Dr. Jessica Warnecke
Menopause & exercise: how to stay fit and strong as you get older
Menopause may signal the end of your periods, but does it mean the end of smashing a strong workout? Not a chance.
I’m here to tell you that women can and should continue to train, feel strong and crush their workouts into their 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond!
If you’re already experiencing it, you’ll know that there’s more to menopause than no more periods. There are different phases and symptoms, and the journey won’t be the same for everyone. So let’s take a look at how you can keep moving your body and benefiting from training as you move through perimenopause, menopause and beyond.
What is perimenopause?
Perimenopause occurs when your body is nearing the end of its reproductive years and starts transitioning to menopause. This phase occurs at different ages for different women, starting as early as the late 30s for some, and (more often) in the early 40s for others.
What happens during perimenopause?
As you go through this phase, your ovaries will start producing different levels of oestrogen (estrogen), which can make your menstrual cycle erratic or irregular. Some signs you may be experiencing perimenopause include:
vaginal dryness or pain with intercourse
It’s important to be aware of the changes you’re experiencing so you can remain proactive with your health. Remember, the contraceptive pill can mask the symptoms of perimenopause and menopause. As you get into your 40s, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about the best time to stop taking the pill or switch to a different form of contraception.
Can exercise help with perimenopause symptoms?
Hormone changes during perimenopause will affect your musculoskeletal system, which means it’s more important than ever to stick to a regular strength training routine in order to slow down the rate of muscle and bone loss. These changes can also spark weight gain and change. Continuing to exercise will help you to:
regulate cortisol (the stress hormone)
reduce fat storage
minimise diabetes risk
prevent aches and pains or future injuries
A women’s health physiotherapist can let you know what kind of pelvic floor exercises are best for you.
This phase is also a good time to introduce pelvic floor exercises into your routine, especially if you start to notice bladder leakage. If you do experience incontinence or vaginal pain, you should seek help from a women’s health specialist or pelvic physiotherapist as soon as possible to prevent and reduce any future concerns. Unlike hot flashes or mood swings, these two symptoms often don’t go away on their own.
What if I don’t feel like exercising during perimenopause?
Maintaining a regular training routine is one of the easiest ways to prevent and manage the mood changes that can come with perimenopause. Any form of exercise that increases endorphins and reduces stress or negative feelings will help you to manage the transition. It could be a sweaty strength session with Emily or taking a walk outside. Breathing exercises, meditation and listening to relaxing music can help, too.
Trouble sleeping? Try some light exercise – like this warm and gentle yoga session with Michelle – in the afternoon.
Changing sleep patterns during perimenopause can also feed into mood changes (and vice versa). Again, it’s crucial that you take a proactive approach for your mental health. Multiple studies show that light to moderate exercise before bed can actually help with restorative sleep.
Aim to do a lighter session at least 90 minutes before bed, keeping the more vigorous workouts for earlier in the day. (Unless you’re naturally a night owl, in which case research supports you in working out when it works for you!) If you find yourself dealing with lethargy or sleep limitations, it’s important to try and identify the root cause. If it’s from poor dietary choices, lack of exercise or stress, focus on forming good habits in those areas to keep yourself feeling healthy and energised.
How do I know when I’ve reached menopause?
Once you have gone through a year without menstruation, you’ve fully transitioned to menopause. Most women will reach this phase between 45 and 55.
What’s the best kind of exercise for menopause?
During menopause, it’s even more important to stay regular with your strength training and focus on bigger muscle groups, doing activities you enjoy, and including restorative options like yoga or pilates. Increasing evidence shows just how important regular physical activity is for increasing quality of life in general, but especially in middle age and beyond.
Don’t forget your deadlifts! Compound moves that hit your glutes and quads are recommended for menopausal women.
By continuing with proper strength training, you are able to put your muscle fibres under strain to help them adapt and maintain a level of strength that you won’t otherwise naturally have at this stage. Your menopause exercise plan should focus on:
compound movements such as squats and deadlifts
Your FIT workouts will help you target these areas to effectively maintain muscle mass.
Loading your bones through resistance exercises also increases your body’s ability to create stronger bones to prevent the onset of osteoporosis. How does this work? The loading process triggers cell activity in the bones to keep reforming tissue, which reduces bones’ ability to bend or break.
What if I don’t have the energy to exercise during menopause?
Decreased energy or increased fatigue is common as your hormones change. However, one of the many well-researched benefits of exercise is the fact that it aids in reducing fatigue and increasing energy – yes, even in menopausal women. This is why sticking with a balance of strength training and restorative exercise is a great goal for menopause.
In a recent study of physical activity levels and the effects of menopause on women, it was found that those who do moderate or vigorous levels of exercise regularly (3-5 days per week) experience less severe menopause symptoms. Add in a 10-minute mobility routine or yoga twice a week and your body will thank you!
Whatever stage you’re at, don’t stop!
In order to prioritise future wellbeing, it’s important that you create a lifestyle of healthy habits that you truly enjoy. It’s never too late to start (or enhance) your fitness goals.
A regular strength training routine will continue to benefit you during postmenopause, reducing the effects of age-related illnesses such as arthritis and diabetes. Training is also crucial to maintaining balance and coordination, which will reduce falls and prevent fractures, so you are able to retain your independence.
How you feel can change from day to day, so keep moving with Emily’s Made to FIT workouts – it’s easy to filter for a low, medium or high intensity workout to suit your energy levels and strength.
Having a high quality of life is so important, so don’t let any age-related changes make you feel like you can’t live and feel your absolute best!
Dr. Jessica Warnecke
Dr. Jessica Warnecke is a physical therapist based in Austin, TX, who is dedicated to keeping you moving at your best in every stage of life – from pregnancy to peak fitness and strength. As well as holding a BS in Exercise Science and a Doctorate Degree, Jessica is a Board Certified Orthopaedic Clinical Specialist and a certified Postpartum Corrective Exercise Specialist.
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