What if there was a way to slow down aging and improve your life during menopause? Doctors and researchers believe physical activity is your secret weapon. It can help prevent some conditions, reverse some of the effects of certain chronic diseases, assist you in managing your weight, increase muscle strength and balance, and improve your overall quality of life. If you’re a menopausal woman, there’s no better time to start as you’re likely more aware of your body than ever before.
Table of Contents
1. Benefits to physical activity.
2. Pros of walking.
3. Best exercises for menopausal women.
4. Strengthening muscles.
5. Mid-section exercises.
6. Resistance training exercises
7. Stretches and chair yoga exercises.
8. Maintaining your balance and fall prevention.
9. Why an accountability partner usually works better than going it alone.
10. Osteoporosis prevention.
1. Exercise benefits during menopause
Exercise is one training tool that can help you take natural life changes and turn them into opportunities for today and tomorrow.
While a lot of changes with your body during menopause, look to it as an opportunity to take a personal journey to a better you!
Physical fitness offers these health benefits:
- Builds stronger muscles.
- Strengthens bones and lowers your osteoporosis risk.
- Reduces the impact of certain diseases.
- Helps you maintain a healthy weight and reduces your risk of obesity.
- Improves your focus, energy, and sleep.
- Increases balance and reduces risk of falling.
- Improves your mood and emotional and mental health.
- Lowers stress.
- Improves quality of life during menopause.
So, how much physical activity do you need? According to the latest government recommendations by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, adults need at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity in addition to muscle-strengthening exercises twice a week.
While it’s best to spread the activity out throughout the week, focusing on 3 days a week can minimize injury and fatigue while still seeing health benefits.
The more physical activity, the greater the health benefits for most people. In fact, a longer life expectancy is associated with high levels of moderate-to-vigorous exercise (more than 450 minutes a week). That’s significantly more exercise than the recommendations, but the idea is the more active you are, the better off you’ll be.
You can lower your risk for coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, anxiety, depression, Alzheimer’s, and other types of dementia.
Plus, it helps you sleep better. Some menopausal women need that help to combat sleeplessness. It’s one of the many symptoms during this natural life cycle that you may experience.
While 150 minutes is recommended, the prevalence of middle-aged women getting enough exercise is low.
According to the 2010-2015 National Health Interview Survey published in 2018, only 19 percent of females aged 18-64 met the exercise and muscle-strengthening guidelines, and 48 percent of women met neither guideline.
Women are more likely than men to fall short of the recommendations. It’s thought family and work commitments and an overall lack of time are the most common challenges.
Motivation may also be an issue for post-menopausal women. Researchers at the University of Missouri found women lose the desire to exercise because of the lack of ovarian hormones and changes in the brain that process and reinforce messages related to reward, pleasure, activity, and motivation for physical activity.
While this study was done in rats, the researchers say the findings confirm previous human evidence.
The silver lining in all of this — even a little exercise can help maintain metabolic function.
With low activity levels, you’re four times more likely to develop a metabolic syndrome which can increase your risk for heart disease, stroke, or type 2 diabetes.
Researchers at the University of Missouri also found that in low-fit (previously sedentary) post-menopausal women, small amounts of exercise can be enough to reduce the risk of metabolic issues.
So, focus on increasing your activity even if it’s not intense. Something is better than nothing. When possible, take the stairs instead of the elevator. Join a group fitness class or go for a walk.
2. Benefits of walking
Walking is a great starting point if you are not active. Former CDC Director, Dr. Tom Frieden, called walking a “wonder drug.” He added that it “…improves everything you’d like to improve and reduces everything you’d like to reduce.” Even if you don’t lose weight, it makes you healthier.
A study that analyzed walking behavior and health outcomes of 89,000 women over ten years found post-menopausal women who walk for 40 minutes at an average to fast pace several times a week, have a 25-percent less risk for heart disease. And, researchers found walking may be as beneficial as other types of physical activity for lowering your risk of heart failure which increases with age.
Physical fitness means something different to everyone. Define what it means for you. You don’t need to run a marathon. You may already feel like you’re doing that if you’re in menopause or peri-menopause because this natural life cycle IS a marathon. Symptoms can last for a decade or more!
Take small steps and focus on an activity you can sustain, and that fits your fitness level.
3. Best exercises for menopausal women
So, what exercises can you do to stay active?
Vigorous-Intensity Physical Activities
- Jogging or running
- Swimming laps
- Singles tennis
- Vigorous dancing
- Biking (more than 10 miles per hour)
- Jumping rope
- Intense yardwork (digging or shoveling)
- Hiking uphill with a heavy backpack
- High-intensity interval training (HIIT)
- Vigorous exercise classes like step aerobics or kickboxing
- Walking (at least 2.5 miles per hour)
- Biking (less than 10 miles an hour)
- Doubles tennis
- Active yoga (Vinyasa or power yoga)
- Ballroom or line dancing
- Yard work or home repair
- Water aerobics
- Exercise classes
- Chair Yoga
- Tai Chi
If you’re breathing hard but can still have a conversation easily, it’s moderate-intensity activity. It’s vigorous-intensity if you can only say a few words before breathing.
