You may be surprised to know just how much the different aspects of exercise and activity can help alleviate the symptoms of menopause.
By incorporating some or all of these in our daily lives we can assure that we are as fit and well as we can be:
— Strength training
— Creating time for yourself
This may seem a lot initially, but these can all be integrated into our daily life.
To help give us a few pointers I had the joy of catching up with Samantha Houlbrook. Samantha is a Coach at Life Force Fitness with her husband in Northampton. In addition she delivers the Adore Your Floor Programme to women in the community. Read on to discover some valuable pointers on how you can fit exercise into your life and the benefits it will bring.
Lou — Hi Sam, we really appreciate your time and advice in regards to the type of exercise that is beneficial to us during the peri/post menopause stage of our life.
Samantha— Hello Lou. Thank you for inviting me to the Q&A session on exercising during the menopause. It is a subject close to my heart as like many of my clients I am coping with the symptoms of menopause so it is a regular topic of conversation during training sessions. I have devised many strategies to support and encourage my lovely ladies during difficult times.
Lou — Sam, can you give us a few pointers on why cardiovascular exercise is so beneficial to us and the how we can easily incorporate this into our life?
Samantha— Cardiovascular exercise helps guard against heart disease the risk of which increases during and after menopause due to reduced oestrogen levels. CV exercise strengthens the heart and lungs, helps us to burn fat, which in turn improves our body composition and improves our health markers – heart rate, blood pressure and blood sugar level. There are so many options to choose from other than running and jogging for example aerobic exercise classes and dancing – Zumba is great fun! However, if you are short on time a brisk walk during your lunch hour or with your partner during the week day evenings while you catch up on each other’s news is an easy way of getting your CV exercise. Take a break from the office, clear your head and get some Vitamin D too. If you have a walking group at work join up, if not ask a friend to join you. My other suggestions would be walking up the stairs rather than using the lift; getting up from your desk to talk to a colleague rather than phoning them and using the toilets on an upper floor are all very easy ways of being more active.
Lou — Sam can you explain the benefits of ‘impact’ exercising?
Samantha— Cardiovascular exercise has the added bonus of creating ‘impact’. Impact refers to the force exerted onto our bones and joints during exercise. During high impact exercise both feet leave the ground at the same time: Running, jumping jacks and plyometrics. Low impact exercises are movements where one foot is in contact with the ground at all times. These are a great way to increase your heart rate without increasing your risk of injury: Walking, side stepping into a jack rather than jumping, cycling. Low or high impact exercise directly benefits bone strength. If you have issues with a sensitive bladder I would strongly recommend that you do low impact exercises only. You can still raise your heart rate and burn some calories!
Lou — So Sam, how does strength training benefit us?
Samantha — Strength or resistance training has many benefits for us Lou. It strengthens our bones helping to increase our bone density and keep osteoporosis at bay. Our risk of developing osteoporosis when we are peri and post-menopausal is increased due to our reduced oestrogen levels. Stiff joints and aches and pains are a common symptom of the menopause. Strengthening the muscles around our joints helps to alleviate this. It helps to improves our posture too.
Strength training is vital for burning extra calories and increasing our metabolism. It helps us to prevent muscle loss and makes us more capable for the rigours of daily life. Strength training helps us to maintain a better ‘silhouette’ as exercising helps prevent us from gaining visceral fat around our torsos. Joining a gym will give you access to free weights such as dumbbells and kettlebells and machines but body weight exercises are also very effective and convenient. Think how you can incorporate some strength training into everyday life – carrying the shopping home from the supermarket for instance. Sitting down and getting up from your armchair without relying on your arms to help you. Every movement you make directly affects your ‘core’ muscles – your shoulder girdle, abdominals and pelvic girdle.
Lou— Why is flexibility important to us?
