How exercise can help ease symptoms of the menopause
-Mar 23, Hannah Hargrave, Health -
Hot flushes, weight gain, chills, night sweats and mood swings; these are just some of the far from enjoyable symptoms of the menopause. Going through ‘the change’ can make you feel like you are no longer in control of your body and fearful you never will be again. So if we told you that exercise could change that would you make a beeline to your nearest treadmill?
Getting motivated to exercise can be difficult at the best of times, not least when you feel more sluggish, achy and overweight than you’ve ever felt before. But doing nothing, while waiting for a miracle cure for the menopause to appear, is not going to help.
Like it or not, for most women, the menopause is a fact of life, however accepting defeat over the symptoms doesn’t have to be.
What happens to your body when you go through the menopause?
The menopause is the time – most commonly between the ages of 45 and 55 – when a women’s periods stop and her ovaries stop functioning reproductively.
Less oestrogen is produced from the ovaries and this is what causes many of the distressing symptoms of the menopause.
In addition to those above, women can also have trouble sleeping, suffer vaginal dryness, a lack of libido and urinary incontinence.
A lack of oestrogen also affects the brain which can alter a women’s emotional well-being.
Once oestrogen production ceases entirely – the process can take several years – yet more changes take place, most commonly decreased bone density which increases the chances of osteoporosis.
We have to admit just reading about it has got us breaking out into a hot flash.
Why is exercise so important during the menopause?
It’s not going to stop it happening, but working out can help reduce menopausal symptoms, so surely it’s worth a go. Exercise has been shown to reduce stress, control weight gain and enhance your mood, but that’s not all.
The risk of breast cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes rises once you hit the menopause and leading a healthy, active lifestyle can help prevent these.
We’ve broken it down into categories to show you exactly how getting moving can help.
How does strength training help me through the menopause?
The risk of osteoporosis goes up drastically after the menopause because you lose the oestrogen needed to lay down new bone. Muscle mass also decreases and for these reasons strength training is important.
Invest in some light dumbbells or resistance tubes and add some resistance work to your daily routine. Start slowly with maybe some bicep curls or front rows.
Even just do some press-ups against a kitchen countertop. Aim for 12 repetitions of your chosen exercises and in time you’ll get stronger and be able to do more.
How much aerobic activity should I be doing and why?
It’s recommended that healthy women get 150 minutes of aerobic activity every week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity. So you could run, walk, swim or bike your way to a better body and most importantly a healthy heart. When you enter the menopause your risk of cardiovascular disease goes up as oestrogen levels – that have been shown to protect the heart – drop.
Regular exercise will also help you shed the extra pounds that may be sitting around your midsection, and getting you down too. Looking in the mirror and feeling a bit better about your reflection will boost your mood and self-worth.
What are the benefits of yoga for menopausal symptoms?
Breathe in, breathe out and calm! Yoga helps you relax, relieve stress and even control anger – perhaps you can wave goodbye to those mood swings after all. Gentle yoga can also help relieve some of the aches and pains associated with menopause.
Night sweats are a common symptom of menopause too and yoga has been shown to reduce high blood pressure which boosts blood circulation and decreases night time discomfort.
There are even sequences and poses designed to help women cope with the discomforts associated with menstrual cycles and menopause.
Why you could take up Pilates if you’re going through the menopause
Pilates is another natural way to diminish menopausal symptoms. It strengthens bones and muscles and because it’s low impact it shouldn’t hurt your joints. In fact it can help joint mobility. A 2016 study looked the effects of an 8-week pilates program on menopausal symptoms and found it decreased the symptoms, increased lumbar strength and flexibility too.
For more information on exercise and ageing you might like to read Why Yoga is more about stress relief than having a great body. And here’s some easy ways to turbo-charge your metabolism. Also, did you know that mindfulness and meditation can help reduce symptoms of menopause?