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The benefits of exercise during the menopause

Hadyn Luke posted this on Tuesday 30th of July 2013 Hadyn Luke 30/07/2013

Tags: Special populations

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The benefits of exercise during the menopause

Our blog this week looks at how women going through the menopause can benefit from regular exercise. 

Many women today attend fitness classes or work with personal trainers. Some have always trained on a regular basis and others have taken up exercise as a way of improving their health or losing weight in middle age.

While it is recommended that people of all ages should take part in regular exercise, there are particular reasons why women going through the menopause can benefit from working with a fitness instructor on weight management, increasing cardio-vascular fitness and improving muscular strength and endurance.

What is the menopause?

The menopause (change of life) is when the monthly menstrual cycle comes to an end. The woman will stop releasing eggs and her periods will cease, usually becoming less frequent first. 

The average age for women in the UK to reach the menopause is 52 (under 45 is considered a premature menopause).

What are the symptoms of the menopause?

Each woman will experience the menopause in a slightly different way but the most common symptoms include:

  • Hot flushes
  • Night sweats
  • Mood swings

Hot flushes can vary in intensity and duration depending on the individual. They are thought to be caused by the hypothalamus believing that the woman is too warm and dilating the blood vessels to cool down the body (see our blog on The Endocrine System). Generally no treatment is needed and the symptoms will eventually stop. 

A personal trainer working with a client who is having hot flushes should ensure that she doesn’t overheat during a work out and that she is well hydrated at all times.

The effect of hot flushes and night sweats on mood

In an article on Menopause and Exercise in The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)’s Health and Fitness Journal (Vol 17, No 3), the author Barbara A Bushman states that:

“Vasomotor symptoms, both hot flashes and night sweats, may contribute to the potential impact changing estrogen levels may have on mood.”

The article goes on to say that studies have shown that vasomotor symptoms and disturbed sleep “may work both together and independently to worsen mood”. 

Exercise to reduce menopause symptoms

The same ACSM article reports on a 2012 study (“Effect of aerobic training on menopausal symptoms – a randomized controlled trial”), which found that:

“previously sedentary women who participated in an aerobic training program for six months experienced a decrease in typical menopausal symptoms, including night sweats, mood swings and irritability”.

The interesting point for personal trainers and other exercise professionals to note was that the most effective of the exercise routines used in the trial was a combination of aerobic and calisthenic (body weight) exercises.

However, other studies cited were found to conclude that with some women, in particularly those who were overweight, the frequency of hot flushes may increase with intensive exercise. 

Other benefits of exercise for menopausal women

The ACSM article also suggests that “quality of life seems to be a benefit of physical activity” and that “there is strong evidence for the value of physical activity for women throughout the life span”.

These benefits include weight management, lower blood pressure and enhanced insulin sensitivity, as well as lowering the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and some cancers. 

The NHS Choices site backs up this view, saying: 

“There’s evidence that women who are more active tend to suffer less from the symptoms of the menopause. Exercise is important not only for the relief of short-term symptoms but also to protect your body from heart disease and osteoporosis.” 

This will be of no surprise to fitness instructors who regularly work with menopause-age women and can see the benefits that exercise brings.

Osteoporosis

As we discussed in our blog on Osteoporosis, Primary Type 1 most commonly occurs in women after the menopause, when oestrogen levels decrease. This causes the osteoclasts, which clear away bone, to be more active than the osteoblasts, which deposit new bone.

Because post-menopausal women are more likely to develop osteoporosis, a personal trainer should: 

a)     be aware of the increased danger of bone fractures in these clients 

b)     encourage them to exercise, including carrying out weight training, to slow the onset or progression of osteoporosis

Ultimately, it seems that the benefits that exercise brings to women going through the menopause can range from reducing symptoms and managing weight to improving overall health and cutting the risk of disease.

 

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