Exercise and Menopause

Let’s take a look at menopause and perimenopause and a few things you can do to ease the transition. Menopause takes place twelve months after a women’s monthly period comes to an end, signaling the end of reproductive years. The time leading up to menopause is called the menopausal transition, or perimenopause.

Perimenopause usually takes place between the ages of 45 and 55, and lasts for about 4-8 years (but can be more or less depending on health conditions, body composition, environmental factors, etc.). 

During periomenopause and menopause, the two main hormones associated with women’s menstrual cycles, estrogen and progesterone, begin to vary greatly and eventually decrease.

Estrogen and Progesterone Basics

Estrogen is a hormone produced mainly by the ovaries that helps to regulate the menstrual cycle. It’s also important in the health of the whole body including bones, breasts, skin, heart, brain, blood vessels and urinary tract. 

Progesterone is a hormone also produced in the ovaries that is used to regulate menstruation, support early pregnancy, improve your mood, and facilitate the action of thyroid hormones. 

With these hormones impacting so many functions of the body, their drop during menopause can result in an array of symptoms including:

  • Changes in the menstrual cycle
  • Hot flashes
  • Mood swings
  • Weight fluctuations
  • Cramps
  • Loss of bone density

Despite the many changes that take place in the body during perimenopause and menopause, there are a number of ways that you can take control to keep your symptoms at bay. One of the best ways is through exercise!

Why You Should Exercise During Perimenopause/Menopause:

Exercising for 150 minutes per week at a moderate intensity, or 75 minutes per week at a high intensity, can…

  • Help maintain a healthy weight, which decreases the risk of developing chronic illness and certain cancers and minimizes hot flashes
  • Help to improve mood, which is beneficial when your hormones are beginning to shift
  • Strengthen bones, reducing the risk of osteoporosis during and after menopause
  • Help minimize changes in metabolism that are associated with a drop in estrogen, further helping to maintain a healthy weight

What Exercises Should You Do?

As you age, recovery from high-intensity exercise may become more difficult or take longer, so it is important to push your body, but not to the point of pain. Self-monitoring is key when exercising at any point of life. It is important to frequently check-in with your body; notice how your muscles feel, and note any discomfort. If you notice any significant pain or discomfort, take a rest and check-in with a trainer or doctor. 

Exercise during the menopausal transition should include a variety of exercise:

  1. Strength Training– This will increase bone density, minimize risk of fracture and osteoporosis, strengthen muscles, decrease future fall risk and increase metabolism.
  2. Aerobic Exercise- Exercises that increase your heart rate will help improve cardiovascular strength and endurance, improve blood flow, and increase the amount of oxygen reaching your muscle groups. 
  3. Stretching- Whether it be a yoga class, deep stretch, or just five minutes in the morning, stretching can increase functional mobility, keep muscles aligned, and decrease risk of injury. 
  4. Balance- Working on balance helps increase coordination and reduce the risk of falls. It will also benefit the strength training regimen or aerobic activity in which you choose to partake. 

Finding a routine that you love is incredibly important, and can play a dramatic role in how your body responds to symptoms of menopause. Although it can, your schedule does not need to include an intense gym routine, with long runs and yoga classes. It can be as simple as five minutes of stretching in the morning, a morning or evening walk and some light weight-training a couple times each week. Your body is yours to care for and each is different! The menopausal transition is a great time to listen to what your body needs and care for it in ways that keep you at your healthiest and happiest.

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