Focus on getting your heart rate up, strengthening your body, and stretching. That will improve flexibility, which will make your movements easier both during activity and during daily life.
4. Strengthening muscles
Your muscles naturally weaken as you age. You lose 3-8% of your muscle mass every decade after the age of 30. The decline is higher after age 60.
Inactivity can accelerate the occurrence or severity of lost muscle mass.
Muscle burns more calories than fat. So, when you lose muscle, your body doesn’t burn as many calories. That’s one reason you’re naturally more susceptible to gain fat or weight in midlife.
For menopausal women, add in a slowing metabolism, and you suddenly struggle with weight gain, even if it’s never previously been an issue in life. Physical activity is one of the ways you can win this battle. Learn about other weight gain solutions.
Take back your menopausal life by moving and focusing on strength-training activities. You can use resistance bands, dumbbells, a Kettlebell, boxing gloves, or your bodyweight.
If you don’t have any gym equipment at home, and don’t have access to a fitness facility, you can also use your bodyweight. It’s just as powerful. Try a plank, pushup, sit-up, squat, lunge, or a wall sit to strengthen your entire body.
5. Exercises that focus on your mid-section
Let’s face it – your mid-section is probably a trouble spot for you. Stubborn belly fat is a problem for many midlife women, even if you’ve never worried about your weight.
Physical changes like weight gain happen during menopause because your metabolism slows down. You also lose muscle. It’s replaced with fat. The changes are natural and slow, so you may not realize it until your pants no longer fit.
The average menopausal woman gains 4.5 pounds during the transition to menopause, and it continues to add on as you age. By the time you’re in your 60’s, you may be one of nearly three-quarters of women who are overweight, half of whom are obese.
In a PeopleTweaker survey, weight gain and a slowing metabolism were the second most commonly reported menopause symptoms.
Also known as a muffin top or menopause belly, menopausal women often carry a disproportionate amount of their body weight in their midsection. It affects how you feel and your physical appearance. Plus, concentrated weight in your mid-section can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.
According to data analyzed from the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN) and published in JCI Insight, women saw a 2 to 4-fold increase in fat during the menopause transition. White and black women had similar outcomes; however, Japanese and Chinese women did not see these increases.
Many believe the cultural differences, specifically related to the diet, contribute to the differences in weight and menopausal symptoms for women around the world, especially in Asian countries. They often don’t experience weight gain, and they also report fewer menopausal symptoms than women in the United States.
While healthy eating habits impact your midlife middle, physical activity, total-body movements, and core strengthening exercises help your midsection too.
This extra weight can affect your health, so take action with physical activity! Given the risk of an underlying chronic condition with age, it’s important to talk to your doctor before you begin a fitness regiment, especially if you have been leading a very sedentary lifestyle.
Fitness instructor, Denise Austin, has a muffin top and menopause belly workout for those hard-to-change areas of your body.
She has a variety of workouts you can try including a 10-minute total body workout you can do at-home.
There are many on-demand fitness programs you can purchase to do at-home. All you need is your body weight, a few weights, and a mobile device to stream the workouts.
Choose an at-home personal trainer who motivates you to get up and move while offering modifications and adjustments for exercises so you can go at your own pace.
If you’re over 65, SilverSneakers allows you to work out for free when you’re on a participating Medicare Plan. The fitness programs are all on-demand. You can also get access to more than 14,000 gyms and the fitness programs they offer at no charge.
They also have several exercises you can try in your own home, with your bodyweight. These include seated exercises, strength training exercises for the floor, and stretching movements.
6. Resistance training exercises
To increase the intensity of your strength training activities, and get the most bone benefits, focus on resistance training. You can use free weights, weight machines, medicine balls, and elastic resistance bands along with targeted movements. You can even use your own body weight. The extra load helps bone formation.
Focus on two sets of one exercise for each major muscle group. Aim for 8-12 repetitions, but adjust according to your fitness level.
Studies indicate resistance training is shown to be safe and effective for improving muscle strength in middle-aged and older adults. Always talk to your doctor first.
Resistance exercise for post-menopausal women led to a significant improvement of bone mineral density in the lumbar spine and neck.
Researchers believe the benefits are significant enough that resistance exercise alone or combined with other activities may be the best strategy for post-menopausal women looking to improve their muscle and bone mass.
While much of the focus is on activities that get your heartbeat up, don’t forget stretching. Do this before and after to prevent stiffness and allow you to maintain flexibility as you age. It’ll also help you with your movement.
These are some standing stretches you can try.
Get creative and ask a trainer or fitness instructor for modifications. There is an alternative for almost every exercise. If you can’t do traditional yoga, try it in a chair.
