Menopause: What role can exercise play?
Women typically reach menopause between the ages of 45 and 55, with the average age for Australian women being around 51. About 80 per cent of women experience menopausal symptoms, like hot flushes and mood swings. Plus, the changes to body fat distribution and hormone levels that occur after menopause increase the risk of other health concerns.
No two women will experience menopause in exactly the same way, but there are things you can do to tackle symptoms, if you have them, and to help protect your health, post-menopause. And one of those ‘things’ is maintaining your physical activity levels.
Research shows that women who exercise regularly experience fewer and milder menopausal symptoms. One reason is that feel-good hormones are released during physical activity, and they can enhance your mood for several hours afterwards.
In terms of your long-term health post menopause, exercise can help there too. In particular it protects against:
Osteoporosis. Exercise decreases the risk of osteoporosis by strengthening bones and maintaining your peak bone mass. Do some weight-bearing exercise, like walking, dancing, lifting weights or stair climbing, most days of the week.
Heart disease. Regular exercise helps to maintain healthier cholesterol levels, stronger blood vessels and a healthy weight, all of which can lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. Aim for at least 30 minutes of cardio activity (like walking, jogging, cycling, swimming or fitness classes) on five or more days a week. You don’t even have to string those 30 minutes together in one hit – three, 10-minute ‘bursts’ spread out across the day, delivers the same health benefits as one continuous session.
Muscle loss. While muscle loss has more to do with ageing than menopause, it can affect the pelvic floor muscles and has the potential to contribute to urinary incontinence, at this life stage. Try weight training exercises for the total body at least twice a week. Bicep curls, half push-ups, lunges, squats and pelvic floor exercises are all great options.