Menopause can be a bit of a minefield – hormones are fluctuating wildly, causing night sweats, headaches, and those dreaded hot flushes. For a long time it was something that was swept under the carpet, but thankfully it is now an increasingly important conversation in modern society.
While 75% of women aged between 45 and 55 will only experience mild symptoms, 25% will have symptoms that can seriously affect their quality of life, which include, anxiety, irritability, forgetfulness and changes in mood. This can also affect women who experience early menopause before age 45 or those that have undergone a hysterectomy.
But it’s not just the physiological effects you need to be aware of. Menopause is also a risk factor for osteoporosis as women begin to lose bone strength at a faster rate, which is why movement in midlife is vital.
So what are the benefits of keeping fit and healthy through this transition?
Weight Management: As hormone levels begin to change, women tend to lose muscle mass and gain some weight. This also happens in tandem with a slowing down of the natural processes of bone growth due to a reduction or fluctuation in oestrogen levels.
Oestrogen helps to protect bones and prevent them from weakening so when these levels begin to lower, it can significantly impact bone mass.
Due to possibly increasing weight during this period, women can be at greater risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and heart issues, so exercise and weight management are very important during menopause.
Mood: Anxiety and irritability are also often experienced by women during menopause. These symptoms, particularly if never experienced before menopause, can have detrimental effects on our bodily systems. Long-term stress and anxiety during these transitionary years can be hard to manage. Regular exercise can help reduce cortisol levels which is a stress hormone.
Sleep: It’s not just sleep duration that can be affected, but also sleep quality. Exercise can be a glorious mood elevating intervention. It also helps to tire you out, expending energy and improving your sleep.
What type of exercise should I do?
Aerobic exercise, exercise that gets your heart pumping, and strength training are recommended before, during and after menopause. Walking, swimming and cycling are all examples of safe aerobic exercise options.
If you are not very active, start small with five to ten minutes. Gradually build the duration and intensity of your exercise of choice as you become fitter.
Strength training is a vital component of managing menopause. It helps to build and maintain both muscle and bone health. Handheld weights, resistance bands and your body weight are all easy ways to begin to build strength training into your routine at home. Aqua aerobics, gym classes and personal training can challenge your muscles and bones and encourage them to stay strong. You should aim to do two to three strength focused exercise sessions per week.
Set realistic goals and try to build exercise into your existing schedule. Change up your exercise routine and choice of exercise from time-to-time as our bodies get used to routine and exercise choices quickly.
If you have questions talk to your local GP, who can refer you to one of the HSE’s specialist Menopause Clinics.