Here’s Why Regular Exercise Is Essential During Menopause
Normally people only want to exercise when they feel good and happy and motivated. But that’s not necessarily the best way to view physical activity. Working out is both a preventer and a healer.
So even when we are not at our best, we need to move our bodies anyway.
In fact – that may be the most crucial time to do so.
And menopause is often a time when women don’t feel at their best. Their hormones are changing, their mood is swinging, they’re tired and maybe even gaining weight.
Relaxing on the couch probably sounds way more enjoyable than going to the gym.
But that initiative to workout anyway is actually what’s going to make women going through menopause feel better. And if you’re a woman in perimenopause – even better! Starting your regular workout routine now will help prevent those really negative menopause symptoms from ever getting too bad.
Here’s everything you need to know about menopause and exercise: how it helps, how much you need, and what exercises to try.
Take a few minutes to read and learn – and then get up and get moving!
Menopause Symptoms Impacted By Exercise
It’s no surprise that your entire body can benefit from regular physical activity. So no matter where you are in your menopause journey, no matter how severe your symptoms are, and no matter the age you begin menopause… you will benefit from regular exercise in one way or another – from heart health to joint pain and everything in between.
But there are a few menopause symptoms in particular that are greatly improved by physical activity, including:
Around 30% of women between the ages 50 and 59 are obese, and that’s not including the numbers that are just overweight. A big reason for this is the fact that estrogen helps keep body weight consistent, and your estrogen declines through menopause. Plus well over half of adults are not getting even the base recommended amount of exercise each week. So exercise helps regulate weight.
Bone Density Loss
Bone density loss doesn’t get as much attention as other menopause symptoms… mostly because it isn’t visible. But the effects can be disastrous, even causing older women to be stuck in bed. Osteoporosis can best be combated through high-impact weight-bearing activities (I have a few suggestions below). You need to put stress on the bones to strengthen the bones – just like you need to put stress on your muscles to strengthen them.
Hormone shifts always bring mood shifts too (think back to puberty or PMS). So as your estrogen is lowering, your moods can often swing. Sometimes you may be irritable, sometimes sad, sometimes mad, or sometimes really really stressed. Exercise has been shown to help all sorts of mental health problems from the mild blues to severe depression.
Exercise doesn’t just improve your mood… it can get you in the mood. Exercise actually increases genital arousal because it boosts your nervous system. Studies show physical activity boosts genital engorgement, increases body sensation, improves body awareness, and even increases testosterone levels – all of which make sex more desired and even more pleasurable.
The hormonal changes can lead to insomnia, but so can your decreased production of melatonin. Exercise helps your body expend energy throughout the day, so you can rest more peacefully at night. Just make sure not to do your exercises at night, so you don’t get too hyped up before bed.
If you’re already getting hot and sweaty multiple times a day from hot flashes, you probably don’t want to get hot and sweaty again from a good gym session. But you should actually get as hot and sweaty as you can during your workout. Vigorous exercise has been shown to help women deal with hot flashes by making them less intense and less frequent.
Exercise Guidelines For Menopausal Women
So how much exercise should a woman in premenopause or menopause actually get? The CDC recommends that older adults should do one of two things:
- Get 5 hours each week of moderate aerobic activity AND 2 or more weekly sessions of muscle strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups
- Or get 2 hours and 30 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity AND 2 or more weekly sessions of muscle-strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups
So what’s the difference between “moderate” and “vigorous” aerobic activity? The CDC actually gives us some examples.
Moderate exercise includes:
- Fast walking
- Water aerobics
- Easy biking with little to no kills
- Doubles Tennis
Vigorous exercise includes:
- Swimming laps
- Fast biking or hilly biking
- Singles Tennis
Then the muscle-strengthening exercises do not just have to be lifting weights at the gym (though that’s a really fabulous option). It can also include:
- Body weight exercises (like push ups)
- Resistance band training
Remember that these are just the base guidelines. This is the LEAST amount of exercise you should be getting. If you are active more often, you will get even more benefits. Of course, you should always keep a rest day or two in your schedule!
3 Types of Exercise That Are Great For Menopause
There really aren’t any “right” or “wrong” exercises to do in menopause. As long as you enjoy it and continue to listen to your body, you can do just about anything. But here’s a short list of 3 types of exercise in particular that have so many versatile benefits relating to menopause.
First off – running is a great way to increase bone density. That high impact cardio really improves the bone quality in your legs and hips. And hip health is vital as you age. But the benefits of running don’t even stop there…. They just keep going.
According to the Washington Post, running can benefit a wide variety of symptoms:
“Running can reduce hot flashes, improve sleep and cardiovascular function, alleviate pain and discomfort associated with arthritic joints, and even help with cognition and depression” If you’ve been running for your younger years, you should absolutely be able to continue in your 50s. But most women at this age can also start running. Just begin with baby steps. You can follow a walk to run system.
If the running is too hard on your joints, try a more gentle form of cardio like swimming, biking, or using a rowing machine or an elliptical machine.
2. Weight Training
Many women believe the myth that lifting weights will make them big and bulky like men. But that is entirely untrue. Women do not have nearly as much testosterone as men do; it is impossible for women to bulk up in a masculine way without the use of steroids.
All weight training will do is build long, lean muscle mass to help you looked toned, burn more fat, and improve your bone density.
So move yourself on over to the weight part of the gym and don’t be afraid to lift heavy things. Of course, you will need to start slow and light… but over time keep increasing the weight and intensity. You may be surprised just how much you can lift.
Here’s a great video of how a 58-year-old woman stays fit at the gym. You’ll see bodyweight exercises and free weight exercises too:
Yoga classes tend to help people deal with their lives better. And let’s be honest – your menopause years can be rough. On top of dealing with the symptoms, there are normally lots of life changes like retirement, grown kids, and aging parents.
Yoga offers a way to cope with stress and mood swings. But it also improves physical symptoms too:
- More vigorous vinyasa and power yoga classes can give you some of those aerobic and muscle-strengthening benefits. It could help you hot flashes too.
- Yoga Journal recommends restorative poses with bolsters and blankets for cooling hot flashes. Then these calmer restorative and yin yoga classes can help with calming the mind, easing depression, and improving aches and pains.
- Studies have shown that yoga also “appears to be an effective method of improving all domains of sexual functions in women”
Plus yoga improves balance which gets harder and harder as you age.
Other Exercises For Menopausal Women
Of course, these exercises above are not the only things that will help improve the health, wellness, and happiness of menopausal women. If you’re struggling to find exercises that you like, you may also be struggling with motivation to workout.
So here are some more “fun” ideas that could help you reach those weekly recommendations:
- Ballroom dancing
- Stair climbing
- Sports (tennis, volleyball, etc.)
- Fitness classes like Zumba
- Barre classes
- Bowling league
Get Moving for Menopause
If you are not exercising at all right now, start slow. Choose a moderate aerobic activity and do it 30 minutes for 4 days a week. Then boost it to 40 minutes for 5 days a week. Then an hour. Then see if you can add in some vigorous aerobic activity.
If you are already active, look for ways that you can improve your regimen. Maybe add in one yoga session a week for mental health and balance. Maybe you need some more muscle strengthening for bone density.
And no matter what – don’t forget to warm up and cool off. This will help prevent any sort of injuries that could put you out of commission for a while or even cause harm.
Finally, talk to your doctor about your workout regimen. You may want to get some cardio fitness tests done if you have previously been sedentary. See what he or she recommends to start out. Then consider moving on to the help of a personal trainer – at least until you get the hang of your new gym routine.