The Importance of Exercise in your Menopausal Transition
Exercise is essential at every stage of life, and perimenopause/menopause is no exception.
Here are a few ways exercise can help improve your menopausal transition and benefit your general wellbeing.
- During our transition, we have a heightened stress response and exercise is one of the best stress management tools we have available.
- It helps balance out moods and reduces depression and we all know how problematic moods can be at this time.
- It can reduce the quantity and intensity of hot flushes. Not on your first day but it has been researched to dramatically reduce flushes and sweating in as little as 16 weeks of regular exercise.
- With the reduction of estrogen, also comes an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes. As estrogen supports the pathways that regulate insulin and blood glucose. Exercise helps reduce this risk, as the more muscle mass you have, the more insulin receptors you have on your muscles. This means your body can better regulate sugars.
- Exercise can improve your physical appearance by helping you lose weight and tone up. Push-ups and other upper body exercises can help reduce saggy breasts by strengthening the pectoral muscles.
- Helps maintain bone mass and can help remineralise existing bone, reducing your risk of osteoporosis. It can also strengthen surrounding cartilage, ligaments, and muscles.
- Improves cognitive function. Exercise produces BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor). BDNF has been shown to grow new brain cells! Yes, it is possible to grow new brain cells.
- Better cardiac health by strengthening the muscles of your heart, improving the elasticity of blood vessels, increasing heart rate and blood flow.
- Better long-term energy production and increased oxygenation of your tissues.
- Your lungs also get a workout as more oxygen gets flooded into your body
- Reduces your risk of developing cancer. (Cancer hates lactic acid)
- Exercise can help delay the appearance of aging skin.
- Exercise can help improve your quality and quantity of sleep. Morning exercise in particular. If you exercise late at night, you may find your adrenaline levels are still raised post exercise and this may delay your sleep onset. If this is the case for you, exercise earlier in the day. Exceptions to this rule are gentle exercises such as yoga, tai chi, and pilates.
- It can stimulate digestion and reduce constipation.
- It can also reduce your perception of pain and increase your pain tolerance.
- Finally, it can increase your sex drive.
Lifestyle habits such as exercise help to build a solid foundation for health and happiness. The stronger your foundation the better the chance of longer-term success. It is a keystone to both your present and future health status and the best thing is it's changeable!
Look at your current level of activity and see if it needs improving. I know that for some of you, I am preaching to the converted, and if this is you — well done and keep up the hard work. If this is not you, start from where you are. I have often seen recruiting a friend or family member to join you and keep you accountable is a good starting place. Book in times and days to get started. This may start with just a walk around the block and later on, extend to a full day hike in the mountains. It could start with a lap or two in the local pool or a short bike ride.
Ideally, you are looking for a combination of weights and cardio. It may be easiest to hire a personal trainer to help customise an individual program, get you started and keep you accountable. There is nothing like putting money on the table to get you moving and shaking. Exercise physiologists are a better bet if you have injuries or special needs. Exercise physiologists are both physiotherapists and personal trainers. If this is you, I would start with your GP and see if you can put together a care plan that includes exercise physiology, you may even be able to access these sessions on Medicare.
One of the most important aspects of exercise is fun. This is something you will have to do regularly, so find something you enjoy. Personally, I have found that if you find the right group, they will motivate you into staying on track. Sometimes a little tough love regarding getting moving and staying moving is needed to help you get yourself in gear.
Some of my favourite ways to exercise include:
- Walking, jogging or hiking
- Water sports such as swimming, aqua-aerobics, surfing, kayaking, paddle boarding
- Cycling and spin classes (if you like to punish yourself)
- Bootcamp or Crossfit (but this isn’t for the light-hearted)
- Dancing - all kinds
- Yoga, Pilates, Tai-chi
- Martial arts of any kind
- Team sports like tennis, netball, soccer, softball, water polo.
Think about what team sports you enjoyed as a child, that can be the key to finding something you enjoy.
In general, you need to move every day but you don’t need to work out every day. You might go for a walk every day and 3-4 days a week include a class or a weights session, or a swim, a bike ride. Make it fun. I love group classes because I love the energy in the room, but I also like a solo run. It's my escape from daily life, it's my meditation. So, commit, recruit some friends, or make new ones, mix it up, and have some fun.