Exercise in menopause: what you need to know

How to exercise during menopause and perimenopause

Maintaining an active lifestyle during menopause is important. It can improve overall wellbeing, lift our mood, reduce anxiety and depression – making it easier to cope – and it might help manage some of the symptoms of menopause too. 

Keeping active during perimenopause (the time around menopause) and beyond offers many benefits, including making weight management easier.  

Female runner sitting on wooden logs, resting, drinking water.Credit: Shutterstock / Ground Picture

For some women, declining oestrogen levels combined with loss of muscle mass from ageing can make weight gain an issue where it may have not been before. You might have heard friends or family members complaining about their ‘menopause tummy’ or similar.

Keeping active can really help combat this, particularly if we increase or add strength training into our regular regime. Exercise also improves bone density, helping to protect against the bone loss that happens in the first few years after menopause, and which can lead to osteoporosis.  

You might find that menopause affects your pelvic health as well, causing continence issues. The good news is exercise can help with that too, since it strengthens the muscles in the pelvic floor. This will improve bladder control and help stop any leakages.  

Women's health, gynecology and reproductive system concept. Woman hands holding decorative model uterus on pink background.Credit: Shutterstock / Helena Nechaeva

Whether you’re an experienced athlete, a semi-regular exerciser or completely new to the game, it can be hard to work out exactly what exercise you should be doing during and after menopause.  

Very often our feelings around exercise and being active will change, as will our feelings and attitudes towards our bodies.  

Some women will view this as a time when they lose control of the body they thought they could rely on; weight changes, loss of muscle tone and hot flushes might make their body feel almost alien to them. For others, this change brings about feelings of liberation; no longer feeling the need to compete with younger, fitter women and allowing yourself to just ‘be.’ 

We spoke with Lucy Holtom, yoga teacher and fitness expert for the menopause app, Balance, to discuss what we should keep in mind when it comes to exercising post-menopause.  

woman meditating with her eyes closed and her hands in prayer position.Credit: Shutterstock / Jacob Lund
Which exercise feels right for your body, right now?

Before you begin

Know your starting point

There’s never a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to exercise. Acknowledge your body’s needs and adapt accordingly. 

That might be difficult if you’ve always been an avid exerciser and symptoms are making that tough, but it’s important to recognise that it won’t always be that way and this stage is about keeping the exercise present in your life, not necessarily hitting PBs. 

“A lot of women end up in the situation where they don’t know what to do, because they’re exhausted,” Holtom explains.  

“Their muscles ache, they haven’t got much energy and they can’t think straight. Because of this, they can often isolate themselves. They don’t feel connected to their bodies, and just the thought of going to a gym can be overwhelming and uncomfortable.”  

If this sounds like you, keep in mind that if, for example, you’re a keen runner but aching joints mean that’s not enjoyable at present, meet your body where it’s currently at and try some restorative, beginner yoga – remember, it’s finding ways to mimic the exercise rush and effort that matters, not the exact activity.  

“Finding an activity that’s appropriate for where you’re at can help build inner strength and give you a sense of balance”

If you’re new to exercise, or returning after a long break, setting an achievable target is important. A step goal is a great motivator, or just prioritising an activity you enjoy, for example a steady bike ride, a couple of times a week.  

“Finding an activity that’s appropriate for where you’re at can help build inner strength and give you a sense of balance,” Holtom says.  

“Being able to control your body, through movement and breath work, can help you feel more empowered. That empowerment and the strength you gain in your body has a ripple effect across all aspects of your life.”  

If you’re experiencing symptoms of menopause, such as hot flushes, you might find that exercise helps you to manage them. If you haven’t already, do speak to a doctor or nurse if you are experiencing menopause or perimenopause symptoms, so they can give you advice and suggest treatments.

Why not try?
Embracing a new exercise, using this change as a chance to broaden horizons. Write your goals down and any barriers you think might hinder you (such as time). Then, set about resolving those issues so you can get going right away. 

Group Of Female Friends On Outdoor Yoga Retreat Walking Along Path Through CampsiteCredit: Shutterstock / Monkey Business Images
Joining a class, or buddying up with a friend, can help with confidence

Find your community

Share your experiences

There’s a time and a place for solo exercise, but finding a community of like-minded people to share it with can be a game-changer, particularly if you’re finding motivation tough.  

There’s something incredibly special about exercising as part of a group, as it can inspire you to keep going as you feed off one another’s energies. You might be used to group classes, or you might never have tried it.  

Either way it can feel daunting arriving at an established class as the newbie. But remember, everyone in that room walked through the door for the first time at some point – including the instructor.  

