Part 1: Menopause, health and exercise
Menopause is a natural part of most women’s lives, however, the topic can still be a somewhat of a taboo, so this is a great question!
There’s a lot going on, and when it comes to considering exercise there’s even more, so we’ve had to break up this topic into 2 parts.
What is the relationship between exercise, menopause and other health conditions?
Do you have any recommendations about how to manage the changes through lifestyle?
BACKGROUND INFO: MENOPAUSE
Menopause is defined as the permanent cessation of the menstrual cycle. It occurs naturally with ageing but can also be induced by surgical procedures as well as chemotherapy or radiation. It’s driven by the down-regulation of ovarian hormones. There’s a few, but the main two are estrogen and progesterone. This also impacts the hypothalamus and pituitary hormones. So basically, it affects the whole body.
Symptoms range in severity and for some can impair quality of life and daily function. Common symptoms include hot flushes, night sweats, joint pains, mood disturbances, sleep problems and fatigue. Along with symptoms, there are other physical changes that are less obvious but may affect long term health.
There are numerous benefits of exercise for a woman going through menopause as well as post-menopause, which we’ll discuss below!
MENOPAUSE AND HEALTH
With the changing internal environment, there are increased risks of various health conditions such as osteoporosis and high blood pressure. There is also an increased risk of hormonally driven cancers such as ovarian, breast and endometrial cancer as well as an increased risk of developing chronic diseases like heart disease or diabetes.
There also appears to be an increased experience of altered thyroid function. This relationship is not yet fully understood however it is known to increase health risks and worsen the effects of menopause so it should be addressed with your doctor.
Contrary to popular belief, putting on weight is not associated with menopause. In fact, it’s just a normal effect of ageing.
However, menopause does change the distribution of this extra weight. The hormonal changes lead to new fat being stored around the waist. Extra weight around the middle, places extra pressure on organs which increases the risk of developing health issues and is also associated with worse menopause symptoms.
It’s not all bad though, hot flushes, although unpleasant, have actually been linked with heart protection!
THE IMPORTANCE OF EXERCISE FOR MENOPAUSE
We all know good exercise is for us in general, and its relationship with menopause just acts to further validate this.
Exercise is essential in all stages of life. The better health you are in prior to menopause, the fewer health risks you have during and post-menopause.
Achieving and maintaining an appropriate exercise routine plays a massive role in managing the risks of developing all of the conditions listed in the section above by assisting in body weight management as well as blood vessel health. Regular physical activity has also been shown to reduce to risk of developing breast cancer after menopause by 25-30%.
But that’s not all. Exercise can also help manage some of the common symptoms experienced.
EXERCISE AND SYMPTOM MANAGEMENT
Pain, Mood, and Fatigue – Good news! We are confident in the power of exercise to assist other symptoms such as headaches, joint pain, mood and fatigue/energy. Although, there is potential for exercise to exacerbate these, so it is best to work with an exercise physiologist to find the optimal exercise routine that works for you.
Hot Flushes – Scientists think that exercise might help decrease the frequency or severity of hot flashes through the ability of exercise to decrease the body’s physical responses to stress, such as heart rate and elevated temperature. Unfortunately, currently, there is a lack of sufficient evidence to support these theories.
Hot flashes actually have a stronger association with bodyweight rather than physical activity levels…which exercise does have a role in 😉
As you can see, exercise plays a significant role in looking after your new body.
Stay tuned for Part 2 where we’ll go into a bit more detail about what type of exercise is safe and best for menopause.
- M Hickey & E Banks (2016), NICE guidelines on the menopause, missing quantitative summary estimates of risks of hormone therapy, BMJ, doi: 10.1136/bmj.i191
- A Park (2011), The Hot Flashes of Menopause May Protect Women’s Hearts, Time Magazine http://healthland.time.com/2011/02/24/the-hot-flashes-of-menopause-may-protect-womens-hearts/?fbclid=IwAR0UFWRnpKDa7J4d7AFTHFsyxguDUCu24PAH_8NfCwRKigOQd1qXM7yu67E
- Marpaung, et al. (2019), Hormone Examination in Menopause¸ Indonesian Journal of Clinical Pathology and Medical Laboratory, 25 (2) : 233 – 239
- B Sternfeld & S Dungan (2011), Physical activity and health during the menopausal transition, Obstet Gynecol Clin North Am, 38(3): 537–566. doi:10.1016/j.ogc.2011.05.008.
- C Lyon et al., (2018), Does exercise relieve vasomotor menopausal symptoms?, The Journal of Family Practise, MDEDGE.COM/JFPONLINE
- A Capozzi & S Lello (2018), Short focus on thyroid function in menopause: impact on bone health, Clinical Cases in Mineral and Bone Metabolism, DOI: 10.11138/ccmbm/2018.15.2.209
Exercise Physiologist and Writer/Content Manager