David Jones, of Burton on Trent-based David Jones Coaching, explains how certain, regular exercise can really help with the menopause… and which exercises you should avoid or reduce.
“The menopause, simply put, is when the ovaries can no longer produce the hormone oestrogen. Over the course of years, or decades (the perimenopause), they gradually become less active & efficient, until eventually they stop altogether.
Common symptoms include anxiety, mood change, headaches and migraines, hot flushes and self confidence loss. It can also increase the risk of developing conditions such as weak bones (osteoporosis) and cardiac disease.
During the menopause oestrogen levels begin to drop as the ovaries become less active. This can then lead to osteoporosis, the decline of bone density.
Strength training is effective at helping keep bones strong. This is because the stress that comes from lifting weights causes bone forming cells (osteoblasts – derived from osteoprogenitor cells AKA osteogenic cells) to synthesise and secrete bone matrix and participate in the mineralisation of bone to regulate the balance of calcium and phosphate ions in developing bone.
In addition to strength training, it’s ideal to including some high intensity aerobic efforts to maintain the functional capacity of your heart and lungs.
This is due to the increased risk of cardiovascular disease that comes with age as blood vessels begin to stiffen.
However, going through the menopause doesn’t necessarily mean a new, or renewed devotion to your local gym.
There are two acronyms to remember:
- EAT – Exercise Activity Thermogenesis – Calories intentionally burnt through exercise, such as running or strength training.
- NEAT – Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis – This is the energy we use, the calories we burn, during anything that’s not formal exercise, such as walking around the shops, taking the stairs or using a standing desk.
A study published in The Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that two hours of sitting could cancel out the benefits of a 20-minute workout.
So, the goal with NEAT is to the reduce sedentary time that may come as you start to feel ‘hormonal’ and potentially less motivated – it’s not so much about pushing your physical limits every day, it’s just more about simply getting moving.
Set yourself a realistic daily step count to keep track.
Exercises to avoid/reduce during the menopause
It’s during your 30s that women tend to notice the start of loss of muscle mass, this then affects the Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) – the number of calories you burn as the body performs its most basic functions to keep us alive.
The fastest way to counteract this muscle loss once again is resistance training (use them or lose them).
One of the most popular forms of exercise for the time-restricted modern world we live in is High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).
HIIT can be fun, time efficient and get great results.
However, it’s something that needs to be seriously reconsidered from as early as your 30s.
Remember, perimenopause can begin 10 years before the menopause.
As a personal trainer, I regularly advocate for HIIT.
However, this becomes more subjective when the menopause is thrown into the equation.
This is because with the aforementioned decline in oestrogen levels, it means that recovery will become slower.
This is because muscle regeneration relies on muscle stem cells known as satellite cells which need oestrogen to function optimally.
Part of what makes HIIT so effective is the cortisol response that it produces.
However, without proper recovery, a process which we know has already been slowed down by reduced oestrogen levels, these elevated levels of cortisol can remain elevated for an extended period of time, leading to symptoms of physical stress.
The problem caused by the body having too much cortisol in the bloodstream is that it causes negative symptoms to appear in daily life, such as exhaustion and weight gain.
In menopause, when there’s a decrease in oestrogen, your cortisol levels will increase and your body is more frequently in a stressed state, before factoring in exercise.
This is because cortisol can also be produced from mental stress.
Put the two together and your body will become exhausted, plus chronically elevated cortisol levels may promote overeating and cause even more weight gain.
This doesn’t mean immediately give up your favourite HIIT session altogether. Just reduce the amount of this type of exercise you’re doing in a week, and your body will thank you for it.
- David Jones is a personal trainer who works with clients on bespoke fitness training, operating out of The Sweat Bank gym in Needwood, Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire. He also delivers online training programmes to clients who are not local.