During the roller coaster of menopause, walking was a lifeline for me. My gym friends and I pounded the treadmills as we discussed everything from relationship woes to world events to the latest movie. I also loved walking by myself along the Eno River near my home in Hillsborough, North Carolina. I relished the solitude as I spotted blue herons and pondered my writing projects. Walking, whether with friends or alone, empowered my body and nourished my spirit during those challenging years.
Does exercise actually reduce physical symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes, night sweats, and insomnia? Some studies say “yes;” others report the book is still out. But exercise is a definite plus when it comes to improving your mood and reducing threats to your health. Dr. Margery Gass, former executive director of the North American Menopause Society, writes, “Exercise also helps beat back the risks that rise for you at this time of life—heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis. The American Heart Association puts being a couch potato right up there with bad cholesterol levels as a heart disease risk. ”
“When you’re struggling with menopause symptoms such as sleep problems or mood swings, probably the last thing you want to do is get off the couch,” says health writer Regina Boyle Wheeler. “But getting active can help alleviate the doldrums you feel today and ward off postmenopausal health risks you may face tomorrow.” To keep yourself committed to an exercise routine, consider making plans to exercise with others; changing up your regimen; and treating yourself to fun workout clothes, a shiny water bottle, or a new class.
Experts recommend women participate in three types of physical activity: • Aerobic exercise that gets the heart pumping such as walking, running, swimming, and dance; • Strength training that builds muscle mass such as working with weights, resistance bands, and exercise machines; • Exercise that promotes flexibility and balance such as yoga and tai chi.
What about the dreaded menopausal weight gain? WebMD reports: “In animal studies, estrogen appears to help control body weight. With lower estrogen levels, lab animals tend to eat more and be less physically active. Reduced estrogen may also lower metabolic rate, the rate at which the body converts stored energy into working energy.” Exercise not only burns calories and speeds up a slowed metabolism, but it also lessens mood issues such as irritability and anxiety that can lead to overeating. After some initial menopausal weight gain, I’ve managed to take weight off and maintain the loss thanks to regular exercise.
The physical and emotional symptoms of menopause no longer trouble me, but exercise continues to be a happy and energizing part of my week. I fight the temptation to stay on the couch some days, but once I tie my walking shoes, I’m ready to roll. Dr. Neil Resnick, associate director of the University of Pittsburgh Institute on Aging, reminds us: “People have been looking for the secret to a long and healthy life for millennia. It turns out the most powerful intervention is exercise.” I’m now using hand weights to strengthen my muscles. My next challenge is to add a program for flexibility and balance. Tai chi, anyone?
Menopause? Start Moving! North American Menopause Society. Retrieved September 21, 2015 http://www.menopause.org/for-women/menopause-take-time-to-think-about-it/consumers/2012/09/10/menopause-start-moving
Menopause, Weight Gain, and Exercise Tips. WebMD. Retrieved September 21, 2015. http://www.webmd.com/menopause/guide/menopause-weight-gain-and-exercise-tips
The Best Exercises for Menopause Symptoms. Everyday Health. Retrieved September 21, 2015. http://www.everydayhealth.com/menopause-pictures/the-best-exercises-for-menopause-symptoms.aspx
The Best Anti-aging Medicine? Exercise. Everyday Health. Retrieved September 23, 2015. http://www.everydayhealth.com/news/best-anti-aging-medicine-exercise/
Reviewed September 30, 2015 by Michele Blacksberg RNRead more in Your Guide for Menopause & Hot Flash Treatment Options