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.1 This statistic is actually an improvement over prior years – and yet, the majority of Americans still aren’t able to achieve the recommended minimum for physical activity.
What’s worse? Women tend to lag behind men in regard to the amount we exercise. Whether it’s because of a lack of motivation or that you’re stretched a little too thin, your opinion toward prioritizing physical activity may change, especially when you realize that consistent exercise may help to alleviate some of the more disruptive symptoms of menopause.
For many women struggling with menopause symptoms, such as hot flashes or mood swings, exercise can help to potentially reduce their frequency and intensity. Additionally, it can help to curb menopausal weight gain, or what’s commonly referred to as “meno-belly,” which often can result from a slower metabolism due to both aging and fluctuating hormones during the menopausal transition. 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!2 So, what are some of the best exercises to consider during menopause and how can you get started? Read on to learn more.
The Best Exercises for Menopause Belly
If you’ve noticed you’ve gained a little weight around your midsection during menopause, you’re not alone. In The Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN), a large observational study that followed middle-aged women throughout perimenopause, it was found that women both gained belly fat and lost muscle mass during this transitional time.3
Because of these changes in body composition (less muscle and more fat), women may feel like any additional weight around the belly is much more pronounced. Additionally, weight around the belly may continue to increase from perimenopause into postmenopause due to a decline in physical activity as well as a spike in cravings and appetite, which can be linked to hormonal flutuations.4
While certain dietary changes can help to curb “meno-belly,” there are also certain exercises you can incorporate into your routine as well that can be quite effective. Read on to learn more about some of the best exercises to combat menopause belly.
- Get Walking: If you’re just starting to incorporate exercise into your daily routine during menopause, walking is a great place to begin. Try taking a brisk walk, once a day, for 20 – 30 minutes to start. This can often be enough to get your blood pumping and heart rate going. The Department of Health and Human Services does recommend moderate aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, for at least 150 minutes a week to aid in weight loss, so try to work your way up to longer intervals once you feel comfortable. You can also start out at a slower pace until you find your stride but try your best to ramp up your pace every week or so to help continue to make progress toward your weight loss goals. And, if you’re looking for a more challenging walking work out, try incorporating hills or an incline (if you’re working out on a treadmill) to burn some additional calories.
- Go for a Swim: If you’re dealing with knee issues, stiff joints or joint pain, but still want an exercise that will address menopause belly, swimming is a great alternative for cardio exercise. You can try swimming laps, but you can also explore water aerobics to add a little more variety to your workout routine. Exercising in water can help to take the stress off your joints while still enabling you to burn calories and work off any excess belly fat you may have gained during menopause.
- Find your Zen: Is cardio exercise not quite your thing? Consider incorporating Tai Chi into your workout routine. A recent study found that people aged 50 years or older who were struggling with belly fat, practiced Tai Chi for 12 weeks and actually achieved similar results to those engaging in aerobic or strength training exercises for weight loss.5 This type of low impact exercise may be a great way to support menopause weight loss.
Strength Training for Women in Menopause
Strength training is another form of exercise that can be especially beneficial during menopause, specifically as it helps to preserve muscle mass and can help avoid the slowing down of 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 65.6 So, working out specific muscle groups, two to three times a week, may be exactly what you need to take weight loss during menopause to the next level. And if you’re a woman looking to start strength training over 50, rest assured, there are ways to build this type of exercise into your routine.
Here are a few specific strength training exercises for women that you can incorporate during menopause to help preserve muscle mass and reduce belly fat:7
- Forearm Plank: Begin by lying on the floor or a mat with your forearms flat on the floor, ensuring that your elbows are aligned directly underneath your shoulders.
Keep your abdominal muscles engaged and try not to let your hips rise or drop. Try your best to hold this position for 30 seconds. If you find that this position hurts your lower back or becomes too difficult to hold, feel free to place your knees down on the ground to modify this exercise.
- Modified Push-up: Begin in a kneeling position on a mat or cushioned surface with your hands below shoulders and your knees behind your hips, so that your back is angled and long.
Tuck your toes underneath your feet, tighten your abdominal muscles and bend your elbows in order to lower your chest toward the floor. Keep your gaze in front of your fingertips so that your neck stays long.
Press your chest back up to the starting position to complete one push-up. Try to complete 10-15 of these to start and increase your reps when you feel ready.
- Bird Dogs: Kneel on a mat or cushioned surface on all fours. Reach one of your arms long out in front of you, drawing in your abdominal muscles. Extend your opposite leg long behind you and then hold this pose for a count of 15 seconds. Try repeating this eight to 12 times on one side and then switch sides, replicating this pose on the alternate side.
A strength training routine incorporating some or all of the above exercises can be supplemented by other types of exercises mentioned earlier that work to promote fitness, such as walking, swimming, yoga or even dancing.
Weightlifting for Weight Loss During Menopause
In addition to using your own body weight to strength train and tame belly fat during menopause, you can also incorporate free weights and certain exercises to help increase menopause weight loss results. If you routinely work out with weights, feel free to use the weights you’re most comfortable with. If you’re just starting out, lighter, 2–5-pound, free weights are probably best.8,9
- One-Arm Row: Holding a free weight in your right hand, stand with your feet evenly apart. Bend your knees slightly and be sure to keep your abdominal muscles engaged. Rest your left palm on your left thigh (you can also feel free to use a chair instead for more support).
Begin with your arm extended all the way down. Keeping your back flat, pull the free weight up all the way up toward your armpit, then lower it back down. Try to do this for eight to 12 reps and then repeat the same motion on the alternate side.
- Tricep Kickback: Hold a free weight in your right hand and stand with your left leg in front of your right, with your left knee slightly bent. Rest your left hand on your left thigh (you can also lean on a chair if you need additional support).
Keeping your abdominal muscles tight and back flat, raise your right elbow until the upper part of your arm is almost parallel with the floor; be sure to keep your elbow in close to your body.
Straighten your right arm, making sure to squeeze your triceps as you do so. Return your right hand to the starting position. Try to do this for eight to 12 reps on one side, and then repeat the same motion on the other side
- Bicep Curls: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms down by your sides, with a free weight in each hand. Hold the weights so that your palms are facing in toward your thighs.
Bend your elbow and raise the weight, rotating your forearm, so that your palms come around and face your shoulder. Keep your elbows tucked in by your side and do your best to make your motion slow and controlled. Lower the weight back down to the starting position. Try to complete two sets of ten or 15 reps of this exercise to start and increase when you’re ready.
Can Women Over 50 Start Strength Training and Exercising Now?
The simple answer to that question is yes! Even if you’ve been inactive for many years, you can always jumpstart an exercise or strength training program during perimenopause or menopause that will help you to burn calories and belly fat, build muscle strength and make you feel better all around. Just remember to start slowly — choose activities that you like and can gradually increase the intensity with as you get stronger. Naturally, it’s a good idea to consult your healthcare provider about the safety of your exercise routine, taking into account your state of health and medications you take, etc. We hope these exercises are helpful for getting you started with a new, active routine!Resources: