Reviewing the impact perimenopause has on movement


With the help of Davina McCall’s documentaries and other celebrities starting the conversation, thankfully discussions around the menopause and the perimenopause has started to become something we can be more open about.  The menopause will impact all women at some point in their lives and it is important we are all aware and able to support them as needed.

The Perimenopause is the name given to the time in a woman’s life when lots of hormonal changes start to happen, generally in her 40s.  The changes come in many forms, and it is important to note that not everyone goes through the same experience or has the same symptoms.  As the body stops releasing eggs and the ovaries are in the process of handing over the hormone production of oestrogen to the adrenal glands, there is no quick and easy handover. The adrenal glands are responsible for a host of other hormones, and they are busy, so they can’t produce oestrogen to the same level as the ovaries.  The flux is caused by the internal debate of am I doing it or are you…. resulting in stress and pressure being put on the body.

The side effects of going through the menopause can range from hot flushes, raging anger, to memory loss amongst other symptoms; many of the symptoms can display as depression with women not quite feeling like themselves. It can lead to women leaving their jobs or changing careers to help them cope with the side effects. There are many articles being written at the moment, about these affects as the topic is discussed more – which is fantastic.  As we know exercise and movement is great for us to help maintain a sense of wellbeing, I wanted to take some time to think about how we might need to change our approach to training and nutrition during the menopause to minimise the internal stresses on the body.

Exercising through the perimenopause

As the production of the hormone oestrogen drops in the body,  it can have an effect on bone density and strength, which is a key factor in training. When we strength train and lift weights we damage our muscles, they then repair and during that process send nutrients to our bones and muscles. This process leads to stronger bones that hopefully will withstand bumps and falls as we age.

The many and varied side effects of this time means that it’s likely not to feel like your normal self and a bit (or a lot) out of sorts. For some ladies this is not the best motivator to get moving, but as much as possible we need to find motivation, as some of the symptoms can be eased by exercising and being a bit more nutritionally aware.

Some forms of exercise can create more stress on our bodies than others and as we are trying to minimise stress we should try to reduce or avoid these (more on this below).  Other forms of exercise, by contrast will be really helpful in maintaining your sense of self through this tricky time.

Stress and exercise

Day to day life with mood swings, feeling misunderstood, missed sleep and eating certain high sugar foods is stressful on our bodies. High intensity exercises can cause additional stress and with all the other transitional stress from hormone fluctuations, sometimes this can exacerbate the impact that the perimenopause is having on our bodies.  Picking the right exercise is therefore really important.

Firstly, you want to do something fun and something that will bring a sense of joy or achievement to help boost your mood. Secondly, variety is important, that way you can fit your exercise to how you feel that day. Thirdly, something is generally better than nothing, not every workout has to last an hour, 10-15 minutes of movement is better than no movement, so if you are feeling low, tired, hot and bothered or harassed, just try and do a little something a few times a week.

It’s worth having a strengthening element to your training. Slowly progressive strength training is much better for your stress levels than trying to throw yourself into a HIIT workout. Any form of movement that slows down the production of the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenalin helps to calm our internal systems.  Examples of great forms of exercise during this time is: swimming for fun, walking in nature, cycling for pleasure, yoga and Pilates, this is not an exhaustive list.

The menopause and nutrition

The food that we eat and fuel our bodies with is an important part of managing menopause symptoms.  I am not a nutritional expert and I can happily point you in the direction of a couple of fantastic nutritional therapists that are very knowledgeable about this subject, but there are a couple of points that are worth highlighting here.

Just like certain exercises can exaggerate symptoms there are certain food groups that can have a similar effect on our internal stresses. Unfortunately, they are things we are most likely to turn to turn to when we are feeling low on energy or out of sorts. Caffeine, sugar, alcohol and too many carbohydrates might feel comforting at the time but can make us feel worse after the quick fix effect.

That said we don’t need to cut them out all together and we don’t need to stop them overnight, a good way to start is to keep a track of your symptoms and note if you find yourself reaching for these. Then once you have a good idea of how many cups of caffeinated drinks you are having to slowly reduce them down and noting if you start to feel better or sleep better for reducing the amount is a good place to start. The same goes for alcohol consumption, sweet treats and high carbohydrate meals. You might be able to find a sweet spot for your body because as I mentioned there is not a one size fits all approach.

Motivation and the perimenopause

Staying motivated during a challenging time is not easy, having the headspace to meal plan and fit in exercise during a busy life will be really tough for some women, so having a really strong ‘why’ will help.  Your ‘why’ needs to be powerful enough to build in changes in behaviour and it has to be unique and authentic to you. Making a new habit can take time but a good place to start is a routine. Making small changes one at a time so that we avoid ‘throwing the towel in’ is advised and behavioural change specialists have noticed that there are several stages to creating a routine that includes:- starting small, setting your intentions, preparing for road blocks, pairing a new routine to an old one (for example, adding in a glass of water every time you make a hot drink or doing your meal plan for the week before you sit down and read your weekly paper or magazine), rewarding progress and having compassion.

Talk about it

 Suffering alone is no fun for anyone. Talk to friends, family or support groups about your experience and challenges. If you want to start exercising and would like to train with a supportive trainer then do get in touch as I’m happy to help in any way I can.

Sara McDonnell

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