Samantha— I think that our flexibility often diminishes without us realising it. This has a knock-on effect to our posture and our functional movement. Activities which lengthen and stretch out the muscles can reduce your risk of injuries and well stretched muscles more easily achieve a full range of movement. Stretching your hamstrings, back and chest can help to prevent neck, shoulder and back pain. Yoga is a great way to improve the flexibility of the whole body. There are many very good yoga books which have straight forward instructions and clear illustrations. For those suffering with any level of pain might like to try exercising in water because they could find that their range of movement is improved as their body weight will be supported by the water. Improved flexibility in all our muscles will increase our range of movement and ease of movement. Stretching out the muscles helps to reduce the tension in our bodies. In times of stress we often tighten muscles creating tension without realising it. This can affect how we move and increase our risk of injuries and headaches.
Lou— Balance.... How can we increase our balance?
Samantha— Having good balance is so important and is often overlooked. Good balance reduces our risk of falling. I suggest working towards increasing the time that you are able to stand on one leg whilst waiting in a queue or waiting for the kettle to boil etc. Stand tall, ease the shoulders away from the ears and pull in your abdominal muscles to help you to keep your balance. Your ankles and feet will strengthen as they work hard to support you and keep you balanced. Once you have mastered this progress to extending the non-working leg forwards, to the side and backwards. Challenge yourself!
Lou— Coordination... really! How does this benefit our health?
Samantha— Good coordination allows you to move with ease and precisely while looking graceful! If you lack coordination your movements may look awkward and difficult. Coordination basically means that the right muscle fibres fire for the specific job in hand. Stability, mobility, agility and balance are required for good coordination. Good coordination also helps us to minimise the risk of falls.
Lou— Talk to us about how exercise can improve body positivity?
Samantha— Lou I think that menopause often affects our sleep patterns which can make us tired and irritable. We might think that we’re too tired to exercise and often my female clients say this to me. However, I cannot stress how the post-exercise release of endorphins makes you feel! The sense of achievement, the glow of exertion and self-belief is well worth all the effort and energy expended. My clients tell me that when they are focused on exercising they are not thinking about anything else and for some this is particularly important as this is the only time that their minds and thoughts are not busy. Easing into stretches at the end of the session in a relaxed state of mind and body cannot be underestimated. When we exercise our brains release a chemical called endorphins which trigger positive feelings, this happier frame of mind combined with the knowledge that we are taking control of our health and well-being help us to look at ourselves in a more positive way. The knowledge that we are getting fitter and stronger and becoming more capable through exercising is very powerful. I see my female clients transform not only physically but emotionally too. Exercising helps them to relieve stress and regain confidence which is invaluable when they are hit by those low moods and times of increased anxiety. They become emotionally stronger and so much happier with themselves.
Lou— So... how about the need for 'head space'?
Samantha— As you know, often in this stage of our life we can find there are many demands on our time. We are often guilty of taking on too much responsibility, as we don’t want to let anyone down, and feel under pressure to help whenever asked. It is so important that we make time to focus on ourselves, and scheduling regular exercise into our lives is a great way of doing this. Find a friend who is also keen to get active, and promise each other that you will commit to your joint 'me time'. Setting time aside to read, or for any other hobby, will be very relaxing and will allow you to ‘switch off’ from any stress or busyness in your life.
Lou — How easy is it to put these things in place in the reality of 'actual life'?
Samantha — Enjoyable small changes makes a HUGE difference!
Set yourself little goals and ask yourself:
Are they realistic?
Can I commit to these easily?
Are they attainable?
Can they be achieved?
Am I being specific?
Rather than saying I am going to be more active — make the decision to walk for 20 minutes during your lunchtimes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, or book a course of weekly yoga classes.
I can’t stress how much better you will feel for making the initial decision to exercise. Menopause can be a very tricky time for us. I know it has been for me but exercise has helped me to retain a sense of the my ‘old’ self the one who didn’t worry so much and was far more confident generally. I know that I continue to be physically strong and capable just as I was 30 years ago. It has helped me to maintain the healthy weight I was in my twenties. One of the benefits of being an older personal trainer (52) - or in my prime as I prefer to call it! - is that I have had plenty of life experience which allows me to be empathetic and sympathetic to the issues my clients are facing and to help them to enjoy themselves on the way to achieving their weight loss goals and be proud of their achievements.
Samantha has a background in dance. She is passionate about helping women to become capable, confident and happy with their bodies through exercise.