Exercise is an imperative part of a healthy lifestyle when you are going through menopause – and certain exercises can even help to alleviate some menopause symptoms.
However, studies have found that many women going through menopause lead largely sedentary lifestyles which results in a loss of fitness, something that can have a greater impact on health as you age.
"Going through menopause can feel like a bumpy ride, so giving our health some extra TLC during this time is crucial for our wellbeing," Elizabeth Sergeant, Women’s Health and Performance Coach, and Functional Health Practitioner at Well Nourished Club, says.
"Exercise is no exception – in fact, it’s one of the best ways we can bring more ease to our menopause experience. This is thanks to exercise’s key role in our metabolism, hormone health and mood – all of which become more volatile when we go through menopause."
Sergeant adds that fluctuating oestrogren levels during perimenopause that begin to decline after menopause can make maintaining muscle mass and bone density more tricky, and puts women at risk for metabolic changes like insulin resistance, increased inflammation, as well as symptoms of low mood, anxiety and brain fog.
"Luckily, these are all areas that exercise can help to support," she explains. "While it’s not the only change we should be making as diet and lifestyle changes are also important, alongside HRT for some of us, we shouldn’t underestimate the impact of exercise in staying healthy through menopause."
But what type of exercises should you be doing? Read on to find out.
Strength and resistance training is key for women going through the menopause transition as it can increase muscle mass which keeps you strong, fit, and healthy.
One 2016 study found that 12 weeks of strength training was significantly correlated with positive change in the physical and mental health of menopausal women and could increase their quality of life.
Another study from 2023 determined that resistance training resulted in "significant improvements in strength, physical activity, bone density and hormonal and metabolic changes in menopausal women", and had a positive effect on symptoms such as high heart rate, blood pressure and hot flashes.
Numerous studies have found that pilates can have a significant impact on menopause symptoms thanks to its focus on core strength and stress reduction.
One 2016 study that followed a group of menopausal women for eight weeks found that regular pilates sessions can have a positive effect on menopause symptoms, lumbar strength and flexibility.
Another study from 2014 found that pilates can improve both mental and physical symptoms of PMS.
"An intense morning workout heightens our natural cortisol awakening response, further increasing the amount of this stress hormone which may exacerbate symptoms like anxiety, and lead to less stable blood sugar levels, leading to energy dips and cravings," Sergeant explains.
"If you enjoy exercising in the morning (or evening), a gentle option such as walking, yoga or pilates will work best."
If you’re more of a cardio lover, don’t worry – you don’t have to just focus on strength to ease your menopause symptoms, but you can go to regular spin or HIIT classes too.
One study from 2012 found that aerobic exercises are particularly beneficial for reducing menopause symptoms such as night sweats, mood swings, and irritability.
"Choose something you enjoy and make it fun so it's sustainable and doesn't become tedious," Bukky Ayoade, founder of Vibrant Midlife says.
"At least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week is recommended. This can include brisk walking, running, jogging, skipping, cycling or swimming. Aerobic exercise promotes cardiovascular health and helps with weight management, while strength training helps maintain muscle mass and bone density which declines in menopause."
Good news: for those who aren’t gym fans, walking can also bring some relief from menopause symptoms.
A 2020 study which analysed 3,244 papers found that in 91% of cases, walking aided at least one menopause symptom, and the study deemed it to have ‘therapeutic effects’ for women with menopause.
"Physical activity during exercise releases endorphins, the body's ‘feel-good’ hormones, promoting emotional wellbeing and alleviating symptoms like stress, anxiety, and mood swings," Ayoade says. "Walking out in nature is also good for mental clarity and gives the ‘feel-good’ factor."
Yoga is known to boost flexibility and help those who practice to de-stress, both of which can be valuable during the menopause transition.
One study from 2012 found that regular uptake of yoga can offer relief from symptoms for women going through menopause and can be offered as an "adjunct intervention for women who suffer from psychological complaints".
How to incorporate exercise into your routine
"Aiming to include some type of movement daily is a great way of supporting our overall wellbeing when we’re menopausal," Sergeant says.
She adds that you can start by fitting in exercise around your current daily routine, such as a short walk or a 10-minute yoga flow.
"This will help to boost our mood whilst also supporting metabolic health and help to minimise insulin resistance," she explains. "Getting outside for a walk during the day for daylight exposure, or exercising in the hour after a meal are ways to add exercise into your routine while maximising the benefits."
Sergeant suggests gentle exercise in the morning or evening, and more intense exercise in the middle of the day.
"Exercising during the middle of the day means the boost in cortisol will help us to feel energised and alert, which is something we want to avoid in the evening as stress hormones are naturally declining, allowing us to unwind ready for sleep," she explains.
"When it comes to bone density, 45-60 minutes of exercise three times per week has been shown to help protect bone health, while doing resistance exercises that specifically aid muscle strength twice a week will support muscle mass (these could overlap with each other)."
Ayoade says the best way to stick to a routine is to choose a time for exercise that suits your lifestyle and stick to it.
"Done repeatedly you form the habit," she adds. "Use ‘exercise snacks’ during the day, find a buddy or accountability partner, take a break from work, park some distance from your destination so you can walk part of the way, take the stairs instead of the lift. With all of these, the key is setting one's mind to get in more exercise and being intentional to ensure it happens."
Menopause: Read more
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