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Closing the chapter on fertility, menopause is a natural transition for women that typically presents in their 40s and 50s. Such a significant change on multiple levels often necessitates renewal or a rearranging of self-care practices—including movement—to best honor your body’s changes.
“These changes can have an effect on your relationship to movement, your ability to move, and what your body needs with regard to movement,” says registered dietitian Jennifer Gilliland.
Unsurprisingly, most menopausal changes are caused by hormonal shifts, particularly decreased estrogen levels. According to the Endocrine Society, lowered estrogen levels also mean increased bone loss (up to 20 percent) and risk of osteoporosis.
“A decrease in estrogen can cause fatigue, making it difficult to stay motivated and active,” Gilliland says. “Estrogen plays an important role in muscle function, and its decline can cause muscles to become weaker and less flexible.”
Menopause can also come with mental side effects, like stress, anxiety, depression, and mood swings. “These emotions can impact your willingness to be active and participate in exercise,” Gilliland says. “The upside is that increasing your physical activity can actually improve your mood, so there is additional incentive to get our bodies moving.”
Aside from supporting mental health, regular moderate movement can aid in boosting confidence, energy, and focus. It can also help with blood sugar management, heart health, sleep quality, and bone health.
“Chronic issues such as diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure (that are more prevalent as we age) are often related to circulation issues and will benefit from regular movement,” Gilliland says. “Ultimately, staying active during menopause is important to maintaining overall health.”
Whether you have sustained a regular movement routine for decades or you are interested in starting to include movement in your self-care, here are five ways to move your body in this new chapter of your life.
Understanding how hormonal shifts in menopause affect your body and mind is powerful. Equally as powerful is tuning into your unique body and listening to what it wants. Similar to how the body communicates to you when it is hungry or full, it will also let you know which types of movement it needs or if it needs you to slow down and rest. When you listen and honor your body’s requests, your connection to your body strengthens—like when you communicate in a loving relationship.
And movement can be a source of pleasure and joy. “Exercise or physical activity needs to be fun,” Gilliland says. “We are more likely to continue doing something we enjoy, and there are plenty of fun activities—like walking with friends, swimming, or playing pickle ball—that encourage physical activity along with a lot of laughter.” If you don’t know which kinds of movement you find joyful, Gilliland recommends experimenting: “Just because you are older doesn't mean you can't try new things.”
Whether it’s gardening, walking, hiking, or snowshoeing, being outside while you move has multiple benefits. According to registered dietitian and behavior change nutrition coach Debra Waldoks, outdoor movement during daylight hours can help with regulating metabolism and gut health, building muscle mass, managing anxiety and depression, increasing mental clarity, and fostering an overall sense of control and contentment. “It can also be a good time to engage in social activities with friends, such as taking walks together, joining a rowing group, going on bike rides together, or playing sports together,” Waldoks says.
Since lower estrogen levels put you at risk for osteoporosis, practicing some type of weight-bearing aerobic activity with impact can help protect your bones.
Plus, according to the American Heart Association, heart disease risk also increases during menopause—another motivator for adding in movement to protect your heart. Try an activity you enjoy, be it walking, gardening, tennis, dancing, or time on an elliptical machine.
Since muscles become weaker and less flexible in menopause, “strength, or resistance, exercises are key to keeping your muscles strong and healthy,” according to Gilliland.
Strengthening activities can also help protect bones and joints. Try working with free weights, resistance bands, weight machines, or body weight exercises.
Maybe it’s a slow walk in the woods, a guided meditation, or restorative or gentle yoga practice that feels relaxing to you. Incorporating relaxing, restful movement practices and periods of rest can help with anxiety and depression management and foster an overall sense of wellbeing during menopause.
Plus, taking regular rest days from movement will help give your body time to repair and renew itself. Overdoing movement can backfire, stressing the body and throwing it out of whack during a transitional time.
Everyone has different needs, but a general rule of thumb is to aim for around a half hour of movement about five days per week. “Even [movement] as simple as two 15-minute walks a day can help maintain metabolism and muscle mass,” Waldoks says.
And Gilliland recommends starting your menopause movement practice slowly. “I encourage women to adopt a ‘long haul’ mentality versus a quick fix,” she says, adding that consistency is key when it comes to long-term health. “If we only exercise in spurts because we overdo it and get too sore, we aren't getting the long-term benefit of exercise.”
To learn ways to accept your body as you age, read here.
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