I was delighted to be asked to write a series of articles for West Essex Life focusing on women's health and fitness. This month, I focus on the menopause and how exercise, counselling and support groups can help you manage symptoms and assist you through this important transition.
The menopause is a natural life stage for women, usually from 40-60, where their periods stop.
Symptoms can start years before it happens and last up to 15 years.
Some women have no or few symptoms, whilst others find it much more challenging.
Whatever your experience, exercise is vital and you need to take care of yourself.
Managing your weight
Women tend to lose muscle mass and gain abdominal fat around menopause. Regular physical activity helps prevent weight gain and tones your body.
Reducing your hot flushes
Studies have shown that exercise may reduce hot flushes by lowering core body temperature and improving heat dissipation.
Reducing the risk of cancer and other diseases
Managing your weight (as above) may offer protection from various types of cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Strengthening your bones
Exercise can slow down bone loss after menopause, lowering the risk of fractures and osteoporosis. More to follow on osteoporosis in my next Women’s Health feature.
Boosting your mood
Physically active adults have a lower risk of depression and cognitive decline.
Helping you to sleep
Exercise can improve sleep quality, helping you to fall asleep faster and decreasing the amount of sleeplessness.
In my Pilates and Barre classes, I include all the main areas that should be worked on during menopause. Body weight and small equipment, such as resistance bands and weights, are used to make sure all areas are covered.
The main types of exercise to focus on are:
Cardiovascular and Weight Bearing Exercise
Great for strengthening heart and bones. Cardiovascular exercise is any exercise that raises your heart rate, causing you to breathe more quickly and your muscles to work harder. Make sure your heart rate is within a safe range. Weight bearing exercise is where you support your body weight through your arms and legs, such as walking, dancing or playing tennis.
Exercises that move your muscles against resistance. This includes lifting weights, using resistance bands or body weight exercises such as press-ups.
Balance and Flexibility
Menopause can affect your balance and flexibility. Pilates, yoga and tai chi can help keep you mobile and reduce the risk of falling.
Bladder and bowel problems
The menopause can weaken your pelvic floor muscles. They support the organs in your stomach and pelvis, such as your bladder, uterus and bowel. When you cough, laugh, sneeze or lift something heavy, your pelvic floor muscles tighten and keep control of your bladder and bowel. Pilates is a great way to strengthen your pelvic floor. The NHS App ‘Squeezy’ is also a very useful tool to help you exercise your pelvic floor - https://www.squeezyapp.com
How can you stay motivated?
Set realistic, achievable goals. For example, commit to a daily 30-minute walk. Frequently update goals as you achieve a greater levels of fitness. Teaming up with someone, a partner, friend or neighbour or joining a group activity can make a difference too.
Remember, many activities, such as gardening, dancing around your living room or housework, are all forms of exercise and can improve your health. Whatever you choose, take time to exercise, warm up and cool down safely.
Menopause and The Mind
Now that you know where to start with exercise, Katie Rose, a person-centred, pluralistic therapist, gives advice on coping with the mental health challenges of menopause.
Alongside the physical symptoms, it's common for women to experience mental health problems due to hormonal changes. You might find yourself feeling sad, irritable, demotivated, aggressive or stressed. Even the physical symptoms - such as tiredness or loss of sex drive, can impact relationships, which in turn can affect your emotional health. In addition, this life stage might come with its own challenges - your child's exam stress, children leaving home, managing elderly parents, financial pressures as you take a step back from a career. This is a tough time, even without the added pressure of the physical and hormonal changes that your body is going through!
So where can you go for help and support? Counselling can help - talking to someone in a calm, comfortable, non-judgemental setting, will help to process the changes that you're going through, and work out who you want to be in this next stage of your life. The Balance App, www.balance-menopause.com, contains a huge amount of useful information, to help you be better informed and prepared for this time of your life. You could also find a nearby menopause support group - Cherry Tree Therapy Centre, Buckhurst Hill, has a group that meets monthly, https://www.cherrytreetherapycentre.co.uk/service/menopause-support-group/, or use Meetup.com to find one locally.
Katie Rose MBACP