A holistic approach is so important at midlife, and of course there is no one lifestyle to suit everyone. It is easy to become stuck in a rut when it comes to movement and strength exercises. Either you love moving your body and spend your days running, doing yoga and lifting weights, or you hate it, you’ve always hated it, your joints are too sore or you are too tired to even consider a short walk or playing football with your children, or you are somewhere in between.
Finding time can be tricky, knowing you need to be active but getting to the end of each day realising you’ve sat down from dawn to dusk is not uncommon. If you fit your activity into things you are already doing, you’ll be a lot more likely to get into a habit of being regularly active. You can then build up, aiming to making a big improvement in your menopausal symptoms and to protect your future health. Being regularly physically active helps reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes. You can reduce your risk of heart and circulatory disease such as such as angina, heart attacks, strokes and vascular dementia by 35% by being more active.
Choices are important at midlife and there might be some simple small healthy changes you can make, to help support yourself through perimenopause and menopause more easily. Being active outside also gives you the wonderful effects of being with nature, and can help improve your mental health and the quality of your sleep.
Why be active?
- Activity can pep you up giving you more energy and making you feel good. Everyday tasks seem easier and more enjoyable.
- Staying active while you cope with life’s ups and downs, helps to reduce the build up of tension, helping you to stay relaxed.
- Be active in chunks of at least 10 minutes repeated throughout the day. You burn more energy at play and at rest as a result of being active, so it’s great for helping to maintain or lose weight.
- Be sure to add strength activities that help to keep your bones and muscles strong, including using the stairs, carrying shopping bags, home-based exercise or classes that involve strength e.g. resistance bands or weights.
- Even a short activity break helps to re-focus the mind and improve the quality of what you do.
- Find a friend or colleague to be active with, it will help to keep you motivated and is more enjoyable.
Physical activity has beneficial effects upon:
- High blood pressure -regular physical activity makes your heart stronger. A stronger heart can pump more blood with less effort. This means there is less pressure on your arteries (the blood vessels that take blood to your major organs), which helps your blood pressure stay at a healthy level.
- High cholesterol -physical activity raises your levels of good cholesterol (HDL) which carries away the bad cholesterol (LDL), so it is less likely to clog up your arteries and cause a heart attack or stroke.
- Type 2 diabetes – physical activity helps you use up the extra glucose (sugar) in your blood. This can gradually lower your blood glucose levels.
- Heart health – heart and circulatory diseases kill 1 in 4 people in the UK. Not being active enough is one of the reasons people get heart and circulatory diseases like angina, heart attack, stroke and vascular dementia. This risk is increased by being overweight, having high cholesterol, having high blood pressure or Type 2 diabetes. Getting your body moving is one important way to improve your heart health. Being inactive can lead to fatty material building up in your arteries (the blood vessels that carry blood to your organs). If the arteries that carry blood to your heart get damaged and clogged, it can lead to a heart attack. If this happens in the arteries that carry blood to your brain it can lead to a stroke.
- Bone health – as women the Royal Osteoporosis Society exercise advice for bones has fantastic advice about movement to strengthen bones, even if you have osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition where your bones lose strength, making you more likely to fracture (break) a bone – even after just a minor bump or fall. Broken bones are more common in women, than men. Your bones lose strength at a faster rate after the menopause. This is because levels of oestrogen (the female sex hormone that helps keep bones strong) decreases.
What movement is best?
Anything active that you love to do is best, as you’ll be more likely to stick to it regularly, which is really important. Mixing things up really helps as you need balance of aerobic exercise, exercise that impacts your joints, exercise that strengthens your muscles, exercise that practices balance and not forgetting exercises to keep your pelvic floor strong.
- Aerobic exercise – this gets you breathing faster and gets your heart working harder to pump the blood around your body. This includes activities like a fast walk or jog, cycling, swimming, dancing, ball sports, and can be hoovering or just taking the stairs instead of the lift.
- Weight-bearing exercise – like walking, running or jumping, but actually is anything where you’re holding your own body weight, even swimming as you are moving against resistance. Weight-bearing activity is good for your bone strength especially when it impacts through your joints. Changing the direction of movement and having bursts of more intense and then lighter movement periods is also beneficial for your bone strength. Top tip: try the stair climb challenge!
- Strengthening exercise – as we age we gradually loose muscle mass, strength and function, so it is really important to use our muscles when we exercise. Try to work your muscles against some form of resistance such as using your own body weight in a squat, or lifting increasingly heavier weights or using resistance bands. When your muscles pull on your bones it helps them respond by renewing themselves and increasing their strength over time. Using weights in your exercise routine has been shown to be the best type of strengthening exercise for bone health.
- Balance exercises – these are important, to prevent falls when we are older. Yoga and Pilates and these will also work well to improve your balance, flexibility, and core strength, including your pelvic floor.
- Pelvic floor exercises – these are often neglected but really need attention as we get older, to help urinary continence, prevent prolapse and also to improve sex. Have a look at the NHS webpage and the Squeezy app and the bladder and bowel community.
When and where?
Not everyone loves the gym, or enjoys working out with others. There are plenty of workouts, yoga and pilates sessions you can do for free alone or in a group. Have a look for via online videos and instructors, then you can workout when you like, with whom you like, in the comfort of your home or garden. You could turn it into a group challenge and set up activities at work, like ’11am pelvic floor time’, ‘lunch time pilates’, ‘balance exercises midafternoon in the tea room!’ Being active with others is great for brain health and mental health.
How much aerobic is enough and how much strength is enough – you need both!
To reduce your risk of heart and circulatory diseases, you need to be active every day:
- Aim to do 150 minutes of exercise a week – that’s about 20–30 minutes a day.
- Every time you are active for 10 minutes or more – it counts. Make sure you do 10-minute bursts to add up to at least 20–30 minutes a day. Do something for 10 minutes or more that makes you breathe harder, feel warmer and feel your heart beat faster.
For your bone health:
- About 50 moderate impacts on most days, this could be jumping, skipping, jogging or hopping.
- And for strengthening exercise, sessions lasting 20-30 minutes, 2-3 times a week on non-consecutive days is ideal. Work gradually with resistance bands and weights – the most you can lift eight to 12 times. Build up to three sets of each exercise.
Want to get started? Why not consider the Be Active Challenge? Be active every day, every 10 minutes counts. These are the NHS exercise guidelines. Inactivity is a real problem and it is thought that one third of the worlds population do not engage in enough physical activity. This is a serious problem, please have a look at this link, why we should sit less.
I often talk about metabolic syndrome it is so important to know about and understand your metabolic health. Have you had your BP checked, your waist circumference, your blood sugar and your blood lipids (cholesterol)? These simple tests can be used to diagnose metabolic syndrome, which, if you have it, can increase your risk of heart and blood vessel disease and Type 2 Diabetes. This condition is reversible with lifestyle changes, please ask for support.
For help with your perimenopause or menopause symptoms we’d be delighted to see you online or in person at Rowena Health Menopause Specialist Clinic. One article you may find helpful is easing joint pain in menopause. Click to BOOK AN APPOINTMENT
Last reviewed September 2023 Dr Carys Sonnenberg Rowena Health