When it comes to exercise and menopause, it can be a struggle for women to find the answers they want and need. But this trend is starting to change
Menopause has long been a taboo topic, with many women remaining embarrassed to discuss it. Unsure of where to turn, they find themselves in the dark about how to adjust their training accordingly. Fortunately, times are changing and discussions about this topic are becoming much more common.
For Baz Moffatt, founder of Well Headquarters, menopause, the changes it brings and how to adapt to them, is a topic about which she is extremely knowledgeable and passionate. We talked to him about what can be done to reap the rewards and avoid injury during training during this phase of life.
Have you seen a change in conversations about menopause?
Oh yes! The menopausal world has always been a desert. Unlike before and after birth which is just a pile of information, menopause has been barren. The problem is that historically no one cared for middle-aged women. The road has always gone from young to elite. There has been a huge gap of expertise for middle-aged women, but there is finally a move towards supporting them and bringing menopause to the forefront.
We do not want to stop training in order to understand how to adapt to addressing needs. It’s about learning not to fight it – we can’t all train like we did in our 20s – but that shouldn’t stop anyone.
What would you say to those trying to fight this change?
First, I would say change is normal, but it should not stop you. It is about adaptation and not about a complete reversal. It is 100 percent okay to be like, “Just because I’m a middle-aged woman. not should be caressed and bent. “I am a strong woman who experiences something completely natural.”
When you reach your 40s and 50s, even if you have been sporting all your life, it will not be as easy as when you can celebrate all weekend and train every day. And this is completely natural.
Do not try to cling to 20-year-olds at your club, as this will not benefit you physically or mentally. It’s about being in tune with your body and adapting to the same way you did when you were past puberty.
Do not fight it, just learn to overcome the change and realize that it is normal and there are still many things you can get involved with. Your spheres of activity may have changed, but this can be exciting as it gives you a chance to take stock and see what suits you. It could be something completely new that you have never tried before, or it can just fix things you’ve done all your life. The possibilities are far more than you think.
What would you advise in terms of training and any adjustments to be made?
Start by making those exchanges that respond to what you need at the time. Do a light jog for a strength and conditioning session because crossing those unwanted miles will not give you much cardiovascular benefits, but will only increase the risk of injury.
Strength training will help maintain bone density, which is something that falls naturally during menopause. They do not need to be large sessions with massive weights. Lack of a good strength program and conditioning is one of the biggest mistakes women make at this age.
What are the benefits of exercise during menopause?
There are physical and mental benefits of exercise at any age, and it is no different with menopause. Physically, it can help you do two things. First, it can help you manage your symptoms by allowing blood to flow and move your body. Second, it supports your immune system, heart health, muscle strength, metabolism and long-term health.
There are also a host of positive mental aspects about exercise. There is no denying that your hormones are wild during menopause and it is no coincidence that the highest suicide rates in women are at age 51 – the average age of menopause. But the endorphins released are extraordinary and if you love the freedom and sense of flow that exercise the state brings, it is a kind of meditation. This is very special and that meditation can help fight middle age stress.
How important is everything else about exercise?
Its big. Complementary things are just as important as the session itself. Where you could have saved in your youth, now you can not afford it. It comes in three parts. Number one is the importance of the right things before and after the session like warming up and cooling down, rehab, nutrition and hydration.
The second part is that you can not ignore the niggles. Dealing with them sooner rather than later is the key to preventing further injury and you may not consider the approach on the issue. Get support from a doctor if you need it.
The third aspect is about smarter work, not harder. You need to be realistic and say, “What do I need and what will be best for me right now?”
What would you say to someone who came to you asking how to keep going back to menopausal exercise?
As for the starting point, make an educated assumption. Listen to your body and consider where you are physically and mentally. You need to be able to feel compassion for yourself before, during and after exercise.
Do not set your standards too high because it will not benefit you physically and will harm you mentally if you can not achieve what you set. There is no “one size fits all”. Remember that something is always better than nothing and adjustments can always be made.
Is there anything else people do not tend to consider?
Pelvic health is not something that is talked about much, but I have had so many runners who have told me they have sudden bladder emergencies or bladder weakness and this is preventing them from training because they do not want this to happen while they are out.
There are many estrogen receptors in the vagina, but when estrogen is reduced at menopause, this leads to weakness of the pelvic floor. This flow becomes pervasive during a workout and prevents women from focusing on the positive aspects of their session.
It can also be dangerous as some try to self-manage by not drinking before exercise or by constantly going to the toilet before the session.
Fortunately, it is quite easy to fight and vaginal estrogen is something a woman can get from her doctor. It is such a small dose as it only targets the vagina, so there is nothing to fear. To put it in context – the value of a whole year of vaginal estrogen is the same as a single day of HRT, so this is a small thing that can make a big difference.
In my opinion, vaginal estrogen should be distributed to women over 45 years old. It’s not a magic bullet, but along with pelvic floor exercises and avoiding too much caffeine and refined sugar, it makes a big difference. The focus can then return to the enjoyment of the workout.
Where can one find more information?
Finding relevant information can be confusing and many women simply get caught up in everything they hear, which often matters little to them. The most important thing to do is get it from a trusted source and not from Google Doctor. There are people out there who cut your insecurities, take your money, promise the world and give nothing away.
British Society of Menopause is a great place to start and suggests registered practitioners and offers lots of tips. If you can afford a private doctor, make sure he is registered through them. These can be expensive, so there is also a lot of help through the NHS that can also be explored.
My main advice here is to make sure it is a reliable resource and then apply it to what you need at the time.
» Baz Moffat is a retired rower in the GB and now a women’s health and fitness trainer. She is the co-founder of of Well Headquarters a digital hub and a collective movement to educate and empower active women and those who support them
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