Menopause: How Exercise Can Help
I first came across the menopause at the age of 13 years old sat in the kitchen at my parents’ house watching my mum cook dinner as she did every night. However, tonight was different as she slowly and begrudgingly sipped down a pint of Guinness. Now this is a woman who very rarely drank and if she did it was in the form of half a glass of fruity South African sauvignon and certainly not a pint of the black stuff.
In later years I discovered she was doing this as she had heard the old wives tale that the iron in Guinness was so high and the added benefit of hops would help with her menopausal symptoms and actually allow her a sound night’s sleep for the first time in months.
She was correct on one count.
The extract from the female hops plant known as phytoestrogens which is contained in beers and stouts not only reduces the symptoms of menopause but also protects against heart disease and bone loss helping to build healthier, denser bones. That said, these days many supplements do as good a job if not better, so don’t go racing down to the pub just yet as the negative side effects of alcohol offset those benefits.
EXERCISE AND THE MENOPAUSE
Exercise will benefit anyone at any stage of life, but none more so than during the menopause.
With oestrogen levels dropping and hormone levels jumping around more than ever, the happy hormone endorphin is a welcome natural boost for your body.
When deciding whether to base one’s training around cardiovascular work or strength work, I think it is safe to say that the majority will go with what is comfortable to them.
Gyms can be daunting environments, so it feels easier to get onto your regular cross trainer and punch out 20 minutes whilst watching the news or listening to music. But research has shown the strong benefits of strength training in offsetting any negative effects of the menopause.
Osteoporosis is a type of skeletal deterioration, characterized by decreasing bone density that weakens the bone structure. As oestrogen depletes so too does the tensile strength of one’s bones. This can lead to osteopenia and in worst cases osteoporosis. During a 24 year study in the UK, the amount of recorded fractures in women over 50 was 155 per 10,000 females, whereas men over 50 suffered less than half of that with incidence in 71 for every 10,000 males. Adult women under 50 recorded just 54 per 10,000. Therefore the increased risk is quite evident for middle aged women going through menopause and thus is an area that requires attention and pro-activeness.
Over the past 10 years, nearly two dozen cross-sectional and longitudinal studies have shown a direct and positive relationship between the effects of resistance training and bone density, as well as all of the other benefits proven through strength training such as:
• Reduced risk of adult-onset diabetes
• Lower blood pressure
• Decreased arthritis pain
• Maintenance of or improvement in lower back health
New formation of bone develops on the bone’s outer surface, creating stronger bones that are less likely to fracture. Incremental bone formation occurs within 8 to 12 weeks of strength training, but four to six months of progressive resistance training is the minimum amount of time needed to increase bone mineral density (Graves and Franklin 2001).
Such studies demonstrate that strength training hugely benefits not only your bone structure but hormone levels and general sense of wellbeing.
The best thing to do is to start off with something simple like body weight training.
Using your own body weight is a great way of introducing load bearing exercise that help to use multiple joints and encourage core engagement.
A simple body weight program would be something along the lines of:
(EXERCISE, SETS, REPETITIONS)
GLUTE BRIDGE, 3, 60 second static hold
BENCH SQUATS, 3, 15 – 20
WALL PUSH UP, 3, 10 - 15
BENCH DIPS, 3, 12 - 15
PLANK HOLD, 3, 30 – 60 second static hold
From there book in with one of the personal trainers who can take you through a screening and build you a more comprehensive and progressive resistance based programme to include resistance based compound movements as well as proprioceptive balance exercises.
The menopause can be a daunting time for many women. With the combination of lack of concentration, sleep deprivation and mental as well as physical exhaustion, it sounds like you are going through selection for the special forces, but in fact it is a natural course of female evolution.
However, exercise has been proven in studies time and time again to assist with offsetting the negative effects, and if you take note early enough in life, in say your early fourties, it has been proven to delay the process altogether.
Article written by Personal Trainer at The Hogarth, Adam Jones.
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