Women’s Health Month – Menopause & Exercise Advice
Last updated: 1.15pm, Wednesday 17th May 2023
The month of May is Womens Health month, and the ideal opportunity to focus on the peri menopause and menopause chapters of a womans life. Around a third of the average womans life will be lived beyond the menopause. Having a regular exercise regime both before and during perimenopause can really help and enhance how these years will be lived. Exercise can really help to reduce peri and menopausal symptoms.
With some women having babies later in life the transition from post-natal to peri menopause is getting narrower. In addition the so called sandwich years whereby we are looking after children but also maybe caring for elderly parents. This can all add to an already busy life. Everyone has different support structures in place but sometimes this can be too much to cope with. This combined with the hormone rollercoaster that is going on in the body can in some women, create the perfect storm! So, what is actually happening to the body during peri menopause?
This is the period before menopause, when the cyclical pattern of hormones throughout the menstrual cycle start to change or decline. It can last up to 10-12 years and symptoms are very individual. So, treatment should also be very individual.
Common symptoms are:
- Hot flushes
- Night sweats
- Difficulty sleeping
- Low mood, anxiety
- Significant mood changes
- Low sex drive
- Remember, you can still get pregnant during this time!
These peri menopausal symptoms can begin before the menstrual cycle stops. Therefore, it is best to record your menstrual cycle so you have the most information and be aware of when things are beginning to change. How would you know if something was changing if you don’t know what is normal for you? I encourage all women to track their menstrual cycle, to help them understand their bodies and know what’s normal for them.
This is the end stages of female fertility whereby you reach the end of your reproductive years. Technically it is once your period has ceased for a whole year. The menstrual cycle which starts in puberty and the sex hormones fluctuate on a monthly cycle- the menstrual cycle. Menopause is when they stop and you are no longer fertile so you no longer have the cyclical pattern of hormones. You stop ovulating so you don’t release any eggs and there is no bleed. This usually starts between the ages of 40-50 years but can vary between individuals. Cycles become irregular and there are changes in hormones which produce many symptoms as in the list above – but this list keeps growing!!
- Hot flushes
- Night sweats
- Lack of oestrogen- hormone health vulnerability
- Loss of muscle mass - resistance training is really important.
- Issues with gut health
- Pelvic floor issues
- Inability to lose weight.
- Brain fog, brain fog, brain fog!
The menopause usually lasts on average 4.5years, some are shorter, but some have been recorded to last up to ten years plus!
Muscle Mass & strength
As we get older, loss of muscle mass in inevitable. We can’t stop this, but we can slow this down with exercise. From the age of 40, muscle mass starts to decline in males as well as females, with 1.2% being lost every year after the age of 50. This is a lot! However, exercise, and in particular resistance exercise can slow this down.
91.2% of women in the UK have never received any exercise guidelines in the menopause years.
Bone Mass & strength
As we progress throughout life, our bones accumulate strength which is a balance of the activity of two types of cells- osteoblasts that build up the bone, and osteoclasts which break it down. This is a constant balance throughout life. As we get older, there is more bone being broken down than built up. This is exacerbated in females during the menopause due to the significant decline in oestrogen. This is the key sex hormone for females, and also the key regulator of bone formation, and stops extreme bone loss. A reduction in the normal levels of oestrogen in women means they are more at risk of fractures, and osteoporosis in later life.
How can we slow this down?
There is good evidence to suggest that exercise is very good for bone health, but particularly sprinting more than endurance. Sprinting, power, and strength training especially weight-bearing exercise all help to build muscle mass. Sprinters tend to age better than endurance athletes.
Puberty is when we start to develop our bone mass which is why strength work should be encouraged at all ages of a female’s lifespan. 26% of bone mass is lost later in life so we need to protect as much of it as we can throughout puberty and beyond. We need to encourage all younger females to be actively engaging in strength work and exercise.
It has also been proven that taking up sports later in life can still be beneficial and help to maintain muscle and bone mass. So, it is never too late to start!! In fact, the need is greater as we get older. Also, if we are more active, then diet tends to be better because you tend to be more hungry and eating more protein can again help with muscle mass. This then helps with sleep and mood. So many positives!
I understand there are barriers to exercise. Whether this is a time factor, injury, access to equipment, fear, not knowing what to do, lack of confidence, or you just don’t like exercise. It is finding out what works best for you, or what combination of things works best for you. Unfortunately, we can’t invent more time, but we can help with planning activities, address any injuries and health concerns you may have, increase your confidence in your ability to exercise or access exercise, and find something you love doing and stick with it. Whether this is in the form of yoga, resistance training at the gym, crossfit, home workouts, Pilates, plyometrics, sprinting, HIIT, it’s all good.
Let’s keep the conversation going and keep as active as we can!
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