Menopause is a great time for reappraisal. As their balance of hormones change, many women assess their lifestyle and exercise, looking for new ways to stay in peak condition physically, psychologically and emotionally.
But what about exercise? In their Menopause, Me and Physical Activity report, Women in Sport surveyed over 400 women aged 45-60 to find out more about their relationship with sport and physical activity. With 30% of respondents saying they were less active during menopause, they also wanted to discover the barriers to physical activity.
The report identified six ‘core values’ of women during menopause. ‘Looking good’ and ‘feeling good’ were top amongst these. It also found that many women associated menopause with a sense of loss and lack of control over their lives. This was more apparent among the inactive participants. The more active women felt empowered to use exercise as a way to regain control and manage their symptoms.
Focusing on ‘self’ is a strong desire for many menopausal women, and exercise proved to be a good way to achieve this. Some of the barriers identified by the report included:
Menopausal symptoms. Weight gain, fatigue, sore muscles and joints, fatigue, anxiety and low mood were all contributing factors. While 82% of respondents said they suffered from menopausal symptoms, active women were more resilient at coping with them via physical exercise.
Low confidence. Some women saw themselves as less capable, more fragile and more prone to injury.
Lack of social support. Inactive women had a smaller social circle, giving them less opportunity and motivation to exercise.
Stigma of menopause. Sadly, menopause is still often seen as taboo, and many women withdraw from activity fearing they will be labelled as ‘past it’.
Low motivation. Even those who understood the benefits of physical activity couldn’t always summon up the energy to change their habits.
How to become more active
If you don’t exercise much then it can be easier said than done to simply ‘take something up’. But the majority of women in the research who did exercise preferred non-contact activity, like swimming, yoga, cycling or walking. It’s about finding what works best for you, rather than trying to sweat it out in the gym or ‘prove yourself’ to anyone.
The social aspect of exercising is important to some, with friends proving a great motivator to get up and about. But remember, exercise is also a great way to meet people and can become a strong part of your social life. It’s also an important part of managing your menopause symptoms. Exercise can help you feel better in the here and now and offer significant benefits to your long-term health, too.
Finding your exercise mojo
“Often women don’t realise that what they do during the menopausal years has a huge impact on how well they age,” says Julie Robinson of Move it or Lose it.
“Combining activities that include some impact is vital to prevent osteoporosis. Strength training keeps muscles toned as this naturally declines as our oestrogen levels dip. Finding something that’s fun and doing it with friends is the way forward. Dance, jump and skip your way through menopause and you can feel fabulous for years to come.”
Jo Moseley of HealthyHappy50 agrees. “Being active each day, preferably in the fresh air or in water, has been so helpful in managing my most difficult menopause symptoms, anxiety and sleepless nights,” she says.
“My top tips to any woman a little daunted by the prospect of exercising (and I know how you feel!) would be to find something you enjoy and start small – a walk in the park, an Aquafit or Hydro Jog class, Couch to 5k Running programme, or just one bike ride.
“Become part of a real community such as Parkrun, 261 Fearless Running club or a swimming or yoga class, or virtual one online. 261 Fearless have a Friends programme, or find interest groups on Twitter or Instagram that make you feel welcomed, encouraged and supported.
“And do it for you – not because you have to or to lose weight or because you feel you should. But as something you enjoy, that gives you a physical, emotional and mental feel-good glow. You’ll be more interested in continuing it if you enjoy it! Above all, remember the hardest step is often the first and there are lots of women who feel the same as you do. You can do it!”