It’s okay to tell the person next to you you’re feeling nervous, or this is a new activity to you. They will empathise with your situation.  

“Find your community,” Holtom advises, “so you don’t feel like it’s only you. That way, you’re socialising but also getting the benefits of physical activity. Find a sanctuary in a shared space.” 

“It’s okay to tell the person next to you you’re feeling nervous, or this is a new activity to you”

That might be on a yoga mat, or as part of a cycling group. You may prefer to join a walking group, or a tennis club.

Many gyms or community fitness facilities run women-only groups or classes, with some targeted at women over 50. If you find an instructor who is specifically qualified in working with menopausal women, they might also be able to offer advice and guidance on what exercises to try to help with certain symptoms.  

You can ask your GP or menopause specialist for recommendations, or enquire at your local gym. They should be able to provide you with a list of instructors and personal trainers who are suitably qualified.  

Why not try?
Choose a friend and message them now. Tell them of your plans and ask them to join you for moral support.  

woman in activewear warming up on bike in spin at gymCredit: Shutterstock / BearFotos
Spin classes are a popular way to get your heart rate up

Cardiovascular exercise

Keep up the cardio

Keeping our heart and lungs healthy is a top priority as we age. A strong circulatory system can help prevent heart disease, lower blood pressure, and reduce the risk of strokes.  

Cardio activity, such as running, cycling or aerobics, also makes our muscles work harder which can help with weight loss, since we burn more fat to power our bodies. Aim to add more steps into your daily routine, and try to do some exercise that leaves you moderately out of breath at least four times a week 

Couch to 5k is an excellent app if you’re brand new to running. It’s a great motivator as well as a good training tool. It starts gradually, with mostly walking and an occasional jog, building you up until you’re doing more than you ever thought possible. Download it today on the App Store or Play Store.

Holtom points out that “Walking is exercise too, and amazing for our mental wellbeing. Just being outside can help relieve stress and aid our sleep.”  

There are lots of walking or rambling groups out there, or you can get outside with family and friends, especially the four-legged kind.  

Post-menopause you may well enjoy a renewed energy, and this is our time to embrace all life has to offer.  

If this applies to you, take up an exhilarating sport you’ve always wanted to try, or get back into something you were good at when you were at school. What’s stopping you getting back into cross country running?  

Why not push it to the next level and take on an ultra-marathon or a triathlon? Did you used to swim with school but haven’t been for a while? Head to your local pool or look into wild swimming. Having an exercise goal to aim for or an event is a great motivator.  

Why not try?
Swimming, squash, spin, or something totally different like white water rafting. This is your time. Forget what anyone else thinks, embrace the freedom this stage of life brings and try things that invigorate, excite, and inspire you. Dance it out – visit Zumba.com and you can be signed up ready to go in five minutes.

Group in the wellness do Qi Gong or Tai Chi exercise for relaxationCredit: Shutterstock / Robert Kneschke
Tai Chi can help with breath and body awareness

Balance and flexibility

Take time to work on balance and flexibility

Slowing things down by working on our balance and flexibility helps prevent problems later in life. Bone density decreases most rapidly in post-menopausal women due to the lack of oestrogen, which means trips and falls can potentially become much more serious than before. Exercising is proven to improve it – another reason why we should be moving more. 

Being able to balance, as well as being able to move well, helps prevent falls. Any kind of trip or fall isn’t great, and they can happen at the most unexpected times.  

However, if we keep ourselves flexible and strong enough to get up and down from the floor easily, the impact of any such accident can be massively reduced.  

“Being able to balance, as well as being able to move well, helps prevent falls”

This might feel like a daunting task, and it’s one of those things that you suddenly realise doesn’t feel achievable – but it soon will be. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can restore flexibility and ease of movement once you commit to working on it.  

Slower practices such as yoga or Pilates can complement more cardio-intensive activities like running or HIIT classes, and it’s good to have a balance.  

Variety in exercise also gives us a chance to really become more aware of our own bodies, how they move, what they’re capable of and how we can control them. Being in control of our body also helps our mental strength, improving our self-esteem and confidence. Achieving an exercise goal makes us feel good and inspires us to do more.  

Why not try?
Adding in a regular yoga, tai chi, dance or Pilates class. These disciplines focus on body and breath awareness and increase our spatial awareness. Download the Headspace app and look at their move section for great videos that are easy to follow.  

Woman using water bottles as weightsCredit: Shutterstock / Ground Picture
Water bottles can be used as a substitute for weights

Strength training

Add in some strength training

Strength training aids bone density, helping protect against osteoporosis, and it’s a good idea to make strength training the basis of at least two of your sessions per week (remember, four harder instances of exercise each week can have a dramatic effect on your health). 

