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Exercise And Menopause

By France Dugdale 16 October 2017   |   5:00 am

There was a time when the word menopause was never spoken, not even between mother and daughter. Regardless of the development in the approach to the condition, menopause is still referred to as the “change”, but is no longer a taboo subject. Nowadays, most women can expect to live one-third to half of their lives past menopause; this can be among the most satisfying years of life, as you no longer have to worry about your periods.

The emergence of menopause as a hot health topic is likely the result of newer research that has shown that exercise plays a key role in easing the transition into menopause, enhancing a woman’s health, happiness, and productivity.

What is menopause?

The medical definition of menopause is a cessation of menses for 12 months. Menopause occurs when the ovaries stop making the hormones oestrogen and progesterone. While the average menopause onset is at about 51 years old, some women may enter menopause as early as their 30s or as late as their 60s. Symptoms of menopause include hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, insomnia, headache, lethargy, chronic fatigue, irritability, anxiety, depression, a racing heart and joint pain.

How does exercise help?

Heart disease and osteoporosis risk increase after menopause. The good news is that this risk can be decreased substantially with regular physical activity program emphasising cardiovascular conditioning, weight-bearing exercise, and high impact activities when tolerated.

The mood elevating, tension-relieving effects of aerobic exercise reduce depression and anxiety, which often accompany menopause. Aerobic exercise promotes the loss of abdominal fat, a common place for postmenopausal weight gain. Strength training stimulates bones to retain the minerals that keep them dense and strong, thereby preventing the onset and progression of osteoporosis. These effects of exercise, along with improved cholesterol levels and physical fitness, work together to prevent heart disease.

Happy black women

Keep in mind that good nutrition and a physically active lifestyle go together. A diet low in saturated and trans-fat and high in fibre and calcium is key in reaping the full benefits of exercise. To reap the benefits of exercise, a balanced program of cardiovascular conditioning to reduce the risk of heart disease, strength training to decrease the risk of osteoporosis and flexibility to maintain range of motion is essential.

Consistency is important. Strive to be moderately active for at least 30 minutes each day, or at least most days of the week, every week.

Tips to get started

Given that the average age of menopause is 51, and women can expect to live 30 to 50 years beyond menopause, it’s important to think positively about this new phase of your life. Starting a new exercise program at mid-life is no different than starting one in your youth.

  • Set some realistic and attainable goals. What can you accomplish in three months? Six months? One year?
  • Create a sustainable exercise schedule.
  • Experiment with different forms of exercise to find something you enjoy.
  • Seek out professional advice if you are unsure of what types of exercise you should be doing or how to do them.
  • Change things up every four to six weeks, your body needs change to keep moving towards your goals.
  • Reward yourself periodically for sticking with it. Non-food rewards, please, so as not to undermine your hard work in the gym.

Often, the choices and information available on menopause can be simply overwhelming. The health and wellness industry is confusing even to fitness professionals. There are always new studies being published contradicting the findings of the older ones. Rather than blindly following the results of the latest study, find out what works for you. This requires a commitment to paying attention to your own body and accepting or rejecting things that don’t benefit you. And of course, your best strategy will continue to change as you age.

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