Exercise your way through the menopause.
Are you at that time in life when you find your temperature regulation has gone out of the window, usually at the most inopportune moments? You’re in a meeting with your boss, at a job interview, talking to a customer or desperately trying to get a good night’s sleep, when whoosh, it hits like you’ve opened the oven door. Yes, hot flushes are the most common symptom of menopause and can have significant effects on quality of life.
However, don’t despair ladies, there's some good news! Recent evidence suggests that the frequency of hot flushes can be reduced with exercise. A study of 58 postmenopausal women with a mean age of 55, found that a 15-week resistance training program decreased the occurrence of moderate and severe hot flushes by an average 43.6% (1).
Resistance training is when you use your muscle strength to work against a resistance. Examples include body weight exercises like press-ups, exercising with weights or using weight equipment at a gym. In this study there were 8 exercises with 8-12 repetitions repeated twice and performed three times a week.
Resistance training is also a great exercise for your bones because when your muscles pull on your bones it boosts your bone strength. According to the NHS, women can lose up to 20% of their bone density after the menopause. This is caused by falling levels of the hormone oestrogen which helps protect bone strength. When bone density reduces and becomes lower than normal, it is called osteopenia. Osteopenia is often seen as a precursor to osteoporosis, although it does not necessarily mean you will develop osteoporosis. Osteoporosis occurs when a person has a very low bone density that significantly increases the risk of fracture.
Bone strength can also be improved with impact exercise. Another recent study examined the effects of a 24 week impact exercise programme of 60 minutes of dance 3 times a week on postmenopausal women with osteopenia.
The study found significantly increased bone mineral density compared to controls in a region known as the femoral neck which is located near the top of the thigh bone, or femur (2). This region is especially susceptible to fractures due to osteoporosis because it is the weakest part of the femur. Grip strength, sidestep (a measure of agility) and reaction time also improved.
Impact exercise can also take the form of running, skipping and team sports which are all great for strengthening muscles, bones and joints. These exercises also reduce the risk of many other conditions, such as obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, stroke, dementia and certain types of cancer.
Although we've been talking about the positive effects of exercise on the menopause, let's just finish on the added benefits of a healthy diet. A good diet, not only reduces the risks of the conditions mentioned above, but contains calcium which is critical for bone health. If your diet does not include enough calcium, the body uses that stored in the bones. Green leafy vegetables, dairy, beans and bony fish are all good sources. Vitamin D, found in eggs, oily fish and mushrooms, helps the body absorb calcium from the diet.
Vitamin D is also produced by sunlight falling on the skin (don't let the skin get burnt though), so try and get some daily sunlight to boost your vitamin D levels. Perhaps try getting outside, particularly into some green space, with some friends and doing some exercise. The camaraderie, nature and movement will all improve mood, reduce stress and help you cope with those pesky hot flushes.
Feel free to leave any comments below.
Resistance training for hot flushes in postmenopausal women: A randomised controlled trial. Berin, E et al. Maturitas 2019,126:55-60.
The effects of high impact exercise intervention on bone mineral density, physical fitness, and quality of life in postmenopausal women with osteopenia: A retrospective cohort study.
Yu PA, et al. Medicine (Baltimore). 2019, 98(11): e14898.