Exercise and the Menopause
The menopause can be a challenging time for many women. The body goes through a number of changes which can bring with it several unpleasant symptoms, including hot flushes, night sweats and sleeping difficulties, to name but a few. The symptoms can be uncomfortable and even painful and emotionally you can feel irritable or even depressed.
We all know that exercise is good for us, but how does it help during the menopause? During the menopause many women experience weight gain and this is particularly common around the abdomen. One of the reasons for this is the declining levels of oestrogen. This coupled with lifestyle factors such and lack of exercise and poor diet are also contributors. Exercise can help to reduce and control this, can boost your mood and can leave you feeling energised and strong. For more information on weight loss and exercise, see my blog on 'which exercises are best for weight loss'.
Keep your Heart Healthy
Lowering levels of oestrogen can impact cholesterol levels by increasing LDL (bad) cholesterol whilst reducing good cholesterol levels. High LDL cholesterol increases your risk of heart disease and stroke so it’s important to maintain a healthy diet and keep active. Cardio is a great way of keeping the heart pumping and the blood flowing. For some, the thought of exercising may feel quite daunting but there are so many options to choose from, all of which will have positive impacts on health. It doesn’t need to be a lengthy session, 20 minutes to an hour 3 to 5 days per week will be effective. Whatever you choose, try to opt for exercise you enjoy. That way, you are more likely to make it part of your routine. The following are some great cardio options:
Strong Pelvic Foor
The pelvic organs (uterus, vagina, bladder, urethra and rectum) are supported by the pelvic floor muscles. The onset of menopause can cause the muscles of the pelvic floor to weaken and this can lead to a number of unwelcome problems. Up to a third of women experience some degree of incontinence, stress incontinence or prolapse due to a weak pelvic floor. There are many factors which contribute to the weakening of the pelvic floor. Childbirth can take its toll on the pelvic floor muscles and ligaments as these can be stretched and torn during the process. As we age, the body stops producing collagen and we notice this as our skin wrinkles. But collagen also helps keep the pelvic muscles strong. During the menopause, reduced collagen can impact the strength of the pelvic floor so it is important we do what we can to help keep it strong. Pelvic floor exercises, also called Kegal exercises, are known to strengthen the pelvic floor and it's never too late to start. These exercises can be done anytime, anywhere, discreetly and the more you do them, the stronger the pelvic floor will become. These exercises can be done lying down, sitting or standing:
- Find your pelvic floor muscles - these are the muscles you use when you try to stop the flow of urine when you go to the toilet. (It may be harmful to your bladder if you try to stop the urine flow regularly so only do this to help establish your pelvic floor muscles).
- Try squeezing the muscles so that you feel yourself lifting and holding the pelvic area for 3 seconds, then relaxing the muscles for 3 seconds. Try not to hold your breath or tense other muscles. Repeat 15 - 20 times at least twice a day.
- Gradually increase the number of seconds you hold and relax for up to 5 seconds.
- Gradually increase the number of times per day you do these exercises to at least 3 times per day.
Exercise helps keep the weight off and critically, helps to maintain muscle mass which is often lost during menopause. With decreasing levels of oestrogen comes the loss of bone mass and increased risk of osteoporosis. This health condition causes the bones to weaken and become more fragile. Women are four times more likely to develop osteoporosis than men. People often don’t realise that they have the condition until they break a bone. Strength training, weight bearing and resistance exercise help to repair and reinforce bone density making the bones and muscles stronger and helping to reduce the risk of developing certain age related health conditions. Light dumbbells, kettlebells and resistance bands are excellent tools to use which will help build muscle and strength. However, exercises using just your own body weight, such as squats, pushups and planks are also effective.
Women experiencing any troublesome menopausal symptoms should consult their health care professional for advice and, before embarking on any new exercise regime, always check that it is suitable for you.