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Empowering yourself with exercise in perimenopause
Empowering yourself with exercise in perimenopause
Why exercising in (peri)menopause makes all the difference
(Peri)menopause begins with hormonal changes in your body and is a completely normal and natural part of ageing. It may, however, include symptoms like:
- hot flashes
- increased stress, anxiety, irritability, or depression
- changes to your body weight and shape
- interrupted sleep
- increased risk of osteoporosis
These symptoms can be overwhelming, which can make it difficult to find ways to effectively manage them. You might even be wondering: what role does exercise have in all this?
A regular exercise routine that is supportive and appropriate for your body can make all the difference in confidently managing your (peri)menopause symptoms. It’s a simple, practical step you can get started with for your overall health and wellbeing. Exercise is also a smart way to prevent future health problems down the line – research shows a strong correlation between 150 minutes of exercise per week and decreased heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and even risk of dementia.
What happens in your body during exercise? Overall, getting active on a regular basis has a direct effect on:
- Lean body mass – lean body mass decreases with ageing. Exercise directly counteracts this natural effect of ageing, helping to maintain strength and metabolism.
- Mood – exercise is directly correlated with improved mood, including improvements in anxiety, depression, irritability, and subjective wellbeing.
- Cognition – exercise has been shown to improve cognition and memory, and to decrease risks of dementia.
- Bone mass – weight-bearing exercise places direct stress on the bone, allowing the bone to become stronger and more dense, reducing the risk of osteoporosis or osteopenia
- Sleep – one of the best ways to improve sleep is with exercise, particularly in the morning. It helps to increase the quality of sleep, decreases the time it takes to fall asleep, and helps with waking up refreshed.
Exercise also plays an important role in preventing and/or managing specific (peri)menopause symptoms, like the ones we’ve mentioned earlier. Let’s explore how.
How exercise helps with (peri)menopause symptoms
You might feel overwhelmed or frustrated experiencing your (peri)menopause symptoms — and you’re not alone. On the bright side, studies show that a simple exercise routine can help you prevent and/or manage them quite effectively. We’ve compiled some common (peri)menopause symptoms that regular exercise can help you manage and feel more empowered on your journey.
Reduce hot flashes
The Melbourne Women’s Midlife Health Project and the North American Menopause Society both found that women who exercised regularly were less likely to experience hot flashes, both in quantity and severity. This may be linked to decreased stress, as well as changes in the temperature “set point” in the brain that may trigger hot flashes in response to changing hormone levels.
Manage changes in your weight
Regular exercise helps you maintain a weight within the healthy range for your height. This can help prevent the dangers of obesity, which include risks of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and breast, colon, and endometrial cancer.
You might have felt frustrated wondering why you’ve seen your weight increase during (peri)menopause, especially around the lower abdomen—even if you’re already exercising. Besides hormonal changes, one of the common scientific reasons for weight changes is ageing itself: our bodies tend to lose muscle with time, which means that our metabolism also tends to decrease. Exercise to increase lean muscle mass, time-restricted eating, and a wholefoods, plant-forward style diet are the best, most evidence-based ways to manage this noticeable change in metabolism and weight gain.
Other reasons for changes in your weight might include (peri)menopause-related symptoms like sleep difficulties. When you haven’t gotten enough sleep due to hot flashes at night (what we call night sweats), or other sleep disturbances, it can make you feel too tired to stay active, and directly affect other hormones like cortisol (the stress hormone) and leptin/ghrelin (hormones that control hunger and satiety). Research shows that people who are sleep deficient eat more and tend to choose foods that are less healthy.
Women in (peri)menopause also experience hormonal changes like a decrease in testosterone levels. Testosterone plays a role in muscle building; your body might slowly lose muscle mass over time when testosterone levels decrease. However, building muscle through weight-bearing exercises can help you counter this process.
Lower your risk of osteoporosis
Regular aerobic or weight-bearing exercises strengthen your bones by slowing down the rate of bone loss, and affects bone remodelling such that bones become stronger. This, in turn, reduces your risk of fractures. Exercise also helps with balance. Since osteoporotic fractures generally come from a fall, balance exercises are a key component in caring for the bones after menopause.
Now that we’ve explored how exercise helps manage the symptoms of (peri)menopause let’s dive into some simple exercise routines you could consider that fit into your overall lifestyle and schedule.
Simple exercise routines for (peri)menopause
If you’re on your (peri)menopause journey and are considering getting started with an exercise routine, you might be wondering where to begin — and we’re here to help. No matter your starting point, the best exercise routines are the ones you will enjoy and stick with over time. Here are some examples:
- weight-bearing exercises, like strength training
- aerobic exercises, like walking or swimming
- mobility exercises, like yoga or stretching
- Studies recommend that women in (peri)menopause should:
- Combine all three exercise types for the best results.
