Managing Menopause with Movement
Holly DeVisser, RKin, Bluewater Area FHT
Menopause can be defined as the transitional period between the reproductive and non-reproductive phases of life in women. Some terminology that is sometimes used to describe the phases of the menopause transition include pre-menopause (when a woman has a regular menstrual cycle), perimenopause (beginning of menopause transition until 12 months after final menstrual cycle), and post-menopause (12 months after final menstrual cycle and beyond).
The menopause transition occurs at the average age of 51 but may begin earlier or later for some women. There are a variety of reasons why some women experience premature menopause (before age 40) including but not limited to chemotherapeutic drugs, radiation exposure, smoking, or surgeries impairing blood and nutrient supply to the ovaries. Surgeries that remove both ovaries typically result in abrupt menopause, regardless of the age of the individual.
Menopause typically begins with irregular menstrual cycles due to a dramatic drop in the hormone estrogen, which may or may not accompany a wide range of symptoms including mood swings, hot or cold flashes (or flushes), night sweats, poor sleep, fatigue, sore breasts, vaginal dryness, and the list goes on. Symptoms typically last between four and eight years but may be shorter or last longer for some. Estrogen assists with circulating blood and fluids throughout the body, therefore when it is declining or low (as it is during and post-menopause), it impacts the body’s ability to circulate oxygen and nutrients, which may increase the risk of certain conditions such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, or pelvic floor dysfunction.
Although we cannot control many of the changes which occur during menopause, we can control how we move our bodies during this time. Low- to moderate-intensity movement, or cardiovascular exercise (ex. walking, biking, swimming, dancing, etc.) increases circulation of fluids which can help to lower the risk of chronic conditions associated with menopause (ex. heart disease, stroke, weight gain, etc.) To gauge your effort during physical activity, you can use the “talk test” — meaning at this intensity, you should feel challenged but still be able to talk in complete sentences. This will ensure this movement is enhancing your health instead of over-stressing your body.
Sarcopenia (age-associated muscle loss) and osteopenia (age-associated bone loss) can be accelerated due to hormonal changes during the menopause transition which may lead to muscle weakness and/or osteoporosis. Strength training with weights, resistance bands, or body weight, combined with moderate- to high-impact movements (such as jogging, jumping rope, or jumping jacks) 2-3x/week for approximately 30 minutes, along with eating adequate amounts of protein can help to counteract and have even been shown to reverse these menopause-associated conditions.
Movement and exercise also play a role in hormone balance and can assist in symptom management including pain and fatigue reduction, as well as increasing energy and sleep quality during the menopause transition. It is also important to note that through menopause, you may need more rest and recovery time than you may have required in the past, therefore, modifications and adjustments to exercise and movement may be required. It is important not to overdo it with exercise during this time as recovery often takes longer, especially if sleep quality or quantity is reduced. On days when energy may be low, movement such as walking, or yoga may be more appropriate than lifting heavy weights or performing high-intensity or high-impact exercise.
Every menopause journey is unique therefore a variety of management strategies may be useful in reducing undesirable symptoms of menopause. Some women experience a relatively symptom-free transition, while others may need to use a variety of strategies or treatments to manage their transition. It can be helpful to check-in with your Physician, Nurse Practitioner or Naturopathic Doctor during this time if you are experiencing menopause symptoms to see if there is a treatment or management strategy that may work for you. Alternative treatment options such as Traditional Chinese Medicine, Acupuncture, Physiotherapy, Manual Osteopathy, or Chiropractic care may also be helpful in improving or reducing certain menopause symptoms. If you are pre-menopausal, it can be helpful to track your cycle and symptoms so you can be aware of when your body begins to experience changes. The menopause transition is not preventable, however, understanding your body, preparing, knowing where to go for help, and learning ways you can help yourself during this time can make the journey less daunting and more comfortable.
For more information about any of the free services offered by the Upper Grand Family Health Team, visit our website at www.uppergrandfht.org or call our Fergus office at 519-843-3947. Like us on Facebook (Upper Grand Family Health Team) for healthy living tips and information on upcoming programs and events in the area.