Exercise and Menopause
Along with managing weight and avoiding smoking or excess alcohol use, exercising regularly is one of the most important health habits women can practice throughout their lives.
And working out becomes especially important during menopause, because it helps prevent osteoporosis as well as illness such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. It may also improve mood disorders that some women go through and help avoid middle-aged weight gain.
The American Council on Exercise, in one of its fact sheets, suggests a “regular physical-activity program emphasizing cardiovascular conditioning and weight-bearing exercise, and high-impact activities (such as jumping rope) when tolerated.” The last phrase is key – before you start exercising, be sure to check with your doctor about what kind of exercise is right for your age and fitness level.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the single most important type of exercise for menopausal women is weight-bearing exercise. This kind of exercise, the NIH says, forces you to work against gravity. Although there are some weight-bearing exercises, like weight training and tennis, that require equipment, many exercises in this category are simple and right at hand: walking, jogging, hiking, dancing, and climbing stairs. (However, experts note, swimming and bicycling are not weight-bearing exercises, though they do have cardiovascular benefits.)
Experts, including the North American Menopause Society, also recommend balance exercises. If you’re looking to take baby steps toward a fitness program, a balance exercise involving a chair may be a good place to start. While holding the back of a chair, balance on one foot; work up to balancing on the foot without the support of the chair. Tai chi and yoga are more advanced balance exercise, but the North American Menopause Society suggests being especially careful with yoga, which may cause spinal injury. Again, check with your doctor.
All the experts say that it’s never too late to start exercising. Go for activities you think you’ll enjoy, like attending group fitness classes, doing vigorous yard work or swimming. Try to get your heart pumping without becoming out of breath or tired. Learn to read your body’s signals. It’s better to stop and try again later than to injure yourself or to risk serious illness.
Along with exercise, ACE stresses the important of good eating habits. “Good nutrition and a physically active lifestyle go together,” ACE says. In general, experts recommend a high-fiber, low-fat diet that emphasizes calcium-rich foods and fresh fruits and vegetables.
If you haven’t been practicing the best health habits throughout your life, these changes might feel overwhelming. You’ll have an easier time developing new habits if you keep your goals manageable and specific . In other words, don’t just say “I’m going to start walking.” Say “I’m going to walk ten minutes a day.” Record your progress. Once you’re comfortable at the level of your initial goal, set another one for yourself and keep going.
Some other key points: If you don’t like the first kind of exercise you try, choose another. The right one is out there for you! And social support – getting an exercise buddy, going to a groupo fitness class – can help if you find exercising boring or lonely.
For more about exercise, visit the American Council on Exercise website, www.ace.org. The North American Menopause Society (www.menopause.org ) has a wealth of information on all aspects of menopause.