- Aim for 150 minutes of activity per week (or 30 minutes per day over five days).
- Exercise at a rate where you can still hold a conversation.
- Avoid high-intensity exercise and consider weight-bearing exercise, especially if you already have osteoporosis or pelvic floor prolapse.
Before beginning any exercise routine, it’s highly recommended that you:
- Properly warm up before your workout, cool down, and stretch afterward to prevent injuries.
- Start slow, even if you can do just a little bit of each exercise.
- Practice the motion while maintaining proper form. You could use a mirror to make sure you’re getting it right — or maybe get the help of a workout buddy.
- Get plenty of rest in between exercise routines.
You could also discuss your options with your healthcare provider to determine the best and safest option for you on your fitness journey.
Weight-bearing exercises for building muscle
Strength training brings a load of benefits to women in (peri)menopause, regardless of what level of fitness you’re at. It can:
- Build lean muscle mass, which keeps you stronger and fitter.
- Strengthen your bones, which prevents osteoporosis.
- Boost your metabolic rate, especially when you build muscle.
Some simple strength-building exercises you could consider are lower body-focused moves, like squats, lunges, and deadlifts, and upper body-focused moves, like push-ups, shoulder presses, and planks.
You could also follow YouTube channels with certified personal trainers guiding you through the exercises if you’d prefer to work out at home. But if you’re considering joining a gym, it can help you get some social interaction and connection to a broader community. It could also put you in touch with a fitness trainer who can support and instruct you more closely, or you could join group fitness classes to have a sense of community.
Aerobic exercises to improve your heart health
Aerobic exercises are simple, achievable routines you can get started with at any time and are a bit more vigorous than weight-bearing exercises. These can:
- Maintain your heart health and increase your endurance fitness over time.
- Decrease your overall body fat, which reduces your risk of diseases.
- Help reduce stress by producing endorphins.
- Improve sleep.
- Improve blood sugar levels, metabolism, and decrease your risk of insulin resistance and diabetes.
Some examples you could consider:
- gentle walking or brisker options like Nordic walking
- jogging, then building up to running
- step aerobics
An aerobic routine might look like a 10–15-minute walk after meals or a gentle jog through your neighbourhood to begin with — you can slowly increase the duration or distance with time as you get more comfortable. Building this habit prevents you from staying sedentary, ensures you get time outside in nature, and lets you connect with your community; these activities can help you better manage stress and anxiety and feel more encouraged on your health journey.
Mobility exercises for better balance and flexibility
Exercise routines that improve your overall mobility and flexibility are gentle on the body – great if you’re just getting started. They can:
- Improve the health of your bones and joints, which helps you stay independent and mobile.
- Increase your body’s balance and stability, which can help prevent falls.
- Improve your mental health with their focus on mindfulness and deep breathing techniques.
You could consider adding some of these mobility and stretching exercises to your routine:
- yoga — both restorative and active
- tai chi
- Qi Gong
- balance exercises
Low-impact exercises like Pilates go a long way toward helping manage (peri)menopause symptoms as well as increasing bone strength and overall flexibility if practised around three times a week in sessions of 20–30 minutes. Like with strength training, you could always consider joining a class or following a specialised YouTube channel with a certified trainer.
Finding a (Peri)Menopause Fitness Routine That Works For You
If you’re feeling nervous or unsure about getting started with a (peri)menopause-friendly exercise routine, we understand — but you can set yourself up for success in a few simple, practical ways.
You could consider the following:
- Starting a routine with a partner, whether with your spouse, family members, or friends, you’ll feel more confident when supported by your wider circle.
- Choosing an activity you genuinely enjoy: what matters is that you’re having fun and looking forward to staying active.
- Meeting with a personal trainer or physical therapist to design a routine for you, especially if you have had injuries or significant illness in the past.
The most difficult part of an exercise routine isn’t getting started but staying consistent over time — so it makes sense to start slow and set easy targets so you can stay encouraged. This way, you'll set yourself up for success and also experience long-term benefits for your overall health and wellness.
Most importantly, you can start your exercise journey any day and manage your health and symptoms with confidence and pride in your everyday efforts. Taking small steps and staying consistent over time is your key to an empowered, healthy lifestyle during your (peri)menopause years — and beyond.
We hope you’re feeling more reassured about your exercise options and their benefits to your overall health and wellness.
You could choose one to two moves from both categories to get a full-body workout two to three times a week. For example, this might look like this:
- Set a timer for 5–10 minutes and perform as many repetitions as you can — without any weights at first.
- Use simple household objects, like a backpack or even a bag of groceries, for a bit of added weight.
- Once you’re comfortable lifting something a bit heavier, you could try moving on to weights or resistance bands.
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