When it comes to the menopause we generally tend to associate it with the archetypal hot flushes and night sweats. However, the menopause can affect people in many different ways including physical, emotional and psychological symptoms.
How we choose to manage those symptoms is very personal but there is a huge amount of evidence to suggest that improving our lifestyle habits can have a positive effect not just on our menopausal symptoms, but also on our ability to live a long and healthy, active life.
By lifestyle habits I’m talking about what and how much we eat, how much alcohol we drink, if we smoke as well as how much sleep we get and how much we exercise.
Making small, gradual improvements to any of those lifestyle factors can help improve quality of life but when it comes to the menopause, there appears to be some evidence that exercise may help to alleviate the discomfort of hot flushes.
Research from the Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences at Liverpool John Moores University, provided some evidence that the physiological reactions during a hot flush can be improved with regular exercise that makes you fitter.
This has been somewhat dismissed in a different article published on the PubMed website which concludes that exercise was not as effective at reducing hot flushes as HRT and stated that
“We found no evidence from randomised controlled trials on whether exercise is an effective treatment relative to other interventions or no intervention in reducing hot flushes and or night sweats in symptomatic women. No conclusions regarding the effectiveness of exercise as a treatment for vasomotor menopausal symptoms could be made due to a lack of trials.”
However, there does appear to be a good amount of anecdotal evidence to suggest that exercise does, in fact, help to minimise the number and frequency of hot flushes in women transitioning through menopause.
According to the Mayo Clinic while exercise may not be a proven way to reduce hot flushes and sleep disturbances, it can help to maintain a healthy weight, relieve stress and improve quality of life.
From my own observations from speaking to many women, being overweight and having a high level of stress would appear to exacerbate hot flushes. Exercise can help to address both of these factors.
WHAT IS THE BEST EXERCISE DURING MENOPAUSE?
The benefits of exercise on long term health and wellbeing are well documented, so it makes sense to include regular exercise in our daily lives whether or not we are experiencing menopausal symptoms – but if it helps minimise symptoms too, well that’s just a billy bonus.
So what is the best exercise to do to help with menopausal symptoms?
Writing in Prima.co.uk Liz Earle, best known for her range of skin care and now a recognised menopause expert, advocates for the benefits of exercise in helping to alleviate many menopausal symptoms, including hot flushes and depression. She suggests that we include a range of different types of exercise including strength training, yoga, stretching, walking and dance.
In reality, there is rarely one BEST exercise and the old adage that the best exercise is the exercise you stick to is particularly true.
Ideally incorporating a range of difference exercises into your weekly routines will help to address all areas of health and wellbeing. Known in fitpro circles as the ‘components of fitness’ it’s good to include some element of each of the components throughout the week. These 10 components of fitness comprise:
- Agility (the ability to move quickly in opposing directions)
- Cardiovascular Endurance (heart fitness)
- Coordination (motor skills)
- Muscular Endurance (the number of times you can repeat a movement)
- Muscular Strength (the amount of weight you can move)
- Power (the amount of weight you can move at speed ie power = strength plus speed)
- Reaction Time
Of course, it may seem a little daunting to try to fit in each of the above components into one workout, so I would suggest you don’t worry about it. Aim to get a good mix of different activities into your weekly routine and you should be ok.
Workouts that include a good mix of these components include things like High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) where you work through a number of different exercises alternating between short periods of effort followed by a short period of rest. There are lots of HIIT workouts available if you search on You Tube.
Circuit training is another option that challenges lots of different components of fitness. Have a look at your local gym timetable to see if there is a circuit training class to try.
Yoga and pilates can help with balance, coordination, flexibility and muscular endurance and are also great for helping with relaxation.
Jogging, swimming, dancing and cycling can help with cardiovascular endurance. And strength training can help with balance, strength, power and muscular endurance all of which are essential for ensuring we remain agile and mobile as we get older.
THE BENEFITS OF EXERCISE DURING MENOPAUSE
For women going through menopause exercise becomes particularly important, not just as a means to manage annoying symptoms but also to stave off some pretty awful potential diseases.
The risk of Osteoporosis is increased in post-menopausal women as their oestrogen levels are depleted and exercise that puts stress on the bones such as jogging and weight training can have a positive effect on reducing the likelihood of developing brittle bones.
The release of endorphins during exercise can also help improve mental health for those women who may struggle with anxiety, depression and low mood. Not least of which because it allows a bit of ‘me time’ – setting aside a designated period of time for self-care can work wonders when it comes to managing stress.
Exercise can help to maintain a healthy weight. Hot flushes and menopause related joint ache appear to be made worse for those carrying excess body fat. Exercise can also help reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes
Yoga has been shown to have many benefits as we get older, specifically helping with strength and flexibility. As we get older and less flexible everyday tasks can become more difficult. Yoga has also been found to be extremely powerful at helping to manage emotional and psychological symptoms of menopause such as anxiety and stress.
Aerobic exercise during the menopause can also:
- Decrease the risk of osteoporosis when the exercise chosen is weight-bearing
- Improve your cognitive function, especially if you are suffering sleep disruption
- Enhance your mood through the release of endorphins
- Improve your sleep quality
- Help manage unwanted body fat
WHAT IF I HATE EXERCISE?
Those that embrace fitness will have no difficulty in finding something they love, can fit into their routine and gets their heart pumping – running, circuit training, swimming, Zumba, the list goes on.
But what about those who aren’t particularly ‘sporty’? For many of us the thought of exercise brings back unhappy memories of cold cross country runs, freezing cold showers and bad hair days.
Sp where do you start?
Although getting the blood pumping is important maybe start with something gentle such as a 30 minute walk in your lunch hour, dancing, yoga or pilates. It is important to find something that you can fit into your schedule and enjoy, which will mean it will be a sustainable hobby. You can then build up to something more energetic.
If you feel self-conscious, why not enlist the help of a friend and explore these new ventures together or maybe track down online fitness videos or subscriptions so you can exercise in private at a time to suit you.
Finding comfortable clothing to workout in is essential. Something that is easy to wear and doesn’t leave you feeling self-conscious. There are some great fabrics available now too which wick away the moisture as you sweat making it more pleasant to workout and also helping to keep you cool, which will help if a hot flush takes hold. You might want to check out BAM Bamboo Clothing’s range of workout leggings and tops.
If you’re new to exercise it’s important to build up slowly and gently. Going in to hard and fast can lead to injury and set you back weeks or maybe even months. If you’re not sure where to start, it may be worth investing in a couple of sessions with a good personal trainer – one who is experienced at working with your age group and preferably one who understands the physiology going on as we go through menopause.
Ultimately, those suffering the menopause do have the means to help themselves through exercise and the key is to get moving. They say sitting is the new smoking! So why not kick those hot flushes into touch with a new exercise regimen.