Menopause refers to the end of menstruation and is said to have occurred when a woman has not had a period for 12 months. At that point women are considered ‘postmenopausal’. Most women reach menopause between 45 and 55 years of age. In Australia the average age of natural menopause is 51-52 years, but menopause can occur prematurely due to surgery, chemotherapy or radiation.
From onset (peri-menopause), symptoms a woman may experience are variable. Irregular periods, hot flushes and night sweats, to mood changes, depression and headaches, a woman’s experience during this journey is unique. Some women experience little more than the cessation of menses.
Movement is important, but why?
Just like with any population, exercise and physical activity play a key role in supporting a positive menopause experience. There is a large body of strong evidence supporting aerobic exercise for fat loss (maintenance), reduced risk of heart disease and improvement in mental health. However, resistance training also aids in the journey, and can help the maintenance of muscles and bones as osteoporosis becomes a higher risk.
This does not mean you necessarily have to go to a gym and lift weights or run five kilometres every other day. Incidental physical activity from your daily routine can be of benefit, as can regular mobility, flexibility and mindfulness practices – all types of movement can assist with making the body strong!
It is recommended, whatever your spice of activity, that you move and complete strengthening activities on at least two days each week. Strength activities are especially important, as mentioned earlier, due to the skyrocketed risk of osteoporosis following menopause. Due to a drop in estrogen production, new and healthy bone is not laid down so readily, and the breakdown process begins to occur faster than the rebuilding process at this time. As little as 30 minutes can go a long way in minimising the negative impacts of your menopause journey.
Tidd-bits to make note of…
Symptoms occur along with changing hormones, especially estrogen and progesterone. Ovarian estrogen levels fluctuate before eventually declining, and progesterone levels decline as ovulation occurs less.
Health complications can also be linked with weight gain, and menopausal women typically report gaining weight, especially around their waist. Even women who don’t gain weight may experience an increase in abdominal fat, in turn influencing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Women may also suffer urinary incontinence or sexual difficulty due to urogenital changes and weaker pelvic floor muscles.
In relation to mental health, as well as depression and anxiety, some women feel more forgetful and report that their cognitive function has declined.
You know your body best, but you can be supported in this journey of life. If you feel you are not managing your symptoms well enough, here are a couple of strategies to try:
If you are experiencing hot flushes regularly, try and get some movement in in the morning to avoid exercising during the hottest part of the day. At morning, levels of the hormone cortisol are higher, which lowers insulin action and keeps blood glucose levels from dropping and circulating. Meaning your body has a comfortable and steady supply of energy, without the awful spike and drop.
Organise to go for regular walks, swimming, bike riding, or other with a trusted group of girlfriends. Not only can they be the accountability you need to get your butt moving, they are also your closest confidants and venting space in case of stressful events from previous days. Your mental health will love you for it.
In contrast to a girl’s group, you may be more aligned with alone time to meditate and ground yourself. Whether you pick up a yoga or meditation track on Youtube, or find a local instructor you gel with, both these practices will strengthen your body and mind.
Menopause happens, but with a clear management plan and positive health habits, it doesn’t have to happen as uncomfortably.