Menopause and exercise

Technically, menopause means the end of menstruation and reproduction, and it is said to have occurred 12 months after a woman’s last period.

Menopause typically occurs between the ages of 40 and 58 years, with the median age being 51.4 years. The main symptoms, however, are usually experienced prior to this time, during a stage known as ‘peri-menopause’ when the endocrinological and clinical processes take place. The mean age of onset for peri-menopause is 47.5 years old, and the process lasts approximately four years.

For menopausal women, the symptoms and emotions that go hand-in-hand with this hormonal cyclone, can have a variety of emotional and physical implications on day-to-day life; and the response to menopause varies greatly between individuals. Some women feel totally overwhelmed by the physical symptoms and altered moods, while others have minimal complications and feel quite liberated.

The main symptoms of menopause are related to decreased oestrogen levels, which can result in many implications such as changes in skin, body shape, facial hair, and increased predisposition to various conditions.

Regular exercise can greatly assist a woman during menopause, by maintaining fitness, assisting weight management, boosting morale and mood, and decreasing musculoskeletal complications and the risk of associated medical conditions.

While each woman’s experience is unique, the changes associated with oestrogen deficiency often generate common symptoms. These may include:

  • Vasomotor: Hot flushes, dizziness, palpitations, headaches, fainting. These vary individually and may be exacerbated by hot weather, alcohol, stress and/or temperature changes. Night sweats can also lead to fatigue.

  • Urogenital: Possible dryness, soreness, urinary frequency and urgency, and/or incontinence.

  • Connective tissue: Possible aches and pains, increased risk of bladder prolapse, and/or skin changes.

  • Psychological: 25 to 50 per cent of women experience altered mood, anxiety, fatigue and/or loss of drive.

  • Body shape: There is a tendency to gain weight during these years, regardless of hormonal changes. Typically there is a decrease in Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) and/or altered fat distribution more towards the mid-section.

  • Musculoskeletal changes: There is a tendency towards increased weight, decreased muscle mass, joint changes, and/or decreased bone density.

  • Increased risk of associated conditions: Osteoporosis (and associated postural problems), osteoarthritis, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and/or NIDDM (non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus) in those who gain weight.

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