What is menopause?
The medical definition of menopause is a cessation of menses for 12 months.(or 24 months if under 50) Menopause occurs when the ovaries stop making the hormones oestrogen and progesterone. While the average age to reach menopause is 51/52, some women may reach menopause as early as their 30s or as late as their 60s. Symptoms of menopause include hot flushes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, insomnia, headache, lethargy, chronic fatigue, irritability, anxiety, depression, a racing heart and joint pain.
How does exercise help?
Without the influence of oestrogen, heart disease and osteoporosis risk increase after menopause. The good news is that this risk can be decreased substantially with regular physical activity programme emphasising cardiovascular conditioning, weight-bearing exercise, and high impact activities when tolerated.
The mood elevating, tension-relieving effects of aerobic exercise reduce depression and anxiety, which often accompany menopause. Aerobic exercise promotes the loss of abdominal fat, a common place for postmenopausal weight gain. Strength training stimulates bones to retain the minerals that keep them dense and strong, thereby preventing the onset and progression of osteoporosis. These effects of exercise, along with improved cholesterol levels and physical fitness, work together to prevent heart disease.
Keep in mind that good nutrition and a physically active lifestyle go together. A diet low in saturated and trans-fat and high in fibre and calcium is key in reaping the full benefits of exercise. To reap the benefits of exercise, a balanced programme of cardiovascular conditioning to reduce the risk of heart disease, strength training to decrease the risk of osteoporosis and flexibility to maintain range of motion is essential.
Consistency is important. Strive to be moderately active for at least 30 minutes each day, or at least most days of the week, every week.
Tips to get started
Given that the average age of menopause is 51/52, and women can expect to live 30 to 50 years beyond menopause, it’s important to think positively about this new phase of your life. Starting a new exercise program at mid-life is no different than starting one in your youth.
- Set some realistic and attainable goals. What can you accomplish in three months? Six months? One year?
- Create a sustainable exercise schedule.
- Experiment with different forms of exercise to find something you enjoy.
- Seek out professional advice if you are unsure of what types of exercise you should be doing or how to do them.
- Change things up every four to six weeks, your body needs change to keep moving towards your goals.
- Reward yourself periodically for sticking with it. Non-food rewards, please, so as not to undermine your hard work in the gym.
Often, the choices and information available on menopause can be simply overwhelming. The health and wellness industry is confusing even to fitness professionals. There are always new studies being published contradicting the findings of the older ones. Rather than blindly following the results of the latest study, find out what works for you. This requires a commitment to paying attention to your own body and accepting or rejecting things that don’t benefit you. And of course, your best strategy will continue to change as you age.