Although I am a man and I was expecting such an article to arrive from one of the female AAP authors, I would like to touch upon the female topic of menopause. Menopause is a natural condition and an inevitable physical state, which all women are going to experience in midlife – during their late 40s or early 50s. Menopause symptoms are numerous and though frequent exercise workouts haven’t been proven as a means of reducing menopausal symptoms, they can ease the transition by helping to relieve stress and enhance your overall quality of life.
Menopause is well known as a cessation of woman’s reproductive ability, the opposite of menarche and it signals the end of the fertile phase in a woman’s life. What is often left unsaid is that menopause comes along with massive short and long-term physical and psychological changes in a woman’s life. It is well documented that loss of estrogen is strongly related to menopause and has been linked to a number of health problems. Some of the long-term health issues that are associated with menopause are:
- Heart disease (the risk for heart disease increases dramatically with menopause)
- Poor bladder and bowel function
- Poor brain function (risk of Alzheimer’s disease)
- Poor skin elasticity (increased wrinkling)
- Poor muscle power and tone
- Mood swings
Of course there are numbers of treatments to consider that can help reduce the risks associated with these conditions (e.g. hormonal therapy) but in this particular post I am going to discuss the beneficial influence of exercise and a physically active lifestyle.
A recent study, which was published in the Journal of Midlife health in 2011 revealed the importance of regular exercise after menopause. The authors in this study presented the benefits of exercising, the right way to get started, shared nutritional tips and also showed a variety of exercises (e.g. aerobic and resistance training) that can be easily performed by women during menopause. Specifically, the authors highlighted that the main benefits of regular exercise are maintenance of body weight, muscle and bone mass. The exercise program for postmenopausal women should include endurance exercises, strength exercises and balance exercises, which in total would make about two hours and 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity weekly. It is recommended that the exerciser must be aware of their heart rate zones and always track the intensity of exercise by being aware and observing one’s personal heart rate changes. Apart from strength and endurance exercises, the study’s authors recommend deep breathing techniques such us yoga and stretching exercises, which include deep breathing techniques, and thus can help to manage the stress of life and menopause-related symptoms. However, there are a few precautions to take not of. The authors emphasized that under certain medical conditions exercise could be harmful and should be avoided. For example, they highlighted that exercises for women with osteoporosis should not include high impact aerobics or activities where there is a risk of falling. Overall, senior women should listen to their bodies, being alert and not ignore the warning signals of overworking, which may lead to threatening situations like cardiovascular incidents and musculoskeletal injuries. In relation to the latter, the next section explores the problems of osteoporosis in depth detail.
As I mentioned before, lack of estrogen is strongly related to menopause. What is also well known is that a lack of estrogen is strongly related to the development of osteoporosis. Early menopause and any prolonged periods in which hormone levels are low and menstrual periods are absent or infrequent can cause loss of bone mass. Though we do not know the exact cause of osteoporosis, we do know how the disease develops. Until about the age of 30, a person normally builds more bone structure than he or she loses. During the aging process, however, bone breakdown begins to outpace bone build-up, resulting in a gradual loss of bone mass. This process is accelerated in women after menopause and once this loss of bone reaches a certain point, a person gets osteoporosis. It stands to reason then that the more bone mass we build-up until the age of 30, the lower our chances of suffering from osteoporosis in mid- or late-life. Therefore, it is logical to conclude that women can minimize the risk of mid- or late-life osteoporosis by following proper nutritional habits and exercising on a regular basis from their early years.
In conclusion, women should keep enjoying a good quality of life even after menopause. Studies have shown that senior women who engage in exercise and stay physically active benefit by maintaining a healthy body, bone density, and good mental health. However, building healthy habits starting already from a young age can certainly make it much easier to stay healthy after menopause, thus reducing several related health risks. Therefore, dear women, in order to reduce these future risks don’t wait until you enter the menopause phase, but try to follow healthy diets and exercise more when you are still young and healthy.