Menopause is a time of transition, and it’s a stage of life when many women decide to make some adjustments to their diet, exercise regime and lifestyle.
And that’s great. Even if you’ve never exercised before, it’s never too late to start – just remember, it’s always a good idea to visit your GP to get the green light before you take up a new exercise programme.
But during perimenopause, there are some important things to consider in terms of exercise, as your bone density will be declining. I’d recommend every woman should be doing some bone loading, cardio and stretching exercises for maximum effect.
I don’t want to shock you but I am so passionate about this I am going to give you some hard facts about the ageing process. Before you read the next paragraphs on what happens to our bones, please bear in mind that my advice on how to strengthen your bones will also help banish belly fat, as a healthier, stronger muscle burns fat even while you’re resting.
So if you carry out toning and strength work not only are you keeping your bones healthy but you’ll be keeping the belly fat at bay, looking slimmer and feeling fantastic.
What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is the silent killer. After we hit 30 years of age our bone density starts to decline. When we hit menopause that decline speeds up, so doing weight-bearing/bone loading exercise is more important than ever before.
When we are young are bones are very dense so any hit we take through impact work, jumping or falling is low risk. Imagine our bones are like honeycomb: when we are young the holes are very small so making the bone stronger. However, as we age our hormone levels, especially oestrogen, decline, these holes become bigger, and we are at higher risk of fracture.
The major sites of osteoporosis are the hips, wrist and spine. Hip fractures in an older person can be extremely detrimental; often a women will not know she has weak bones until she has a fall or fracture.
You may have heard of a ‘Dowager hump’ – this is where the upper spine takes on a curve. It means the vertebrae have weakened and collapsed in on themselves. The lower spine is also affected; having osteoporosis in these sites can cause a lot of pain.
Specific exercise can help alleviate the pain by making the muscles stronger, supporting the structure and taking pressure off the nerves which causes the pain, such as pain radiating down the leg – commonly known as sciatic pain. There can be other reasons for sciatic pain, so if you are in doubt see a health professional for proper diagnosis.
During menopause when our oestrogen hits a decline, the collagen in our joints also decreases, leading to pain in knees, hips and lower spine. These pains are sometimes overlooked by GPs and put down to wear and tear.
However, strength training and stretching exercises can help.
What is bone loading?
Bone loading means putting stress through your bones by an external force.
This can be your own body weight with exercises such as press ups or using external weights, such as fixed resistance machines in the gym, exercise bands, or free weights – these can be hand-held weights or just water bottles.
If you do have osteoporosis then some forms of exercise can be harmful, such as running, jumping or other impact work. Also you need to be careful with certain spine exercises, such as ab curls and back extensions, as if you have osteoporosis in the spine this can aggravate the condition. So you must keep your spine straight when performing exercises. You can still do plenty though, so don’t be put off.
A quick reminder: don’t forget to stretch your muscles after every session.
Can HRT help?
Another great way to help with painful joints, muscles and osteoporosis is to start HRT (hormone replacement therapy). While HRT has had some bad press in the past, newer research shows that it is now safe for the majority of women under the age of 60 years, and new NICE guidelines have been produced to show this.
During the menopause, we are at higher risk of heart disease and osteoporosis and taking HRT can lower this risk.
Here are two exercises – one for the wrists and one for the lower back.
Lower spine: seated back extension
You can do this either on the floor or on a ball. However if you have osteoporosis in your spine then this can be contraindicated, so stick with this seated version and not the one you may do in an exercise class where you are lying face down on the floor,
This exercise is great for the lower spine and is totally safe if you have osteoporosis.
- Keep your back straight
- Pull your abs in
- Keep your arms straight
- Hold in the upright position for 6 seconds
Press ups and triceps dips are great for wrist strength and to help with toning arms – there are many variations of this exercise.
You need to perform all exercises 12 times, twice three times a week. So do one exercise then the other and rotate – be sure to stretch afterwards.