Why women should get physical during menopause

Why women should get physical during menopause

Back in the 1980’s, Olivia Newton John’s song, Physical, was a worldwide sensation.  The lyrics, “Let’s get physical, let me hear your body talk,” is still relevant today especially for women going through menopause. Many women may not believe it but regular physical activity is crucial when facing menopause.

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Menopause is a major transition in a woman’s life. Dealing with mood swings, hot flashes, vaginal dryness or fatigue are just some of the issues women may face as their childbearing years come to an end. Instead of giving up and believing life is over, women need to step up and get more physical. Menopause is only a transition.  It should be thought of as a new beginning and a reminder of the importance of taking good care of their health.  Decades of life are still ahead and women can make the most of them starting by getting more fit.

Why is physical fitness vital during menopause?

The benefits of getting and keeping fit during menopause are numerous:

·      Prevents weight gain – Beginning already by age 40, women will lose muscle mass which is replaced by fat mass. The higher percentage of body fat mass a woman has, the more apt she is to gain abdominal fat during the years leading up to menopause. To prevent excess weight gain in the abdominal area, regular physical activity can help maintain muscle mass helping prevent weight gain. The more muscle mass a woman has, the more calories she will burn even at rest.

·      Reduces the risk of cancer – When a woman exercises regularly, not only will this help her to lose or prevent weight gain but it can also offer protection from various types of cancer, including breast, colon and endometrial cancer.

·      Strengthens bones – As women journey towards menopause, estrogen, the hormone in women that protects bones, decreases sharply in increasing bone loss. One of the best ways to slow bone loss after menopause is to do weight-bearing exercise.  This includes brisk walking, jumping rope, dancing, jogging or lifting weights. Women are already at a higher risk than men for osteoporosis and after menopause, the accelerated loss of bone increases the risk of fractures.  

·      Reduces the risk of other diseases – Gaining weight during menopause puts a woman’s health at risk. Once a woman goes through menopause, her risk of developing heart disease is at the same level as a man’s. Once again, a natural decline in estrogen may be a factor in heart disease among post-menopausal women. Estrogen is believed to have a positive effect on the inner layer of artery wall, helping to keep blood vessels flexible.  By exercising regularly, women can reach and maintain a healthy body weight which lowers their risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

·      Improves mood and outlook on life – Exercise of any kind is a natural mood booster. Physical activity releases the feel-good hormones called endorphins helping reduce depression, cognitive decline and stress while increasing energy and stamina.

Which physical activities are best?

The nice thing about exercise is the variety to choose from.  A woman, like anyone, should choose a physical activity she enjoys increasing the likelihood she will stick with it. For most healthy women, it is recommended to engage in some type of moderate aerobic activity for at least 150 minutes a week which is equivalent to 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. In addition, it is highly recommended to also include strength training and flexibility moves at least twice a week.

Here are options for women to consider and why they benefit health:

·      Aerobic activity – Aerobic activity is any kind of exercise that gets your heart rate elevated above normal and is sustained at this level for an extended period of time.  This type of activity is excellent for heart health, circulation, enhances mood and burn excess calories helping a woman reach and maintain a healthy body weight. If a woman is a beginner to exercise, she should start off slowly with 10 minutes a day of aerobic activity and gradually build up from there. Examples of aerobic activity include brisk walking, swimming or water aerobics, bicycling and dancing.

 ·      Strength training – Lifting weights should be on every woman’s agenda.  Regular strength training helps reduce body fat, strengthens muscle mass and burns calories more efficiently. Using weight machines, hand-held weights or dumbbells, or resistance bands, are all good examples of strength training.  Women unfamiliar with lifting weights should consider hiring a personal trainer to get them started. 

·      Stretching – An often overlooked but very important component of physical fitness is stretching. To maintain and improve flexibility, stretching is a must. Maintaining flexibility with age matters – it’s good for posture and circulation, maintains balance, relieves stress and pain, and prevents injuries. Every day women should set aside time to stretch or consider joining a yoga or Pilates class.

·      Stability and balance – Balance exercises improve stability and can help prevent falls. Simply exercises such as standing on one leg while brushing teeth, standing on one foot up to ten seconds or practicing the ancient art form of tai chi can be helpful.

How to stay motivated

While it’s good to know what types of exercise a woman should practice during and after menopause, how can she stay motivated over the years?  First, set realistic and achievable goals. Start slow and work up from there. Working out with friends can also make a difference in staying motivated. Exercise can be done at home through activities such as gardening or cleaning up the yard or putting on music to dance to.  The main thing is to not give up. Women who remain physically active will have a better quality of life than those who choose to be inactive.