Regular physical activity, such as walking, can have several positive effects on overall health, including potential benefits for the menopausal transition.
Why walking? Because walking is free, available everywhere, and has a really low risk of injury. You can do it by yourself, with your dog, or together with other family members or friends.
You can use walking in three different ways. One for the reduction of symptoms you are currently experiencing, 2 for the prevention of future issues, 3 just for fun!
Some of the benefits of walking can occur in as little as 10 minutes, with 1 walk, other benefits take much longer and need a greater frequency.
Let's start with menopause-specific symptoms and then move on to general benefits.
The Melbourne Women’s Midlife Health Project followed 438 women for 9 years. During this time they found that regular walkers were 49% less likely to experience vasomotor symptoms like hot flushes. They also found that women who were regular exercisers but whose frequency dropped during the transition were more likely to be bothered with hot flushes.
Exercise can have a positive impact on hormonal balance and regulation.
For peri-menopausal women, it may help lower excess circulating estrogen, helping to improve the quality and regulation of her cycle, and with fewer pre-menstrual symptoms.
For post-menopausal women, one 12-week study found that walking helped to increase lower levels of estrogen.
Another study suggests that walkers who take over 4000 steps a day are less likely to experience testosterone deficiency, with testosterone and DHEA levels peaking immediately after the walk.
Mood and stress reduction benefits
Walking is known to release endorphins, which can help improve mood, by reducing stress, anxiety, and depression. 3 symptoms that are common at this stage of life. Luckily regular walking can be a natural way to counteract these experiences. From as little as 10 minutes a day, you may notice a reduction in your stress levels, if you can increase this to 30 minutes three times a week, you may start noticing fewer depressive symptoms.
One study found that walking 30 minutes, three times a week had an equal effect as taking an anti-depressant.
Regular physical activity, including walking, has been shown to improve sleep quality, potentially helping women experiencing sleep disturbances during menopause. A 4-week Boston-based study found women with the highest amount of daily active steps experienced better sleep quality than the less active women in the study.
Enhance creativity and better cognitive function
Cognitive processing occurs when you walk, it sparks creativity and helps remove ruminating thoughts. Often you will find a better solution to your concerns while being on the move. Steve Jobs is famous for his walking meetings for this very reason. Less than 10km or 6 miles a week is all that is required to help you protect your brain and cognitive function while sparking creative solutions.
Need an energy burst, get up and go for a walk around the block, it's better than grabbing a coffee. Walking improves energy levels in two ways, the first is by increasing circulation and nutrients throughout the body, and the second is by improving mitochondrial activity. Think of your mitochondria as little energy-producing powerhouses.
Menopause is often associated with weight gain and changes in body composition. Regular walking can help manage weight by improving metabolism. Body composition changes can also be seen with improvements in muscle mass and reduction in body fat percentage, the most exciting benefit is the reduction of dangerous visceral fat. One study that incorporated 90 minutes of walking 5 days a week without any dietary changes found an average loss of 5.7kg (or 12.5 lbs) after 16 weeks of walking.
Blood sugar regulation
Walking can help distract your mind and stop sugar cravings in their track. Walking also reduces blood sugar levels and HbA1c while improving insulin sensitivity. Just 15 minutes of walking is needed for this benefit. The most ideal time for a walk to correct blood sugar levels is directly after a meal. I often suggest to the women I work with that they take an evening stroll after dinner to support healthier blood sugar regulation.
Weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, can help maintain or improve bone density, reducing the risk of osteoporosis. One study looking at walking and bone density found a positive improvement in femoral neck density with regular waking for greater than 6 months duration.
Another study looking at preventing sarcopenia, which is age-related muscle loss suggested that walking greater than 5000 steps/day reduced the odds of developing sarcopenia and its related low muscle mass and slow gait speed.
Walking may also help to reduce leg cramps. Muscles receive more blood flow nourishment while moving, they also receive the stimulus to relax after each contraction.
Many menopausal women experience joint pain and stiffness. Regular walking can contribute to joint health and flexibility, helping to alleviate some of these symptoms. Walking increases synovial fluid in the joint, this lubricates them and provides healing nutrients to the joint, helping to repair damaged cartilage. Just don’t push yourself if you are in pain, many women find walking in water is best if you are experiencing discomfort or pain. Being in the water helps to take your weight off your joints, minimizing discomfort while still producing the benefits of movement.
Menopausal women may be at an increased risk of cardiovascular issues. Walking is a cardiovascular exercise that can contribute to heart health by improving circulation, lowering blood pressure, optimizing cholesterol levels, and reducing the risk of heart-related conditions. An 8-year Harvard University study of 70,000 midlife women found that just 25 minutes a day of walking reduces your risk of heart disease by 35%.
Walking also exercises your lungs. If you don’t believe me start climbing stairs and see if you notice the change in your breath rate. This clearing out of old air invites in more fresh oxygenated air. It also strengthens your muscles inside and around your lungs. But don’t overdo it. If you are experiencing shortness of breath stop. It’s better to start with short walks and build up slowly over time as your lungs get stronger and can cope with the increased exercise. If you have significant shortness of breath please see your doctor and work out a personal plan that is safe for you.
Another reason to walk after your meal is to enhance your digestive function. Walking stimulates peristaltic movements and can encourage regular bowel movements. While helping to ease bloating, move trapped wind, and ease digestive discomfort.
Are you looking for a natural way to boost your immunity? One study found a 30-minute walk caused an immediate but short-lived improvement in immune markers such as neutrophils and natural killer cells. Another study looking at workplace health found employees that who walked for 20 minutes five times a week had a 43% reduction in sick days and when they did get sick their symptoms were milder and they were back at work sooner.
Regular walking may lower your risk of cancer, especially breast and colon, Research indicates a 25-30% reduction in breast cancer risk and a 50% reduction in colon cancer risk.
In regards to longevity, it is thought that regular walkers who walk at least 3 times a week have a lower all-cause mortality rate than non-walkers. And that faster walkers live even longer than slower walkers, so ladies it's time to pick up the pace.
Barefoot walking is another consideration, click here to read the health benefits of earthing, to learn more about this.
I hope I have motivated you to go for a walk today.
I wanted to let you know I have been playing around with my schedule and I’m happy to announce that I have extended my consulting hours. I have created 4 more appointment slots each week so if you have been thinking about working with me, I now have time to see you. Here is the link to book a complimentary discovery call with me and we can chat about your health goals and see if we are a good fit to work together.