Jane Dowling is our guest blogger this month. She is the founder of menoandme.com and is a clinical exercise specialist and menopause personal trainer. Here she gives her top tips on exercising and its benefits during the menopause.
Exercise during menopause is more important than ever before. I want to make it easy for you to know what type of exercise you should be doing and to show you that small steps over time will have a massive positive impact on not only your menopause symptoms, but short and long-term physical and mental health.
Just as menstrual cycles, pregnancy and childbirth, menopause affects all women differently. Some women will suffer with none, some will suffer with a few or some of us will suffer with all of the 32 symptoms! During my menopause I think I suffered with 80% of the symptoms!
However even if you do not suffer with any symptoms; our heart and bone health are compromised, so please these sections below!
Let’s concentrate on what symptoms can be managed through physical activity, movement or just being still.
When I entered menopause, it hit me like a freight train as I was not in the best physical shape. I was recovering from surgery and a car accident and was probably the most sedentary I have ever been in my whole life!
At 46 I was told I was peri-menopausal. During this time I had lots of stress to deal with and I noticed a big change both physically and mentally. I had my first panic attack at 46, it was really scary.
This is when I realised I needed to make some changes. I knew making small changes over time would have a big impact on my physical and mental health during menopause.
Using my knowledge and experience of over 21 years in the health and fitness industry, I rehabilitated my injuries and slowly become more active. I then thought about what changes were happening to my body during my menopause and what I needed to address them.
Let’s look at our physical health
We have oestrogen receptors all over the body so therefore the decrease in oestrogen can affect us from inside out.
Heart disease: We are at higher risk of heart disease during menopause because of the decrease in oestrogen. The decrease in oestrogen affects the arteries in our heart and therefore it is really important to become breathless to keep the heart healthy.
What can we do?
Exercise for 30-40 minutes, 3-4 times per week. Don’t worry, this does not have to be done in one session you can break this down to into smaller chunks!
Look at how you can incorporate becoming breathless in your everyday life:
- Walk as much as you can – ditch the car.
- If you take the lift, stop right now and start taking the stairs, even if you start off with one flight first!
- Escalators – if you stand, start walking up them.
- Hoovering can be great, well I don’t like it, but my point is that doing it more vigorously will make you breathless. Put on music while you do it or plug yourself into your headphones – it will drown out the hoover and family members!
- Take the stairs as much as you can.
- If you already take the stairs take 2 at a time and go quicker!
- At the weekend arrange to meet a friend for a cuppa but go for a walk first together.
- Fast walking will really help – it’s simple.
We can all start somewhere. If today you go out for a 10-minute walk and become breathless that is great! Over time you can increase this and who knows where you will be in 1 years’ time!?
Osteoporosis is sometimes called “The Silent Killer”. Many women do not know they have this disease until they have a fall which could result in a fracture or break. Imagine a crunchy bar – the honeycomb part – when we are young the holes are small, the surrounding walls are thick, after the age of 30 our bone density decreases; the holes become bigger and walls thinner. When we reach menopause the decline speeds up at a rapid rate, therefore we are at higher risk of weak and fragile bones.
What can we do?
The major sites for osteoporosis are hips, wrists and spine. Therefore, we need to target these areas. Bone loading such as using your own body weight include; press-ups, tri-cep dips, lunges, squats, resisted rowing and back extensions for the spine.
Free weights, exercise bands or fixed resistance machines in the gym are great! Also working the abdominals will help with spine strengthening. If you do venture into a gym or leisure centre have a look at Pilates, body pump, legs bums and tums classes as well as general body conditioning. These are a great way to start, plus you will have an instructor to correct any bad technique. Even some type of more dynamic yoga will help.
Impact work, such as running, jumping and skipping are great for loading the hips and lower spine, so if you are doing these great, just look at doing additional things for your wrists and upper spine. Research shows that tennis players have stronger bones in their wrists on their dominant arm.
It is easy! Jump up and down, do some press ups and then 2 spine exercises and you are safe!
Impact work can be contraindicated if you have osteoporosis so please make sure you speak to your GP before undertaking.
Painful joints and muscles
Painful joints during menopause are very common. I suffered myself but moving daily helps me stay mobile, I don’t I feel my age anymore!