8. Balance exercises and fall prevention
As you age, falls are more common, and these can begin occurring during menopause. Bone density and posture changes, muscle loss, posture problems, and changes in your body composition and weight can put you at risk. Studies indicate women begin experiencing falls as early as their 40’s.
Falls are the number one cause of injury and death in older Americans. Falling once doubles your chance of falling again. This injury is preventable by eating the right healthy foods during menopause, especially vitamin D and C. Exercise is also an important prevention tool. The earlier you start the better.
Balance exercises help you maintain stability and restore your confidence. Most balance exercises require your own body weight. For example, the Mayo Clinic recommends standing on one foot. Start for a small amount of time and work your way up. Have a chair or wall nearby that you can easily grab when you lose your balance.
You can also try standing up from a seated position without using your hands.
Third, try weight shifts. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and shift your weight from one side to the next. As you shift your weight to one side, lift the other foot off the floor. Hold that position as long as you can, up to 30 seconds.
A single-leg balance works in a similar way. Once again, start with your feet hip-width apart. Put your hands on your hips, lift one leg up and bend it behind you. Hold it for up to 30 seconds.
Once you gain strength, you can add weights and do bicep curls with a dumbbell while balancing on one foot.
SilverSneakers also recommends standing marches, head rotations, foot taps, and over the shoulder walks.
Tai Chi is the most commonly practiced balance exercise, and a great choice for post-menopausal women. The slow sequence of movements focus on a straight spine, and relaxed breaths.
Pilates is also a great post-menopausal exercise to improve posture and balance, which can minimize the risk of a fall. Pilates can also improve flexibility and mobility.
9. Accountability partner
Working out at the gym is a great way to hold yourself accountable, especially if you join a fitness class. You’re more likely to follow through with your fitness plan and goals. The class meets regularly, and it automatically sets your workout schedule.
Plus, it can improve how you feel, beyond the physical health benefits. A study published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association showed group fitness classes lessen perceived stress and increase your physical, mental, and emotional quality of life compared with physical activity by yourself.
You can also find an accountability partner or group to participate in physical activities. You’ll motivate each other, especially when one of you makes a thousand excuses not to get up and move!
If you don’t have an accountability partner, join an online community. EverWalk is the biggest walking initiative in American history.
Diana Nyad and Bonnie Stoll founded the community. In her 60’s, Nyad trained with Stoll, to become the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida. Now, she’s focused on getting America to walk outside.
10. Fitness with osteoporosis
When you strengthen your muscles, you’re also making your bones stronger, although those changes take longer and are likely less obvious. That’s important to keep in mind as osteoporosis risks increase for menopausal women.
More than 75 million people in the U.S., Europe, and Japan have osteoporosis. While medications can help, exercise is a potential great alternative for many women, especially if you begin long before peri/menopause. It also provides additional health benefits medication can’t provide.
Inactivity is a risk factor for osteoporosis because it increases your bone loss. Regular weight-bearing exercise (e.g., walking, dancing, and jogging) and strength (resistance) training (such as lifting weights, push-ups, and squats) help optimize bone health and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Again, talk to a doctor before you being a new routine.
The squat and shoulder press are two of the best ways to increase your bone density and a great exercise for post-menopausal women.
Also, listen to your body especially if you have a previous injury or osteoporosis. With this condition, you need to be careful and protect your spine. Make modifications as necessary, including avoiding activities like sit-ups, toe touches, and anything else that puts too much pressure on your trunk or spine.
Keep in mind, some physical activity is better than none. Depending on what you choose, you can improve balance, posture, strength, and muscle mass all at once. These are pilates exercises that are can help a woman with osteoporosis.
Move more and feel better
As you age, movement is more important than ever. Listen to your body and do what’s possible based on your fitness level and physical condition. Always talk to a doctor first.
Physical activity can help with weight gain, and improve your overall quality of life during menopause. Researchers found long-term benefits in a survey of middle-aged women two years after they completed a 4-month regiment of walking and yoga. The women experienced an increase in physical self-esteem from completing the exercise, and they also saw a decrease in menopausal symptoms over 2 years.
The findings are not surprising because exercise lowers stress and makes you feel better. Mind-body activities like yoga, Yoga Nidra, and Tai Chi are powerful. They can lower your stress and improve your quality of life too.
Finally, mix up your routine. You won’t get bored, and you’ll be more likely to get the 150 minutes of physical activity that you need each week.
What physical activity do you think helps you stay healthy in menopause?
As a physician, healthcare executive at a Fortune 100 company, and integrative health practitioner, Z. Colette Edwards, MD, MBA knows the unique value of a holistic, whole-person approach to health and well-being. She also understands the challenges health inequities can present. Known as “The Insight Doctor,” she offers guidance and powerful tools that prepare your body, mind, and spirit for menopause, stress, and inflammatory bowel disease. Lastly, Dr. Edwards coaches individuals in the development of self-advocacy and health system navigation skills.
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