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How Can Strength Training Help Before, During and After Menopause?

Around the time of menopause, you may feel you are no longer in control of your body, or that it has stopped working the way it used to.

Don’t panic – I’m here to explain that you can get back in control, and it’s never too late to get started.

What is Menopause?

Menopause is said to have occurred when you have not had a period for 12 months in a row. The average age of menopause is 51. Menopause can occur earlier, and 5% of the population will go through menopause between the ages of 40 and 45.

What is Perimenopause?

Perimenopause is the time leading up to menopause. It occurs when oestrogen levels naturally start to fall. The average age for perimenopause to begin is around 47, and the transition to menopause takes around 4 years on average.

However, it can take much longer than this, and the perimenopausal period can be a difficult time of changing symptoms.

Symptoms of perimenopause include:

·      Irregular periods

·      Hot flushes

·      Trouble sleeping

·      Headaches or migraines

·      Aches and pains

·      Weight gain and changed body shape

·      Palpitations – feeling your heart beat

·      Dry or itchy skin

·      Reduced sex drive

·      Vaginal dryness and pain, itching or discomfort during sex

·      Urinary tract infections (UTIs or water infections)

·      Anxiety

·      Mood swings

·      Low self-esteem

·      Brain fog – difficulties with memory or concentration

Some women will be more affected by perimenopausal symptoms than others. However, you can make changes that will help you feel empowered and better able to cope with how you feel.

Making healthy changes to your lifestyle and diet, and increasing activity levels, can reduce perimenopausal symptoms. Now is also a good time to start strength training for your muscle and bone health.

Muscle and Bone Health

We naturally lose muscle as we get older - this is called sarcopenia.

If you are not exercising, muscle loss will start in your 30s, and continue falling by 3-8% per decade. As explored in our last article, muscle loss increases your risk of falling, losing your independence, and even your risk of dying.

From our mid-40s, we also start to lose bone mass. Bone loss speeds up during menopause and can lead to osteopenia (reduced bone density). If this continues, you could be diagnosed with osteoporosis, a condition in which bone density is critical and fractures are likely.

According to AgeUK, 1 in 2 women aged 50+ will fracture a bone because of osteoporosis. In men, the number is smaller with 1 in 9 fracturing a bone aged 50+. It is therefore especially important for women to think about muscle and bone health.

How Can Exercise Help?

Exercise has many benefits before, during and after menopause.

1 Strong Bones and Muscles

The great news is you can preserve and gain muscle mass with simple strength exercises. Having stronger muscles can also protect your bones and improve your balance so that your risk of a fracture is lower.

Strength training has many benefits for women of all ages. If you are 40 or older, consider making strength training a priority to prevent muscle loss and protect your future health.

The NHS have produced a guide to strength training – the exercises can be done at home without any special equipment, and are suitable for beginners.

Weight-bearing exercises such as walking, jogging and dancing are great for bone health, too.

2 Mental Health Boost

Exercise is known to boost your mood and self-esteem. It releases ‘feel-good’ hormones that make you feel great afterwards, too. Learning to lift weights can be very empowering, especially when you start to notice your progress – for example being able to lift a heavy suitcase into the wardrobe.

3 Improved Quality of Life

Being active means your body and mind perform and move better. If you were to have an accident, you may recover more quickly than someone with a sedentary lifestyle. Exercise can also help to reduce pain, making it easier to move more.

4 Reducing Menopause Symptoms

Exercising can help to ease mood changes associated with menopause, boost your self-esteem and reduce anxious feelings. It may also help to ease hot flushes and night sweats.

When you first start increasing your activity levels, remember to build up slowly to give your body time to adapt. You may need more time to recover from exercise than you used to, so factor in rest days as well.

Menopause and Weight Gain

Some women may notice that they appear to gain weight around their belly. This may be related to hormonal changes which cause an increase in total body fat. Weight gain may also occur if we move less.

However, having a higher BMI aged 65+ may benefit your health if you otherwise have a healthy lifestyle, eat well and stay active. Please see our previous article for more information.

Final Thoughts

If you have read this but think you’re too old or it’s too late to start strength training, let me reassure you that it is never too late to start making lifestyle changes that will benefit your health and ease your symptoms.

About Emma Shail

Emma is a Level 4 Personal Trainer with a special interest in empowering women to feel confident, strong and healthy during menopause. You can find out more about Emma here – drop her a message for nutrition advice or to find out about fitness classes or one-to-one personal training.

Article reviewed by Hannah Rose. Hannah worked as a doctor before becoming a freelance medical copywriter. You can contact Hannah here.

Tagged under: Women's Health