The pain in the joint is because of the decrease in oestrogen which affects the levels of collagen in our joints. It is also age related. When we are younger we have fluid in our joints that is similar to runny honey but the older we become it is more like glue. However, the positive thing is the more we move the more this glue can become like that honey again! Motion is lotion Meno’s!
What can we do?
Mobility: Gentle mobility exercises are great for our joints, moving your joints will lubricate them and help with stiffness. Shoulder rolls, feet circles, squats, side bend and head twists, simple but very effective as this will stimulate ease of movement.
Strengthening: If you strengthen your muscles it will help support the joint therefore helping with pain in both the joint and the muscle.
Stretching: Each muscle in the body crosses a joint, therefore if that muscles is not stretched then you will feel stiff in the joint and the muscle.
Anxiety, stress, brain fog and sleep
There have been more studies recently that proves that exercise will help with depression and anxiety. Also if we can become more active it will help us think clearer and definitely help our body to unwind and help with sleep.
What can we do?
Becoming breathless will really help with anxiety and depression. We have feel good receptors in our brain, when we exercise we release feel good chemicals such as endorphins. This leads to improved self-esteem, it is a key psychological benefit of regular physical activity. These endorphins interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain and can act as an analgesic, remember painful muscles and joints!?
Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body, like that of morphine! For example, the feeling that follows a run or workout is often described as “euphoric.” This can be accompanied by a positive and energizing outlook on life.
Endorphins also act as sedative therefore helping with sleep.
Another type of activity we should look at is some type of meditation. When people think of meditation we think of sitting cross legged and chanting. While this can be one from, just being still and listening to your breathing can help. There are many apps available that you can download and just 10 minutes per day will help not only calm the body but also the mind. Doing this will also help our frazzled adrenal glands, as they are trying to help pump out oestrogen when our ovaries have had enough!
Recent studies have shown a link between hot flushes and stress. Becoming more active will help relieve stress and taking part in some type of meditation or mindfulness will really help.
Pelvic floor function
We are at higher risk of urinary tract infections during menopause, if you find you suffer with these regularly then please do visit your GP.
There are two types of exercises we need to do; quick and slow. These two types will help different types of incontinence;
The quick ones will help keep us from leaking if participating in any physical activity, especially impact work, and protect us when laughing, coughing or sneezing! The slower ones will keep our bladder full until we can reach a toilet without leakage and to help you have an undisturbed night’s sleep. The slower exercises will also help the type of incontinence that is not always talked about – if you think you have finished going to the loo, wiped and then stand up and have some leakage.
Did you know?
At local leisure centres there are sessions during quiet times, either 50 plus sessions or a GP referral scheme.
50 Plus sessions: These are cheaper, and you will be surrounded by our demographic, they run at quieter times so if you have never been in a gym before it will help build your confidence. Ask the instructor to write you a programme to get you started.
GP referral scheme: If you are suffering with anxiety, depression, high BP or cholesterol, or struggling with your weight then your GP can refer you to a local leisure centre at a fraction of the cost. There will also be a specialist instructor on hand to help you on your way.
Aqua sessions: These are great! You will not be surround by young Lycra clad girls, you will commonly be surrounded by other menopausal women! The water will support your body weight, so if you are suffering with very painful joints or have injuries then this is the class for you. Did you know that you burn more calories in an aqua class compared to a similar studio-based class? Plus you won’t feel as hot, so these are great if you are suffering with hot flushes!
If you have the desire to live a full, healthy, pain free life, then now is the time to start to move more!
It is never too early or never to late to take control of your menopause symptoms. For more reference please have a look at a recent study undertaken by the charity, Women In Sport “Women who undertook physical activity feel empowered and more in control of their menopausal symptoms”.
As with any new exercise regime please obtain the all clear from you GP
Jane Dowling is a clinical exercise specialist with extensive experience dealing with a variety of populations including older adults suffering with heart disease and osteoporosis which fuels her passion to educate younger women on how to take preventative measures. She has over 20 years’ experience in personally tailored training and health solutions. Inspired by her own Meno experiences she founded MENO&ME, a source of advice and ideas on diet, exercise and lifestyle changes designed to help women be fabulous through the Meno and beyond! Jane offers free daily advice on her Instagram page If you would like to see Jane and cannot get to her studio in London Bridge she offers Skype sessions.