Menopause is a point in time 12 months after a woman’s last period. Most women reach menopause between the ages of 45 and 55. In Australia, the average age to reach menopause is 51. While one in four women won’t experience any symptoms, the other three most likely will. Some of these symptoms can include hot flushes, anxiety, irritability, forgetfulness, and disturbances in sleeping patterns. Whilst we all get aches and pains from time to time, they can become significantly more frequent as a woman goes through menopause. This occurs because oestrogen directly affects the structure and function of bone, muscle, tendon and ligaments. These hormonal changes can have a significant impact on musculoskeletal function. This drop in oestrogen levels can also increase the risk of cardiovascular disease in women during menopause. Menopausal women are also at greater risk of medical conditions like breast cancer and Type 2 Diabetes due to the tendency to gain weight during menopause.
Regular exercise is important at all stages of life but can be particularly helpful to manage symptoms associated with menopause. Current World Health Organisation Guidelines recommend that adults complete 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week in addition to 2-3 resistance training/strength sessions. This equates to approximately 30 minutes of exercise per day. Physical activity during and after the menopausal period can be very beneficial to woman during this stage of life as embracing a healthy lifestyle can offset the risk of disease and help to manage symptoms of menopause. A mix between cardiovascular exercise and strength training are both equally important for women during this period.
Doing cardiovascular exercise will help to improve your heart health after menopause. Cardiovascular exercise improves how efficiently your heart pumps blood around your body. It also improves the health of your lungs and blood vessels. While everyone needs to do cardiovascular exercise, women are at particular risk of heart disease after menopause. The hormonal changes that occur during the menopausal transition also cause unfavourable metabolic changes. Fat distribution shifts towards abdominal fat accumulation, which is associated with metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease after menopause. Women who exercise regularly have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia and depression.
Maintaining strong, healthy bones is essential for everyone of all stages of life. In childhood and early adulthood, your body makes new bone faster than it breaks down the old bone, therefore your bone mass increases. At around the age of 30, most people reach their peak bone mass and after this time, the amount of bone loss starts to increase more rapidly, reducing our overall bone mass. In women, the reduced oestrogen levels associated with menopause leads to a further loss in bone density. It is estimated that on average, women lose up to 10 % of their bone mass in the first 5 years after menopause. Subsequently, women are at a greater risk of developing osteoporosis, a condition in which bones become thinner and more brittle and may fracture more easily. In fact, the lifetime risk of sustaining an osteoporotic fracture after 50 years is close to 50% for women and 20% for men. To help reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis, it is important to prevent bone loss.
As women age, they also tend to lose muscle mass and strength, which can increase the risk of falls, fractures and injury. The menopause may contribute to this loss of muscle mass.
For postmenopausal women, research has shown that those who participate in regular resistance training are less likely to experience losses in muscle mass and strength compared to those who participate other forms of exercise, such as stretching and mobility.
Exercise is the most effective lifestyle strategy to maintain healthy bone and muscle. A combination of both progressive resistance training and moderate impact weight bearing exercises can assist in improving and maintaining bone density as well as increasing muscle mass and strength.