This doesn’t need to be lifting heavy weights in the gym; strength training could be using hand weights, resistance bands, or taking part in a yoga or Pilates class.  

Regular strength training has many benefits for post-menopausal people, including preserving muscle mass which can decline as we age.

It can also reduce lower back issues by strengthening the core muscles. Using resistance aids weight loss, as the extra lean muscle you’ll build will burn more calories than fat. 

It’s definitely worth starting if you’ve never done it before. Not just for the physical benefits but the mental ones too. Put simply, being strong makes you feel incredible. 

“Movements that involve weight-bearing are helpful,” Lucy confirms. “Even if it’s your own body weight (in yoga, for example) you’re still building strength in your bones. Just work to your own ability.” 

Why not try?
Using water bottles or tins as weights. Hold them while you squat or lunge around the house. Explore a new way of strength training such as power yoga, a form of yoga that focuses on strength and endurance. Try this great ten-minute yoga power flow, which is suitable for beginners.  

Woman Lying down on mat practicing yoga doing bridge pose at gymCredit: Shutterstock / Krakenimages.com
Bridge pose can strengthen pelvic floor muscles

Pelvic floor exercises

Address pelvic health issues

The hormonal changes brought about by menopause can cause a weakening of the muscles in the pelvic region. These muscles support your bladder, bowels, and stomach. They also increase sensation in the vagina during sex, and if they’re weak this can contribute to a loss of libido for some women.  

If you’ve had children, you’ll be all too aware of the importance of pelvic floor exercises to help prevent stress incontinence, and it’s just as crucial to continue this as we age.  

Pilates is one form of exercise that can help with this. If you lift weights, it’s also worth taking time to learn to lift correctly to avoid worsening any existing pelvic issues. Yoga can also help prevent leakage and other pelvic issues as it includes a focus on your core muscles, such as the pelvic floor, as well as how your whole body moves.

Holtom explains: “Any kind of [whole body] movement… will include pelvic floor practices. It gets you back to thinking about how you’re moving and the functions of movement. It goes above and beyond posture.  

“Things like learning how to sit properly and tilt your pelvis to alleviate back problems. How the muscles function within the body.” 

These all help with strengthening the pelvic floor muscles, as well as an overall improvement in many niggles we often experience from not holding ourselves correctly.  

Why not try?
Finding your pelvic floor muscles. Think about trying to stop yourself in the middle of peeing. Try to squeeze the muscles without squeezing your bum or thighs, then release. Try some Kegel exercises, or consult a physiotherapist for pelvic health exercise ideas 

female jogging outdoor living healthy lifestyle in beautiful autumn city parkCredit: Shutterstock / Maridav
Exercise can have a huge positive impact on your life at a crucial time

General wellbeing

Use exercise as an outlet

“When you exercise, you always feel better. No one goes for a walk, or goes to a class, and comes out regretting it,” says Holtom.  

Exercise releases endorphins, a hormone that helps us feel happier and feeling brighter can make every aspect of life that little bit easier.  

As Holtom points out, a gentler practice such as yoga can also help anxiety and stress, issues that can often arise in menopause.  

“Yoga can offer relief to aching joints, but also certain types of breath work we use in yoga can help with anxiety. There’s also meditations and relaxation exercises that can combat stress or aid with sleep.  

“For some people, that can be quite emotional, for some people it’s a relief. Often people exercise because they say they can unravel their body from all the stress and tension life can bring.”  

Why not try?
Downloading a guided meditation app such as Calm, or trying a yin yoga class. This is a slow-paced form of yoga that targets the ligaments, bones, and joints of the body by holding poses (asanas) for a longer period.  

There are many forms of exercise, and the best one is always going to be the one you enjoy. There’s not a lot of fun doing something you dread or find boring, and there’s no one size fits all.  

Hate running? Don’t do it. Want to run the three peaks? Go for it. Take up skiing, try caving, return to ballet, set a weekly step goal. Use exercise to empower yourself. Keep active, engage with a community, and honour your body and its needs.  

Becky Fuller

Written by Becky Fuller she/her

Updated:

Becky Fuller is a fully qualified Personal Trainer, specialising in strength and conditioning for over 50s. Becky’s focus is helping people to become stronger both in body and mind, and to move well without pain. Becky also has many years’ experience working as a freelance journalist, writing for a wide variety of publications such as Screen Rant, Geek Feed, and Daily Actor. She also regularly reviews theatre productions for UKTW.

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