Exercise is more important than ever as you go through menopause. Here’s how physical activity can help ease menopause symptoms and keep you in control of your body.
When you’re going through menopause — with all its uncomfortable symptoms, like hot flashes and mood swings — you may not feel very motivated to exercise. But regular physical activity can actually make menopause symptoms more bearable, says Lisa Avellino, a personal trainer and fitness director for the New York Health and Wellness Center in Harrison.
“Women in menopause are often unsure of their health — they may not feel in control of their bodies,” she says. “Exercise is a great way to help regain some of that control.”
Have a Menopause Fitness Plan
Here’s how and why to add specific types of exercise into your menopause fitness plan:
Cardio. Also known as aerobic exercise, these are activities that get your heart rate up and your lungs working harder, according to the American Heart Association. Walking, bicycling, and dancing are all good examples of cardio exercise. Cardio exercises burn a good amount of calories, helping to prevent weight gain — which many women experience during menopause, Avellino says. It also helps ward off heart disease, a condition that’s more common among women of menopausal age.
If it’s been a while since you’ve exercised, try easing into a cardio routine with short periods of lower-impact activities, suggests Erika Nichelson, DO, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. “If running hurts your knees, then walk,” she says. “And you don’t have to exercise 30 minutes at a time — 10-minute spurts are fine.”
Strength training. Muscle-building exercises are particularly important for women going through menopause because they help slow the normal bone loss that can eventually lead to brittle bones (osteoporosis), according to the National Institutes of Health. Strength training can also help preserve lean muscle, which often starts to dissipate in middle age, Avellino says.
Getting started with strength training doesn’t have to involve pumping iron like a bodybuilder, Dr. Nichelson says. Even something as simple as walking with light dumbbells can be beneficial. To get the most out of your strength-training moves, Avellino suggests enlisting the help of a personal trainer to learn proper form and prevent injury. Some gyms offer a free initial session with a personal trainer as part of membership, or you might be able to hire a trainer for a few sessions. “It’s worth the investment, even if it’s just one session to check your form and get you started,” she says.
Yoga and other relaxation exercises. Dealing with menopause can be stressful, and activities like yoga and meditation can reduce the tension through their low-key approaches and deep-breathing practices, Avellino says. According to a study published in the Journal of Sexual Function, yoga can help improve sexual function in women, particularly those over 45 years old, which suggests it might be good to offset sexual changes during menopause. There’s also some evidence that insomnia, a common menopause symptom, can be relieved through yoga and meditation, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). If you’re unsure of how to get started with yoga or meditation, ask your doctor to recommend a trustworthy practitioner. You can also contact organizations such as the Yoga Alliance to find certified yoga teachers in your area.
Stretching and flexibility. Although it’s important to stretch your muscles before and after a workout session, it can also be done as part of your daily routine, Avellino says. It preserves your body’s range of motion and keeps your joints flexible, two things that are often lost as you age, she says. Avellino suggests simply taking a couple of minutes each morning and evening to gently elongate your muscles, taking care not to overextend them.
Stability and balance moves. Exercises that enhance your body’s ability to stay upright and steady are particularly important as you enter menopause. “As you get older, your balance isn’t as good,” Nichelson says. “You’re at an increased risk for falling — and if you break a hip, your life span can be significantly decreased.”
To improve your balance, Avellino suggests starting out with a simple exercise like standing on one leg for a few seconds. Balance yourself against a wall or chair if you’re unsteady. Tai chi, a relaxing form of exercise that uses slow, fluid movements, can also help with balance and muscle coordination, according to NCCAM.
How Often to Exercise During Menopause
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women younger than 65 should spend at least 150 minutes a week on moderate-intensity aerobic exercises, like walking. Do strength training at least twice a week, making sure to rest for at least one day between these sessions. Avellino suggests performing balance and stability exercises for 5 minutes every day, along with 1 to 3 minutes of stretching twice a day. If you choose to include yoga and meditation in your exercise regimen, do them on an as-desired basis, she says.
Don’t worry if you don’t hit your exercise goal every day, Nichelson says. When it comes to staying healthy during menopause, even a small amount of activity is better than none. “Take the dog for a walk,” she says. “Park farther away from the grocery store and walk there briskly. Physical activities all add up over time.”