As a fitness instructor and mostly healthy, former carb-oholic (I work on an 80/20 rule!) I thought I’d sail through this thing called the (peri)menopause. How wrong I was. But exercise has definitely helped.
Many women I meet are soldiering on and suffering alone through this incredibly challenging phase of life. So in case it is helpful, I’d like to share my own experience, along with some tips for the best kinds of exercise you can do.
At the grand old age of 57 I am actually still waiting to be officially ‘menopausal’ – that is, to have 12 months without a period. The average age for a UK woman to experience menopause is 51. In the years before the main event, you’re known as peri-menopausal.
As oestrogen begins to decline, you’re hit by symptoms like irregular periods, hot flushes, mood swings, trouble sleeping and forgetfulness. And yep, I’ve had them all. What tipped me over into seeking medical help were my mood swings, or rather the big black downward spiral I felt trapped in.
I was not coping and felt so low. Sometimes I’d be in tears, telling myself to get a grip because I had a class to lead. And I was so tired, tired like I’d never ever known before.
This just wasn’t ‘me’. I’m a glass half full type of person, pretty upbeat, relaxed and one of life’s ‘copers and doers’. But at that time, I could’ve cheerfully thrown myself under a train! It was my mum who encouraged me to go and seek help.
Feeling normal again
To cut a long story short, I had an IUD fitted, which releases progesterone. I’ve also started Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), which releases oestrogen. The change has been like getting the old me back - feeling normal, being able to function and continuing to teach classes in the fitness industry that I love.
Throughout this ordeal, I have obviously continued to exercise, as it is my livelihood! But without exercise, I would have sunk to a very low depth, long before I did.
Exercise is renowned for releasing happy hormones; dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins, all of which have a hugely positive physical and emotional effect.
And even when I had to drag myself to a class, having some positive social interaction made a massive difference. It gave me a chance to socialise, share experiences, ups and downs. For women of a certain age, sharing what is working for us - or not - is invaluable
These are not the only reasons why exercise during the peri- and menopause years is so important. Because when oestrogen dips, we also accumulate belly fat, our risk of heart attack rises, we lose bone density and muscle atrophy accelerates.
7 exercises to help you through the menopause
Here are some of the best moves to counteract plummeting oestrogen levels, tighten and tone common trouble spots and strengthen bones, muscles, joints and your heart.
If you can do these two to three times a week, on your own or by joining my classes, you’re winning!
Best lower body exercise: Squats. Doing squats strengthens your entire lower body, including your legs and glutes (your bottom muscles).
Best thigh exercise: Crab Walk. This move tightens and tones your glutes and outer thigh muscles and strengthens your hip joint.
Best upper body exercise: Push-ups. These work your chest, shoulders and triceps muscles and help strengthen your wrists.
Best triceps exercise: Dips - to tighten and tone the backs of the arms.
Best core exercise: Planks. This engages your core muscles, which support your back and flatten your abs.
Best abdominal exercise: Reverse Crunch. This abdominal exercise pulls in, tightens and tones lower abdominal muscles.
Best cardio: Interval training - like my weekly HiiT classes.
These days, I no longer have big mood drops, I have energy. The night sweats have stopped (though the waking at 3am has not!). And I feel normal! And that’s not to be taken lightly.
So please don’t suffer in silence. Talk to people around you. Ask for help. And try some group exercise – a gentle stretch class, like the one I run on Fridays at 10:30am – could be good for starters. I have also set up a closed Facebook group called Menopause Magic - if you want to join, just contact me.
And keep active. That way you’ll be doing the very best you can to care for yourself and stave off the worst effects of peri-menopause and menopause.