Menopause

Menopause refers to the end of menstruation and is said to have occurred when a woman has not had a period for 12 months. At that point women are considered ‘postmenopausal’. Most women reach menopause between 45 and 55 years of age. In Australia the average age of natural menopause is 51-52 years, but menopause can occur prematurely due to surgery, chemotherapy or radiation.

‘Peri-menopause’ refers to the time from the start of symptoms associated with menopause. These can include irregular periods, hot flushes, night sweats, mood changes, depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, vaginal dryness, headaches, incontinence, and muscle and joint aches, though women’s experiences of menopause vary considerably and some women experience little more than the cessation of menses.

How does exercise help menopause?

Midlife women need a range of different types of exercise. For example, while there is strong evidence for the benefit of aerobic exercise in supporting fat loss, reducing the risk of heart disease, and enhancing mental health, resistance exercise also helps fat loss and strengthens muscle and bone.

Balance and coordination activities help prevent falls, and pelvic floor strength requires specific use of the pelvic floor muscles. Flexibility exercises improve and maintain mobility, and in forms such as yoga can contribute to mental wellbeing.

Muscle strengthening activities are recommended on at least 2 days each week, and it is important to minimise the amount of time spent in prolonged sitting.

Things to remember

  • Symptoms occur in conjunction with changing hormones, especially estrogen and progesterone. Ovarian estrogen levels fluctuate before eventually declining, and progesterone levels decline as ovulation occurs less.
  • Health complications can also be linked with weight gain, and menopausal women typically complain of gaining weight, especially around their waist. Even women who don’t gain weight may experience an increase in abdominal fat.
  • In addition to these conditions women may suffer urinary incontinence or sexual difficulty due to urogenital changes and weaker pelvic floor muscles. In relation to mental health, as well as depression and anxiety, some women feel more forgetful and that their cognitive function has declined.

What type of exercise is best for patients with menopause?

In line with Australian physical activity recommendations, Exercise Right recommends 150 to 300 minutes (2 ½ to 5 hours) of moderate activity or 75 to 150 minutes (1 ¼ to 2 ½ hours) of vigorous intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both moderate and vigorous activities, each week.

  • Aerobic activity that makes use of your large muscle groups while keeping up your heart rate – e.g. walking, jogging, biking, and swimming all count. Exercise Right recommends that beginners start with 10 minutes of light activity, slowly boosting exercise intensity as it becomes easier.
  • Strength training is especially vital as osteoporosis risk skyrockets following menopause (estrogen is needed to help lay down bone), strength. Strength training exercises will help to build bone and muscle strength, burn body fat, and rev your metabolism.

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