Exercise is a vital component of good health.1 And while we all should be exercising at least 150 minutes over five or more sessions each week, more than half of us aren't.1 We lack time, motivation, or inclination. But seriously, while you may have been able to get away without exercising (or doing too much of it) up until now, menopause is not as forgiving. Trust me when I tell you, you’ll find going through menopause much easier with regular, sustainable exercise!
I know: between hot flushes and night sweats, you already feel you’re sweating enough. So who needs to go to the gym to sweat more, right? But research tells us that women who are physically active during menopause may actually experience fewer and milder hot flushes and night sweats than women who don't move as much.2 And there are so many other reasons why it's important to stay active during menopause. Here are my top 5 reasons ...
Two of my close friends struggled emotionally while going through menopause. One of them said she constantly felt foggy. This impacted her confidence as she is CEO of a major tech company. Being sharp and focused were a large part of her success. My other friend battled with depression. The one thing that really helped them both was exercise. Getting your heart rate up and keeping it elevated releases endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and other feel-good chemicals in your brain.3 These chemicals work together to boost your mood3, while dopamine and serotonin have a positive effect on your focus and attention.4
There is no doubt that stress can make your menopause symptoms even worse.5 Rushing around, being under pressure to meet a deadline or hoping you won't melt in public are all likely to bring on a flush as well as leave you feeling a little frayed around the edges. Chances are, your usual coping skills might also be compromised due to the chronic lack of sleep caused by relentless night sweats.6 Whilst a little stress in our lives can keep us on our toes, at other times (like menopause), even the smallest amount can tip us over the edge.
While having a go at the hipster who put sugar in your latte when you explicitly explained “no sugar” might make you feel better for a moment, one of the best stress busters is physical exercise.2 As well as the feel-good endorphins doing their job, exercise can help you sleep better, which can help manage your mood and put you in a better frame of mind for dealing with difficult situations. Being active can also improve your sense of coping and distract you from negative thoughts.7
We may forget to pay attention to the heart during menopause because we are slaying all the other symptoms. However, your risk of heart disease significantly increases as your estrogen level drops.2 In post-menopausal women, LDL or 'bad' cholesterol and triglycerides increase, while HDL or 'good' cholesterol decreases.2 These changes put women at a higher risk of stroke and heart attack.8 This is not to scare you, but rather to motivate you. And while a healthy diet is really important for heart health8, exercise supports your heart health too.2 Just make sure you see your doctor before you start anything too intense, especially if it’s been a while since you have regularly been active.
My poor girlfriend who suffered the foggies also suffered instantaneous widening of the waist. It didn’t matter how closely she watched what she ate, she just kept putting on weight.9 Again, diet is really important to maintain a healthy weight, but exercise can also help. A combination of aerobic and strength training exercises is ideal.10 Strength training is super-effective in speeding up your metabolism and burning body fat.10 By increasing your muscle mass through strength training, you boost your resting metabolism and burn calories more efficiently.10,2
Even when your menopause symptoms gradually ease, you shouldn’t forget about your bone health. As you don’t have the ‘protective shield’ of estrogen, your bones start taking a hit.2 Unfortunately, you begin to lose more bone each year than you make; this puts you at greater risk of osteoporosis.2
An exercise program combining both aerobic activity and strength training is best to build up your bones.2,11 Aerobic activities should include weight-bearing activities such as brisk walking, jogging, stair climbing, tennis, netball and dancing.11 Pilates and yoga are also good weight-bearing exercises. These types of exercises have been shown to produce better results over activities where your body weight is supported, such as swimming and cycling.11
Strengthening exercises place a greater load on the bones making them stronger.11 You can do weights in a gym with weight-training equipment or at home with free weights. You can also use your own body weight as resistance, like when you do push ups and pull ups. And no, you won’t beef up and look like a bloke just because you’re weight training!
