Exercise and Menopause

By: Red Hot Mamas

Published: May 26, 2010

A prescription for exercise should be given to virtually all women, particularly at menopause–not to address specific symptoms, but to initiate or maintain a lifetime of good health maintenance. Exercise is very important for peri-postmenopausal aged women because those who are about 50 years old and inactive will lose muscle strength, bone density, and overall functional capacity at an accelerated pace over those who are active. In addition, the longer exercise is delayed, the more difficult it will be to begin.

An active lifestyle can provide positive effects on a number of physical and psychological problems and changes associated with menopause and midlife, including depression, the risk of coronary artery disease, and vasomotor symptoms like hot flushes and night sweats.

Many women also report weight gain at menopause and what appears to influence the weight gain is a loss of muscle mass and the decline in metabolic rate. Caloric restriction, the main focus of weight-loss efforts for most women, depresses metabolism still further, often leading to frustration and failure. However, exercise is specifically helpful for middle-aged women who want to control their weight because it helps to increase the metabolic rate and also increases fat-free mass. Research has shown that midlife women who increase their physical activity gain the least weight and subcutaneous fat.

The loss of estrogen at menopause also has a profound effect on muscle and bone mass. About 80% of the 25 million Americans who have osteoporosis are women. Women’s bone loss begins after about age 30, and they lose about 0.5% to 1.0% of total bone mass annually from age 40 until menopause. During the first 5 to 10 years after menopause, annual bone loss averages about 2%. Consequently, a woman can easily lose 15% to 30% of her peak bone mass by age 60.

Exercise plays an important role in preventing bone loss or increasing bone density. Although weight-bearing exercise is usually recommended for bone maintenance, any activity that stresses the bones or skeletal muscles appears to increase bone density. Non-impact exercise is not as beneficial for bone density as medium-impact (walking) or high-impact activities (volleyball). For example, swimming is better than no exercise, it should probably be augmented with strength training to have a greater effect.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine’s (ACSM) guidelines, a menopausal aged woman should do 20 to 60 continuous or accumulated minutes of aerobic exercise 3 to 5 days per week and strength training, using free weights or machines, 2 to 3 days per week. The ACSM also recommends flexibility training 2 to 3 days per week. However, no single approach is right for all women and a health evaluation should be administered by a healthcare provider prior to the start of any new exercise plan. Women who are beginning a new exercise program should start slowly and increase the intensity and duration gradually.

The good news is that a regular program of physical activity can help manage the uncomfortable symptoms of menopause as well as the related health concerns, such as heart disease and osteoporosis. The mood-elevating, tension-relieving effects of aerobic exercise help reduce the depression and anxiety. Aerobic exercise also promotes the loss of abdominal fat – the place most women more readily gain weight during menopause.

But, please keep in mind that good nutrition works hand in hand with a physically active lifestyle. A low-fat, high-fiber diet and adequate calcium intake are vital in order to reap the full benefits of exercise.

Exercise helps reduce and prevent symptoms:

  • Hot flashes
  • Vaginal and bladder atrophy
  • Joint pain
  • Anxiety, irritability, depression
  • Sleep disturbances, insomnia

Exercise helps reduce risk of:

  • Heart disease
  • Osteoporosis
  • Weight gain

Exercise can improve and increase:

  • Strength, stamina, flexibility, energy
  • Function of vital organs
  • Condition of heart, lungs and muscles