Menopause indicates the end of reproductive potential and a reduction in sex hormone levels, usually occurring between forty and fifty years of age. It is not a single point event; the transition of a woman's body's physiological state can take several years and be extremely frustrating. Have you considered exercise to manage the symptoms?
During perimenopause, a period of several months or years before menopause onset, women start to experience menstrual irregularities and early symptoms such as hot flashes, changes in sleep patterns, and night sweats. After a year of complete absence of menstrual bleeding, a woman enters menopause. That is when genitourinary symptoms (vaginal dryness, frequent urinary infections, urinary incontinence, painful sexual intercourse, etc.) start to predominate. Equally important is a psychological aspect where a woman might feel mood changes, anxiety, depression, or concentration or memory issues. Both physiological and psychological symptoms can seriously affect the overall quality of life. So, what are the options for fighting unpleasant symptoms?
Hormonal replacement therapy is still the most effective approach to treat prominent menopausal symptoms. With a personalised approach by a team of medical professionals, women may benefit greatly from such treatment. However, such therapy is not an option available for every woman. Unfortunately, many of the alternatives have questionable efficacies and may cost a substantial amount of money. But is there a way to fight menopausal symptoms that doesn't require any medication?
The answer just might be physical activity.
For women in their fifties, maybe with children and/or with an established career, isn't that a perfect time to start caring more for their bodies and possibly relieve menopausal symptoms in the process? It might feel like all the symptoms are saying to sit down and stop moving, but according to numerous published research studies, ignoring exercise would be counterproductive.
A review by scientists from Victoria University, Melbourne, summarised the effects of exercise on mediating the side effects of menopause. Among more active women who exercise every day, almost 50% of them were less likely to report hot flashes. Moderate physical activity might diminish hot flashes twenty-four hours after the exercise. The frequency of hot flashes also significantly decreased in women who participated in an aerobic workout for fifty minutes four times per week. Hot flashes are associated with higher cholesterol, triglyceride, and glucose levels. Exercise reduced those levels and, consequently, hot flash symptoms, accompanied by improved overall health.
A menopausal woman may also suffer from body pain connected to muscles and joints, headaches, or shortness of breath. Even with these side effects, regular exercise may be of great help. There are indications that physical activity can have a positive impact on urogenital and sexual symptoms as well. On top of that, physically active menopausal women have better sleep quality with fewer wakings during the night.
But exercise is not only helpful in relieving symptoms; Women in menopause have a higher risk for developing chronic conditions and diseases such as osteoporosis and cardiovascular diseases. It is known that physical activity has many positive benefits on bone structure, cardiovascular health, metabolic processes, and mental health. Even low-intensity aerobic exercise such as walking and dancing can improve the body's physical and psychological state. Furthermore, at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week, such as walking, hiking, swimming, or stationary cycling, can significantly improve cardiovascular health and increase metabolism and fat burning combined with strength training. Such routines would not only enhance their overall quality of life but also reduce weight gain and muscle loss, the most frequent side effects in menopause.
Exercise can also help fight off symptoms connected to depression or anxiety, such as unhappiness, irritability, mood swings, panic attacks, etc. But doing more exercise doesn't necessarily mean that your daily routine would need to include a gym membership. Physiological health may be significantly promoted with more demanding everyday activities such as walking, cycling, or gardening.
Menopause is a complex and inevitable event for every woman. Even today, women are poorly educated about menopause, menopausal symptoms, and therapeutic options. Physiological and psychological symptoms may severely burden women, especially if they lack medical or social support. On the other hand, menopause might present a turning point and a motive to take closer care of their body and mind. Exercise is a powerful tool in combatting many chronic diseases; it could help relieve menopausal symptoms but also dramatically improve the overall quality of life.
Stojanovska L, Apostolopoulos V, Polman R, Borkoles E. To exercise, or not to exercise, during menopause and beyond. Maturitas. 2014 Apr;77(4):318-23. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2014.01.006. Epub 2014 Jan 24. PMID: 24548848.
Takahashi TA, Johnson KM. Menopause. Med Clin North Am. 2015 May;99(3):521-34. doi: 10.1016/j.mcna.2015.01.006. PMID: 25841598.
Martin KA, Barbieri RL. Treatment of menopausal symptoms with hormone therapy. 2020 Jun. Retrieved from https://www.uptodate.com/contents/treatment-of-menopausal-symptoms-with-hormone-therapy#H3825835667. Visited 15.02.2021.