Written by Mallory Junggren
If your idea of good exercise is a brisk conversation– you’re not alone. A Gallup survey showed that only one out of two adults between the ages of 45 and 64 get at least 30 minutes of exercise three times a week, which is the recommended minimum to maintain good health. This statistic is actually an improvement over prior years – and yet, the majority of Americans still don’t get the recommended minimum. What’s worse? Us women tend to lag behind men in regard to the amount we exercise. Your opinion regarding physical activity may change very much like ours did, when we realized that consistent exercise can help alleviate some disruptive menopausal symptoms.
When many women are faced with menopause symptoms, exercise can help with the weight gain that often results from a slower metabolism. Research from the National Institutes of Health showed that people who get only 10 minutes or more of aerobic exercise a day were on average six inches smaller around the waist than people who didn’t exercise. If that’s not inspiration to get moving, we’re not sure what is!
How exercise helps with other menopause symptoms
Fighting weight gain is only one way exercise can help alleviate menopausal symptoms. Read on to learn more about how staying active can actually help cull other disruptive symptoms.
- Exercising regularly can lift your mood and prevent cognitive problems that can accompany menopause. Exercise plays a positive role in reducing the menopause blues. It also helps with short-term memory loss and thinking skills. Yoga and similar types of exercise that help with relaxation through rhythmic breathing, are also great stress busters.
- Getting a better night’s sleep. Exercise helps you sleep better, which is important for women who suffer from hot flashes at night. That’s right! A few more minutes of cardio a day and you could be on your way to eliminating that aggravating toss and burn.
- Lowering cancer risks. Since being overweight is thought to be a common risk factor for several types of cancer, including breast, endometrial and colon cancer, keeping off excess pounds by increasing exercise is a great preventative measure against cancer. Over 20 years ago, a five-year-long research study with over 70,000 post-menopausal women between the ages of 50 and 79 showed that increased physical activity was correlated with decreased risk for breast cancer. With a longer duration of exercise, there was an even greater reduction of risk.
- Preventing bone loss. Like other parts of your body, the cells in your bones are constantly changing, with older bone cells being replaced by new bone cells. However, as we age, the production of new bone cells slows down. According to Everyday Health, your bones peak at age 30. After that, your body makes less and less new bone cells. Due to lower levels of estrogen in your body, menopause tends to speed up bone loss. Weight bearing exercise can also strengthen bones, lowering the risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures. Just to be clear, weight bearing exercise doesn’t just mean lifting weights — it can include walking, running, playing tennis, dancing, etc.
- Exercise can help lowering risks for heart disease and diabetes, which typically increase with weight gain and lack of exercise. There are conflicting studies about the connection between the onset of menopause and risks for heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Most studies have led to the conclusion that the risk for these diseases increases after the onset of menopause. In August 2016, the Journal of the American Heart Association published an article reporting the results of a new study of women at various ages which stated that the risk for these diseases is at its highest just prior to menopause. The bottom line: while there is no proof that exercise can directly reduce menopause symptoms like hot flashes, exercise does make an indirect difference, since keeping off extra pounds and reducing stress, both of which are affected by exercise, can mitigate menopause symptoms.
What types of exercise are good for menopausal women?
Strength training is crucial to preserve muscle and to avoid slowing down the body’s ability to burn calories. We can lose up to 5% of our lean muscle tissue with each decade, beginning in our 30s. This rate of muscle loss increases after the age of 65. “[Strength training is] as critical to your health as mammograms and annual doctor visits, and it can alleviate nearly all of the health and emotional frustrations that women face today,” said Holly Perkins, author of Women’s Health Lift to Get Lean and founder of Women’s Strength Nation, quoted in Prevention magazine. “And it becomes even more critical once you hit 50.”
Perkins recommends a full-body routine for strength building, performed twice a week, which can be found in the original Prevention article. Her basic strength training routine can be supplemented by other types of exercise that promote fitness, including walking, swimming, yoga and dancing.