving it to be used to repair damaged tissue. But again what is too long? Everyone is different.
“However, regular exercise training will decrease this effect, causing the body to have a better response to stress and require less cortisol release. In layman’s terms, cortisol can be realised on a daily basis, so exercising can help manage it.
“As a hormonal/menopausal woman I can tell you that one’s cortisol levels can elevate on a daily, or even hourly basis. Everyone is different. Everyone has a different baseline level.
“To decrease cortisol levels, my advice is to laugh more, do activities with friends that get you moving and breathless.”
Jane underlines that resistance training is crucial for strengthening muscles during menopause to help combat osteoporosis:
“Get breathless, do something fun, smile while you are doing it, but you must do some resistance exercise to help with your bones,” Jane advises. “Think of your bones to be like honeycomb inside, the weaker they are the bigger the holes. The stronger they are the smaller the holes.
“If you DO NOT have Osteoporosis then do undertake impact, as long as you do not have any other joint issues, as much as possible. This will keep the top of the legs, hips and the lower spine strong.
“Weight training is a must for women of all ages, I really cannot emphasis how important this is. Our bone density start’s to deteriorate massively after 35, when we hit the menopause it accelerates at a scary rate.”
Let’s break the taboo! – if you have questions about menopause, Jane runs a brilliant Facebook group which anyone can join called Ageless Godesses – that you can find here. Or leave a comment below.