What is menopause?
Menopause is the natural cessation of menstruation which usually occurs around the age of 45-55 year old where here are fluctuations in hormones. This can lead to all sorts of symptoms which can have a significant impact physically and mentally. Exercise can help directly with many of these symptoms and changes in the body, and is an empowering way for women to feel they have some control over these changes.
One of the main issues associated with hormonal changes is a reduction in bone mass which can lead to osteopenia or osteoporosis. This is a condition when the bones become weaker and have an increased risk of fracture. In the UK osteoporosis affects over 3 million people.
How can exercise help?
The physical and physiological benefits of exercise include maintaining and building bone mass, improving strength and flexibility, and improving balance which in turn reduces the risk of falls and the possibility of fractures. Bone loss peaks at menopause but after the age of 35 there is a gradual reduction in bone mass. Therefore exercise is important as a preventative measure well before menopause and it is even more important during and after menopause.
Other common symptoms during menopause are hot flushes & night sweats (vasomotor symptoms), difficulty sleeping, mood changes and anxiety. There is evidence to show low-moderate intensity exercise can have beneficial effects on vasomotor symptoms, sleep quality and pyschological well-being in menopausal women.
We all know how quickly just a short burst of physical activity can uplift our mood and outlook and this can be so useful when going through a time of change.
What exercise is best?
Weight bearing and resistance/strength training exercise is vital as it increases bone density by stimulating the growth of bone cells. Mobility is important to maintain flexibility of the joints and to maintain posture of the spine. Plus balance training is also hugely important as it will reduce the risk of falls.
Pilates is a great option for exercise as it focuses on all of the areas mentioned above. We start everybody with a Four Sides Pilates Intro 60 to ensure each session can be tailor to the individual. Our mat classes are a combination of mobility for the whole body, strengthening by using your own body weight, resistance bands and small hand weights, and we always include some standing balance work. In reformer classes the machines are spring loaded which offers a large variety of resistance training for strength, and many positions on the reformer work on balance and core control.
If there has already been a diagnosis of osteopenia or osteoporosis, Pilates is an excellent option as it is a form of low impact exercise.
Another benefit to Pilates training is maintaining strength and endurance of the deep core system of muscles, importantly the pelvic floor. Just like any muscle in the body, the pelvic floor muscles can weaken with age and the drop in hormone levels during menopause can cause further muscle atrophy. This can lead to or worsen symptoms of urinary incontinence and/or pelvic organ prolapse. There is evidence to show that pelvic floor muscle training can improve incontinence in menopausal women with osteoporosis.
Our Strength and Conditioning (S&C) classes are another excellent option to build bone mass and improve muscle strength. S&C classes are resistance training using free weights and kettlebells. A lot of the exercises are done in weight bearing positions which is key for improving bone strength of the lower extremities especially the hips. All abilities can do these classes, our S&C Intro 60 allows us to tailor the weight and difficulty of the exercises appropriately for each client.
In addition to resistance training and balance training, some form of cardio exercise, which increases heart rate, can be beneficial to support cardiovascular health. Cumulatively 20-30 minutes, 3-4 times per week is recommended. This could be simple changes like taking the stairs rather than the elevator, or getting off the bus or train one or two stops early.
Menopause is a natural phase of a women’s life and as women approach and go through this time of change, it is important to focus on health and well being from all aspects.