Menopause can cause a variety of symptoms, including weight gain, fatigue, hot flashes, anxiety and irritability. While some women experience a few mild symptoms that pass quickly, others seem to suffer from extreme mood swings and endless night sweats. Though no single course of action can eliminate these symptoms completely, physical activity can help you manage weight gain and loss of muscle mass, which are two of the most common symptoms.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)1
"Research has demonstrated the positive effects of exercise and physical activity on reducing menopausal symptoms. Interestingly, the positive changes do not seem to be brought on by “correction” of hormonal concentration but rather from the acute effects of exercise and the long-term positive adaptations that result from exercise training. The positive outcomes resulting from regular exercise and/or physical activity programs include increased cardiovascular fitness, improvements in body composition, decreased anxiety and depression, and enhanced feelings of well-being. Additionally, exercise and/or physical activity has, in some cases, been shown to decrease feelings of fatigue and chronic muscle pain, improve quality and duration of sleep, and increase or minimize loss of bone density."
1. Cardiovascular exercise - Activities such as brisk walking, cycling, water aerobics, or mowing the lawn are adequate for meeting the ACSM-recommended 30 minutes a day, five days a week (or 150 minutes per week). You should work at an intensity that raises your heart rate, but at the same time you could carry on a conversation. The mode of exercise can vary. Examples include stair steppers, elliptical trainers, Zumba classes, water aerobics, hiking, dancing, or even vigorous housework. You can even break up your 30-minutes into smaller segments throughout the day. Try getting up and down from a chair 10-15 times to increase your heart rate! It's important to choose an activity that you enjoy. Or at least crank up some music that you enjoy!
2. Strength training - Strength exercises performed 2-3 times per week can improve lean muscle mass, which tends to decrease during menopause, and can improve bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. According to researchers from the University of Arizona, performing strength exercises, such as leg press, wall squats, lat pulldowns, and seated rows at a heavy resistance in sets of 6-8 repetitions produces optimal results with regard to bone density.2
3. Stretching - As we age, our muscles, tendons and ligaments lose their elasticity. Poor posture creates even more tightening. Stretching throughout the day can help to manage chronic pain and improve your overall sense of well-being.3 Take a break each day to stretch, just before bedtime if you have trouble sleeping, and first thing in the morning if you wake up stiff or sore.
4. Balance training - Another skill that decreases as we age is our sense of balance. The risk of falling increases, and the rate of hip fractures increases, especially with osteoporosis. Simple balance exercises include standing on one foot for 30 seconds, closing one or both eyes while performing balance tasks. Always minimize the risk of falling and make sure that you are working in a safe environment. Working with a personal trainer is money well spent if you are unsure of how to sequence balance exercises.
5. Proper Nutrition - WebMD provides the following advice to women entering menopause.4
Since women's diets are often low in iron and calcium, follow these guidelines:
Get enough calcium. Eat and drink two to four servings of dairy products and calcium-rich foods a day. Calcium is found in dairy products, fish with bones (such as sardines and canned salmon), broccoli, and legumes. Aim to get 1,200 milligrams per day.
Pump up your iron. Eat at least three servings of iron-rich foods a day. Iron is found in lean red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, leafy green vegetables, nuts, and enriched grain products. The recommended dietary allowance for iron in older women is 8 milligrams a day.
Get enough fiber. Help yourself to foods high in fiber, such as whole-grain breads, cereals, pasta, rice, fresh fruits, and vegetables. Most adult women should get about 21 grams of fiber a day.
Eat fruits and vegetables. Have at least 1 1/2 cups of fruit and 2 cups of vegetables each day.
6. Quality of sleep - Since night sweats is a common symptom of menopause, Joyce Walsleben, RN PhD, of the National Sleep Foundation recommends being consistent with your sleep schedule and environment and following these tips5:
Make your room dark quiet and safe.
Keep your room as cool as you can.
Skip alcohol and tobacco.
Keep a cloth in a bucket of ice near your bed so you can cool yourself quickly.
References: American College of Sports Medicine, University of Arizona's BEST (Bone Estrogen Strength Training) Study, American Physical Therapy Association, Web MD, National Sleep Foundation