The menopause, or more specifically the perimenopause – as this is the period leading up to the menopause when we may experience symptoms due to fluctuating hormone levels – will happen at a different time for each woman. And each woman will experience this life period differently.
However, it is common during this time for women to find that the results of their usual diet and exercise are stalling. Weight gain happens more easily and metabolism slows. It can feel like you’re spinning your wheels and not getting anywhere. Coupled with the symptoms common in menopause, you can be left feeling a bit lost and despondent.
Symptoms of Menopause
Hot flushes, weight gain, mood swings, trouble sleeping and memory issues. These are just a handful of the symptoms that women going through menopause can experience. You may experience all of these symptoms or just a handful. However, the majority of women will find that the results of their usual diet and exercise are stalling, weight gain happens more easily and they are left unsure of where to go next.
Exercise to manage symptoms
During menopause a woman’s bodies is undergoing a lot of change and it can be a puzzling time. Exercise is an important piece of solving the menopause puzzle, but to get the most from its benefits it shouldn’t be looked at in isolation.
A holistic approach to health and wellbeing can help to manage uncomfortable symptoms for many. Changes to nutrition, mental health – via stress reduction and better sleep – and exercise can all work to control and ease the symptoms many women experience at this time.
Exercise in menopause
Women in the perimenopause and menopause need to exercise in ‘smart’ ways that will boost the metabolism, increase lean muscle mass and bone density and decrease stress.
Menopausal women should prioritise resistance training 2-3 times per week. Resistance training using weights, bodyweight or bands will increase lean muscle mass.
Muscle is a metabolically active tissue so the more lean muscle mass you have, the higher your metabolism and more efficient the body is at fat burning.
As we age the hormones that protect our muscles and bones decrease, which can lead to sarcopenia (muscle loss) and osteoporosis (porous bone).
Strength training can help to combat sarcopenia and maintain muscle mass.
Strength training also puts the bones under stress. In response to this the body produces more of the bone building cells (osteoblasts) which help to increase bone density. Alongside good dietary choices, strength training can help to prevent osteoporosis.
HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training):
High intensity interval training is an efficient form of training in which you work at full capacity for a short period and then rest for another period (e.g. 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off). It can increase cardiovascular health and your metabolism while protecting, and possibly increasing, muscle mass. Long duration cardio (of 60 minutes or more) can raise cortisol levels (the body’s stress hormone) and decrease levels of testosterone (an important hormone for muscle as well as libido). Doing shorter duration, higher intensity exercise can help avoid this.
Recovery and Flexibility Training:
The body adapts and grows at rest. Exercise in and of itself is a stressor on the body, so it is very important to balance that with rest and recovery. Active recovery days should be part of your exercise regime. Yoga, stretching sessions and brisk walks are all great way to let the body recover and maintain flexibility whilst staying active.
Mental Health Benefits:
Oestrogen is an important player in the production of serotonin (the body’s mood stabiliser). As oestrogen levels drop during perimenopause so does serotonin. This can lead to the irritability, mood swings and depression that many women experience during this life stage.
Exercise has been shown to boost serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, the chemicals that help to regulate mood and reduce stress and anxiety. Coupled with a practice of meditation or breathing exercises this can help reduce stress levels and improve sleep patterns.
The menopause can be a confusing time but there are a lot of tools that women can use to help themselves navigate the peri to post-menopausal years.
An experienced and qualified personal trainer can help to create a programme of exercise that covers all the areas we need to work on during menopause – strength, flexibility and cardiovascular health – but tailored to your individual needs.
Emily is a personal trainer based in Surrey. To find out more about her services, click on her profile at the top of the page.