Exercise and Menopause

02.14.2012 / Blog Posts Health and Wellness

AP Photo

By Becky Johnson, Certified Personal Trainer (ACE); IBNFC Certified Nutrition Coach

This month, I will be focusing on issues relating specifically to women. I’ll touch on menopause, pregnancy, osteoporosis and the importance of muscle building in women. We are unique and have unique conditions we need to consider when related to exercise.

Exercise and Menopause

There was a time when the word menopause was never spoken, not even between mother and daughter. Menopause, still referred to as “the change” in some circles, is no longer a taboo subject. And nowadays most women can expect to live one-third to one-half of their lives past menopause. The emergence of menopause as a hot health topic is likely to be the result of newer research that has shown that exercise plays a key role in easing the transition into menopause, enhancing a woman’s health, happiness and productivity.

Physical activity, the most effective alternative therapy available for women who experience menopausal symptoms, allows women to manage both their bodies and emotions. When you exercise, your adrenal glands are stimulated to convert the male hormone androstenedione into estrogen. Just four 30 minute exercise sessions per week are enough to keep you “topped off” with estrogen.

How does exercise help?

Heart disease and osteoporosis increase after menopause. The good news is that this risk can be decreased substantially with a regular physical exercise program that emphasizes cardiovascular conditioning and weight bearing exercise, and high impact activities when tolerated. The mood-elevating, tension-relieving effects of aerobic exercise reduce depression and anxiety, which often accompany menopause. These “feel good” biochemicals also help regulate body temperature which in turn can diminish the frequency and intensity of hot flashes.

Aerobic exercise promotes the loss of abdominal fat – a common place for postmenopausal weight gain. Strength training stimulates bones to retain the minerals that keep them dense and strong, so it helps prevent the onset and progression of osteoporosis. Because exercise stimulates the cells that help generate new bone tissue, bone mass lost through disuse can be rebuilt with weight bearing activity. These effects of exercise, along with improved cholesterol levels and physical fitness, work together to help prevent heart disease.

Keep in mind that good nutrition and a physically active lifestyle go together. A diet low in saturated and trans fats and high in fiber and calcium is key in reaping the full benefits of exercise.

The Good News

If you have been exercising consistently before reaching menopause, you’ve already gained health benefits. Aerobic activity during childbearing years reduces the risk for breast cancer, which is more prevalent after menopause. You will also have gained a jumpstart on your bone health since your strength training exercises may have increased the density and strength of your bones.

To reap the benefits of exercise, a balanced program of cardiovascular conditioning to reduce the risk of heart disease, strength training to decrease the risk of osteoporosis and flexibility to maintain range of motion is essential. Consistency is important. Strive to be moderately active for at least 30 minutes every day, or at least most days of the week, every week!

The bottom line is that you’ll be much better prepared to soar through menopause if you’re taking care of the body you’re in!

Stay fit and healthy,

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