Today’s blog is trying to offer some insights into the challenges women are faced with during perimenopause and post menopause and how exercise can help overcome some of it’s challenges.
Menopause is defined as the natural absence of a menstrual period and fertility for at least 12 months. The time from the onset of first symptoms to full menopause is called perimenopause. The time after that last period is called post menopause. Menopause can happen as early as the 30’s and as late as the 50’s. The median age for U.S. women to reach menopause is 51. Menopause can have a variety of causes. The first and natural cause is the reduced production of the reproduction hormones estrogen and progesterone, which are produced by the ovaries. Once the ovaries shutting down hormone and egg production a woman has reached the state of infertility. Other causes of menopause can be surgical through a full hysterectomy (ovaries and uterus are being removed) or by treatment for certain cancers through radiation and chemo therapy.
The symptoms of Peri-menopause and Menopause can include but are not limited to:
- Irregular periods
- Vaginal dryness
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Sleep problems
- Mood changes
- Weight gain and slowed metabolism
- Thinning hair and dry skin
- Loss of breast fullness
The hormonal changes that occur during the peri-menopausal phase and after menopause can increase the risk for developing other health problems. Research shows that with the drop of estrogen levels women tend to eat more and be less physically active. Lower estrogen levels also lead to a reduction of a woman’s metabolic rate. As hormone levels drop the risk for Cardio Vascular Disease, Osteoporosis, urinary incontinence, and weight gain (Hypertension, Diabetes Type2) go up.
Exercising helps to minimize stress and enhance mental outlook, helps to reduce anxiety and depression and increase an overall feeling of well-being. Exercises do help maintain and improve bone and muscle mass and thereby lessening the chances for osteoporosis and weight gains. Keeping the body fat low especially in the midsection during these difficult years shrinks the risk for diabetes type 2, cardio-vascular disease and certain types of cancer. Exercises designed to help strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor can improve or eliminate urinary incontinence.
Any exercise program should include strength and resistance training, low impact weight-bearing exercises such as walking or jogging, and exercises that address balance to help prevent falls, as well as exercises to increase flexibility and mobility. Thirty minutes of moderate aerobic activities on at least five days per week have proven to have a positive impact on cardio-vascular and respiratory fitness as well as metabolic issues arising from lower estrogen levels. Aerobic exercise increase HDL (good cholesterol) and decrease LDL (bad cholesterol) and Triglycerides. Strength and resistance training helps maintain muscle mass and counter balance the reduction of metabolism after menopause. Weight-bearing exercises help to maintain/improve bone density lessening the risk of fractures at hips, wrists and lower back.
Those of you who are going through this period or are already post menopausal, and have developed osteoporosis, might have to reduce the impact and work load of certain exercises. Shortening levers especially when working around the hip (clam shells instead of long leg hip abduction) can reduce the risk of exercise induced fractures. Those that have already developed cardio-vascular disease and/or hypertension need to monitor blood pressure and heart rate during and after work-outs. If you are diabetic please check blood glucose levels prior to starting your work-out in order to prevent hypoglycemic emergencies.
Regular exercising is the single most powerful lifestyle choice that not only has a positive effect on the symptoms of peri-menopause/menopause, but can beyond that significantly reduce the occurrence of secondary health problems.
I hope today’s write up has given you a better understanding of the importance of exercising during and after menopause. As always, your comments and questions are strongly encouraged.