The Benefits of Exercise and Menopause
Rebecca Hulem, RN. RNP, CNM
The current science supports numerous benefits to exercise for women undergoing menopause. Regular exercise for at least 30 minutes a day for five days out of every week can help reduce symptoms of mood swings, sleep disturbances, and hot flashes.
There are several health concerns exacerbated by menopause that can be addressed and improved by regular exercise. The two biggest concerns all women who transition through menopause are susceptible to are: Heart Disease and Osteoporosis. Studies are showing that one out of every two women over the age of 50 will die from Heart Disease. It is also true that one out of two women is at risk for a fracture of the wrist, hip or spine due to osteoporosis. In addition to these two major diseases, women over the age of 50 are susceptible to developing diabetes - not to mention other disabilities related to being over weight such as osteoarthritis.
There are several types of exercise that will impart the greatest health value. I personally recommend to all my patients that they include a variety of different types of exercise. For example: aerobic exercise will strengthen our heart, lower blood pressure, improve our lung capacity and help to burn calories which helps to keep us at a normal, healthy weight. Weight bearing exercise such as walking, jogging, hiking and stair climbing will help to strengthen our bones and reduce the chance of developing osteoporosis, or if osteoporosis is already present it will help to reduce the continued loss of bone mass. Resistance training will improve muscle mass, help to build bone, keep our body well toned and improve self esteem. It is also a good way to burn calories and reduce the ratio of fat to muscle in the body. Other forms of exercise that is important to include in an overall exercise program are: stretching for flexibility, yoga, Pilates and Tai chi. Yoga can provide flexibility and reduce stress or depending on the type it can also burn calories. Tai Chi teaches us to live our life from a mindful approach also known as “living in the moment”. It is similar to meditation but with movement.
I think women should view menopause as a unique opportunity to re-make themselves in all ways not just their fitness levels. Fortunately for many women, by the time they reach menopause the majority of their responsibilities to others is beginning to slow down and now they are able to focus on themselves. For women who have had children by the time they reach menopause, the children are usually pretty much grown and on their own. Many women who have built careers are at the top of the career ladder by menopause, and they are able to relax and enjoy the fruit of their accomplishments. This allows women much more free time to focus on themselves. This is a wonderful time of life to ask the question: What do I want to do with the rest of my life? How do I want to live? What are my interests that I would like to focus on? Fortunately the body is very resilient, and even if women haven’t been involved in a regular exercise program it is never too late to start at menopause. In order to pursue our interests, we will need good health and energy. I personally have run two marathons, hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back up in one day and have climbed to the top of Mount Whitney all after the age of 50.