The more I learn about the benefits of exercise during the perimenopause, the more committed I am to finding 30 mins (or more when I have chance!) a day for some sort of sport or exercise.
I know how much happier I feel for it and I am starting to realise how it can help, physically, emotionally, mentally and socially.
I’m absolutely no super athlete, I’m unlikely to ever enter, never mind win a race, and my interest in sport has waxed and waned over the years. By the time I reached my late 40s, it was down to it swimming on holiday and long walks with my sons at the weekend, when I could bribe them to join me.
Three years ago, when I was sleeping badly and feeling anxious and frazzled- both symptoms of perimenopause – a friend recommended indoor rowing. Within a couple of weeks I was sleeping through the night again and life seemed so much brighter.
I went on to row a million metres across 200 days and a marathon, 26.2 miles, five days before my 50th birthday, raising over £10,000 for MacMillan Cancer Support in memory of my Mum.
Energised by this new lease of life, I founded a website dedicated to sharing stories of women in their 50s who love all sorts of sports, from ballet to cycling, yoga to powerlifting, endurance running to open-water swimming.
I receive daily emails talking about the benefits of exercise for menopausal symptoms. From alleviating hot flushes (yoga is great apparently) to guarding against osteoporosis, something my Mum had – it’s important to include weight bearing exercise such as running, lifting, walking or dance – experts agree exercise is hugely beneficial during and post the menopause.
For me personally, the greatest benefits focus on four things: sleep; mood enhancement and stress relief; new goals; and friendship and community.
Getting better sleep
Many women going through the menopause talk about either finding it difficult to go to sleep or waking at 4am, their head full of worries. As an overthinker, this is a pattern I can easily fall into. Exercising, whether I’m swimming, indoor rowing, zipping around on my bike in the Dales or practising my yoga poses (something very new to me), helps me sleep. And a good night’s sleep sets me up for the day ahead and all that I need to juggle as a mother, daughter, colleague, sister and friend. It’s the bedrock of my energy and happiness.
The menopause hits us at a time in our lives when we are often the most pressed and stressed. Like many women, I’m part of the Sandwich Generation. We are still caring for teenage children but also supporting ageing or unwell parents, alongside going out to work and looking after our homes. Sometimes this can be overwhelming.
On the days I carve out time, even in bursts of 15 mins for a brisk walk in the fresh air or on the rowing machine, my stress levels are always lowered and I simply feel more confident about my to-do list.
Setting new goals
In our 50s, as children leave home for university, careers or their own adventures, it’s easy to feel a little lost and sense we are no longer needed as much as we were.
Sport is a wonderful way to set new goals and revisit dreams we put on hold as our families grew. Many of the women who share their story with me talk of finding themselves again having taken up a new exercise class, setting bigger challenges or even reinventing themselves with new careers as fitness instructors.
A new sporting goal has a wonderful of carrying us through the doubts and anxieties the menopause creates, physically and emotionally.
Finding friendship and a sense of community
For me, one of the joys of the website is the women I meet and the chance to share, support and celebrate their dreams and achievements. Sometimes this is done virtually through social media and sometimes I’ve been lucky enough to meet in person for a swim, bike ride or dinner!
Some of the women have set up their own women-only cycling or running groups. They are finding happiness in shared achievement – a 100km cycle, a new ballet performance, or simply going for a swim, walk or run together.
The menopause marks a physical change in who and where we are in our life’s journey, and comes at a time when our social and family life changes. The friendship and community that sport gives us through this time is huge.
We have people to talk to, dreams and worries to share, a sense that we aren’t alone.