Here are my 5 favourite functional exercises you should do at least four times a week. You don’t need a gym or a trainer, just some space and a bench or chair. Try to find a set of stairs too. Another of my girlfriends took these exercise tips onboard and continued her 5 functional exercises while travelling through Italy. It didn’t cut into her holiday; in fact it made it more ‘bearable’!
Aim to be physically active for at least 30 minutes a day, but you can divide it up into 10-minute bursts if you prefer. You need to exert yourself enough to feel warm and slightly breathless, but still able to hold a conversation. If you feel like you need to take it slow, start gently by taking regular walks and gradually increase to a level you feel comfortable with.
Tricep dips – Great for backs of arms. Place hands on seat of chair with weight only on hands and feet (that is, your bottom off the chair and in front of the seat). Keep back straight and parallel to back of the chair. Bend elbows to 90 degrees and straighten. Your bottom should not touch the floor. Repeat. Start with three sets of 10 and gradually add more.
Squats – Work legs and bottom. With back straight and tummy tight, bend slightly forward and stick bottom out. Sit on chair without actually touching it. Stand up, clenching bottom on the way up. Repeat. Start with 30 and add more.
Jog (or walk) up stairs – Great for legs, bottom and heart. Find a set of stairs with at least 10 steps and go up and down three times. Do more if you can.
Crunches – Strengthen your core (abdominal muscles). Lie on back, knees bent, feet flat on floor. Curl upper body to 20-45 degrees, lower and repeat. Start with 30 and add more
Reverse crunches – Also strengthen your core. As for crunches, but bring both knees to chest. Bottom lifts slightly off the floor. Slowly lower legs, but don’t let feet return to floor. Repeat. Start with 30 and add more
Push ups – Target chest and arms. Do these from feet or knees, depending on strength. Start with three sets of 10 and gradually add more.
Okay, so I might have put six exercises in there – call it a bonus! I find exercising is always better with a friend, so grab your bestie and get moving. The benefits are enormous, and as they say … no one regrets working out.
Always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program, especially if you haven't exercised for a long time or have a chronic health condition.
If you experience pain during or after exercise, over and above general muscles soreness, you should consult your doctor.
©Pfizer 2018. Pfizer Australia Pty Limited. Pfizer Medical Information: 1800 675 229. Sydney, Australia.
1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). Web report: The health of Australia's females. Last updated 4 October 2017. Available from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/men-women/female-health/contents/lifestyle-risk-factors. Accessed 9 November 2018.
2. Sturh RM. (2002). Exercise through menopause. ACSM Health & Fitness Journal. 6(4). Pp.7–13.
3. verywellmind. Exercise and Improving Your Mood. Updated 12 February, 2018. Available from https://www.verywellmind.com/exercise-and-improving-your-mood-2223781. Accessed 12 November 2018.
4. Helpguide.org. The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise. Available from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-living/the-mental-health-benefits-of-exercise.htm. Accessed 12 November 2018.
5. Jean Hailes for Women's Health. Menopause symptoms. Available at https://jeanhailes.org.au/health-a-z/menopause/menopause-symptoms. Accessed 12 November 2018.
6. Jean Hailes for Women's Health. Mental health & emotions. Available from https://jeanhailes.org.au/health-a-z/menopause/mental-health-emotions. Accessed 13 November 2018.
7. Better Health Channel. Exercise and mental health. Available from https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/exercise-and-mental-health#. Accessed 12 November 2018.
8. Australasian Menopause Society. Do what makes your heart healthy. Available at: https://www.menopause.org.au/health-info/resources/870-do-what-makes-your-heart-healthy. Accessed 12 November 2018.
9. Exercise and Sport Science Australia. Exercise Right for Menopause. Available at http://exerciseright.com.au/menopause-and-exercise/. Accessed 30 April 2017.
10. Mayo Clinic. Fitness tips for menopause: why fitness counts. Available at http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/womens-health/in-depth/fitness-tips-for-menopause/art-20044602?pg=1. Accessed 13 November 2018.
11. Healthy Bones Australia. Exercise. Available from http://www.healthybonesaustralia.org.au/how/exercise/. Accessed 13 November 2018.