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Change is inevitable as you approach the menopause — but are you seeing the kinds of changes you want? Including workouts you enjoy into your life will help battle weight gain, hot flashes, osteoporosis, and muscle loss. What exercise is right for you?

The perimenopause is a time of huge changes — you might as well make sure some of them are the kinds of changes you want! If, like me, you've led a busy life in which exercise didn't play as much of a role as it could, now is the perfect time to commit to incorporating something that's great for your body and makes you feel great into your weekly routine. It may just help you battle some menopause symptoms, too!

Why make exercise a priority during the perimenopause and after the menopause? Pick and choose from this dizzying number of reasons, or embrace them all:

  • If you've noticed that you're "rounding out" even though your diet hasn't changed much, you're not alone. The hormonal changes the menopause brings mean that it's normal to gain some pounds in the abdominal region while simultaneously losing muscle mass. Exercise — and really, any vigorous physical activity counts — helps fight middle-age weight gain. 
  • It's grim, but true — you start losing about a percent of muscle mass every 12 months after you hit age 30. Weight-bearing exercise can give you an edge and allow you to keep that good stuff. Because all the important muscle groups need a workout to combat this natural process, including your core, limbs, and butt, now's a great time to get more organized and join the gym rather than working out at home. 
  • Exercise is a great way to decrease your risk of osteoporosis (brittle bones), which is something to be aware of as you approach the menopause. 
  • Exercise does wonders for your flexibility, which is good news if you've been feeling stiff when you wake up like many women. Even just daily stretching exercises help you out in this department.
  • Workouts are a proven mood-booster. As you continue aging, exercise also actually lowers your risk of depression and the dreaded "cognitive decline". 
  • Exercise helps prevent diseases. Post-menopausal weight maintenance is believed to help reduce your risk of breast cancer, colon cancer, and endometrial cancer, as well as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. 

Does exercise help you with menopause symptoms, too?

Mostly indirectly, unless you consider weight gain itself to be a symptom of the menopause. That's to say, regular exercise boosts mood, and mood swings are associated with the perimenopause. It also helps you sleep better, and again, many women going through the menopause struggle with sleep quality. In addition, it seems like overweight and obese women are more prone to hot flashes, so working out may combat these as well. 

That might not be the magical symptom reduction you were hoping for, but given the overall health benefits exercise brings, you certainly have plenty of reason to put it on your to-do list. You don't have to become a gym fiend, either — the CDC recommends a minimum of 150 of "moderate aerobic activity" or 75 of "vigorous aerobic activity" on a weekly basis, something that's very doable. 

What workouts should (peri)menopausal women try, and why?

Cardio, baby!

Cardio, or aerobic exercise, gets your heart beat up and your muscles moving — boosting strength, flexibility, and stamina while lifting your mood, reducing your cholesterol levels and blood pressure, and helping you sleep better, it's one of the best things to do. It's especially good for cardiovascular health and weight loss or maintenance. 

You've got absolutely no shortage of choices:

  • Walking, jogging, or running — alone, in a group, on a treadmill, in the moods... it all counts!
  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Dancing, capoeira, tennis, rope jumping
  • Cardio exercises through an app
  • Even using the stairs, decluttering, mowing the lawn, and other everyday activities incorporate cardio

Once you've been doing cardio for a while, you may like to try something new, like high intensity interval training (HIIT); short, but hard, exercise sessions that can also target belly fat. 

Don't skip the strength training!

Think strength training, and weights will immediately come to mind. Lifting weights will, of course, make you stronger, but so do activities like push-ups, pull-ups, squats, using a resistance band, helping someone move house and carrying boxes, or doing resistance exercises with a partner. Try doing strength training twice a week to start off with, doing enough repetitions of your chosen exercise to make you "feel it" but not exhausting yourself. 

The numerous benefits of strength training include:

  • Building lean muscle mass and speeding up your metabolism, which both help with weight loss. 
  • Reducing your risk of osteoporosis by building stronger bones. 
  • Helping you keep your muscle mass up, something that's especially important as it declines with age and muscle strength will help lower your odds of injury.
  • Making you all-around stronger.
You can also reduce your risk of conditions that are more likely after the menopause, like type 2 diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, and back pain. 

Mind-body techniques

Mind-body techniques like yoga and Tai Chi will certainly give you some physical exercise, especially increasing your flexibility, but they also target emotional wellbeing by reducing stress. Yoga, especially, may offer relief from unpleasant menopause symptoms like hot flashes, tiredness, mood swings, and even reduce your risk of depression. 

Dancing?

Yes, it's cardio with all the benefits that it brings, but many people will also find dancing rather more fun than, for instance, jogging. Any activity you really enjoy will have more relaxation potential than something you honestly can't stand, so if you like the thought of dancing — whether tango, jazz, hip hop, or something else — give it a go. You'll build muscle, flexibility, and confidence all at the same time. 

Yes, housework counts!

The busy and practical among us might not like the thought of dedicating much time to exercise, but we've still got physical stuff to do. It all counts. Things like vigorous mopping and hoovering, raking leaves, scrubbing the bathroom, or cleaning out the basement will all get your heart rate up and increase your strength. Serious housework and yard work can definitely work your core, glutes, quads, and arm muscles!

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