The connection between exercise and menopause

Perimenopause and menopause can dramatically alter a woman’s response to exercise. As a health and fitness professional helping female clients reach their health and fitness goals, it is essential that you understand menopause and how it affects the exercise response, and, importantly, how exercise affects how women experience menopause.

It is important to realize that women who are in their early 50s now may have been active and exercising in a health club environment for much of their adult lives. However, in a changing hormonal environment and with interrupted sleep, weight-management strategies that have worked in the past may no longer work during menopause.

 Although this is also partly due to the biological ageing of blood vessels, organs, muscles, tendons and ligaments, it may also be due to the increased cortisol and subsequent insulin disruption that results from too much high-intensity exercise when women are not sleeping well. Additionally, increased fat around the abdominal and diaphragm regions is another indicator of inflammation, which contributes to metabolic syndrome, heart disease and, for some, type 2 diabetes.

As a health and fitness professional, you are in a unique position to support midlife women to make positive lifestyle behaviors that align with their healthy-ageing goals (Sweet, 2008). Based on my research examining mid-life women’s experiences of exercise through their menopause transition, here are five strategies you can use to support your menopausal clients in ways that may make a difference to how they feel and how they stay healthy during this phase of life:

Empathize and inquire about their sleep! If they are tired they may not train effectively.
Change your client’s cardio from HIIT to moderate intensity levels until she is sleeping well. Blood vessels change as they lose oestrogen which can lead to poor recovery after higher intensity exercise.
Remember that exercise may be harmful as women age because their joints lose oestrogen and collagen which normally help in the repair of tendons.
Recommend functional strength exercises that match your client’s needs for healthy living.
Add balance and gait activities to stimulate loss of balance as women age

Wendy Sweet (PhD) is a Registered NZ Exercise Specialist. She has worked as a PT in New Zealand for over 30 years. After undertaking her postdoctoral research in the role of exercise for women going through menopause, she set up her business, My Menopause Transition ; programs designed to help reduce menopause symptoms.
Read how you can help your mid-life clients make sense of exercise here.