Exercise at Menopause

Learn how a well-rounded exercise program can help women cope with the physical and psychological challenges and changes through
menopause.

 

Menopause - the "final frontier." A place where, for sure, no man has ever gone before, but a place visited by all women who live to their mid-50's. Perimenopause is the time during which a woman has experienced hormonal changes and/or irregularities in her cycle. Menopause is considered the cessation of menstruation. Postmenopause is when a woman has not had a menstrual period for at least one year.

As reported by the Surgeon General in 1996, only about 40% of American adults exercise regularly. Being physically fit is essential at any age; it becomes particularly important during the menopausal years. This is a time when a woman is at an increased risk for osteoporosis and fracture, heart disease, and chronic diseases such as diabetes. Exercise can attenuate some of the effects of aging as well as the physical changes linked to a sedentary lifestyle. Regular physical activity can reduce the symptoms and risks of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, obesity, and other chronic diseases such as diabetes. There is some evidence that symptoms often associated with the hormonal changes at menopause such as hot flashes, insomnia and depression can also be alleviated by exercise.

As a woman approaches menopause and her estrogen levels decrease; other physiological changes begin to take place. In a review article on exercise and menopause, Margaret Burghardt, MD states that women’s' basal metabolic rate (metabolism) may begin to slow down. This slowdown is associate with an increase in fat mass, which can lead to weight gain. Adult American women as a group tend to gain weight with age, and many women report that their weight gain started around the time of their menopause. Muscle mass and muscle strength may begin to decline and this maybe due perhaps to inactivity rather than the menopause itself. This in turn can contribute to a lower sense of well-being, increasing stress and increase irritability. All of which, studies have shown to decrease symptoms stated above by engaging in regular physical activity. This is not to say the only benefits of exercise can be gained if you perform miraculous feats such as marathon running or extreme weight lifting. With just a little regular activity can help you through the physical and emotional changes of menopause and the decrease the health risks that may follow.

Two potential complications during the later postmenopausal years can be very serious and, in fact, are responsible for much of the morbidity and mortality associated with older women: cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. Midlife is a time when you deserve to enjoy a heightened sense of power, wisdom, independence, and self-acceptance. There's not a reason why menopause should disrupt your life and mark the beginning of physical decline. Instead, it can be a turning point that inspires you to start and stay with a fitness program that makes you feel better than ever.

Exercise for a Healthy Heart

Heart disease is the #1 cause of death among American women. Each year, more than 11 times as many women die of cardiovascular disease than from breast cancer. Menopause has been found to have an unfavorable effect on fat metabolism and body weight. Combined with the effects of the hormonal changes of menopause and natural aging on fats, blood pressure, weight, and fasting insulin levels put the menopausal woman at increased risk for this disease.

Physical inactivity is one of the modifiable risk factors for coronary artery disease, along with cigarette smoking, increased cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. Physical fitness can be improved at any age. Regular exercise conditions the heart to utilize oxygen more efficiently. When the heart is conditioned by exercise, it's able to pump more oxygen-rich blood with each beat, resulting in a slower resting heart rate. The heart has to work less as it works more efficiently.

The most effective type of exercise for preventing heart disease is aerobic exercise. The American College of Sports Medicine guideline for achieving a cardioprotective effect through exercise is 20- 60 minutes of moderate aerobic activity 3-5 days per week. If you are not ready to commit to this amount of aerobic exercise, here's some good news: it is also beneficial to engage in thirty minutes of cumulative exercise. In other words, you might do ten minutes on the stationary bike, walk ten minutes later on in the day, and dance around the living room for the remaining ten minutes!

Exercise for Healthy Bones:

Osteoporosis, the silent disease that makes bones prone to fracture. The National Osteoporosis Foundation states that this condition is a major public health threat for more than 28 million Americans, 80% of whom are women.

Osteoporosis literally means porous bones. It is called the silent disease because you cannot feel your bones becoming weaker. Bone loss usually occurs slowly over time, without symptoms, until a bone breaks. Fortunately, osteoporosis now can be diagnosed before fractures occur by measuring bone density, and fractures can be prevented. Since the risk of osteoporosis increase after menopause, this disease is of major concern to midlife women.

This is a preventable disease. Obtaining a high peak bone mass in adolescence and young adulthood is of primary importance in preventing osteoporosis and fractures in later life. Research findings indicate that exercise play a role in forming peak bone mass in this premenopausal population. However, it is never too late to start exercise. Exercise also has shown to prevent bone loss, even in older women.

Bone is living, growing tissue that is constantly being renewed. Bone responds to exercise by becoming stronger. Similar to muscle when you use it, bone becomes stronger and denser when you place stress on it. Two types of exercises are important for building and maintaining bone mass and density: weight-bearing and resistance training.

Weight-bearing exercises are those in which your bones and muscles work against gravity. Basically, it is done in a standing position. Jogging, walking, stair climbing, dancing and tennis are examples of weight-bearing exercise with differing degrees of impact. Swimming and bicycling are not weight bearing, however are good for overall aerobic conditioning.

The second type of exercises is resistance exercises or activities that use muscular strength to improve muscle mass and strengthen bone. These activities include weight lifting, such as using free weights and weight machines found in gyms.

Exercise Tips:

►Identify your personal fitness level to help you select appropriate forms of aerobic exercise and determine the intensity and duration of the session.

►Select a balanced exercise program that includes aerobic activity, strength training, and flexibility exercises.

►Remember that a healthy diet works synergistically to an active lifestyle.

►Enjoy the exercise you choose to do, and add variety to your activity.

 

Written by: Lisa Hoffman, M.A.
Excerpts from her book: Better Than Ever: The 4-Week WorkOut Program for Women Over 40