We are following up from our last blog on how overall fitness can help alleviate some symptoms experienced during perimenopause. Let’s explore the next phase, menopause. We’ll address some common myths and how to best handle the changes that occur during this time.
What is Menopause?
While perimenopause can last for years, menopause occurs when a woman has gone a full year without having a period (for the average woman, this happens at age 51 or 52). Symptoms present during perimenopause - like hot flashes, insomnia/irregular sleep patterns, increased risk of osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease, mood swings and brain fog - will continue, and oftentimes increase in intensity. And as estradiol (estrogen) levels drop further, new symptoms can be triggered, like bladder leaks or heart palpitations, dry eye and changes in body odor.
Yes, menopause symptoms can be unbearable (even wacky!), but menopause is a natural, normal process. You should not feel ashamed about having any of its symptoms. And lucky for us we live in a time of increased menopause research and support. That means that many symptoms can be managed with lifestyle changes and the help of your doctor and other wellness professionals.
Addressing Myths of Menopause
Negative associations with menopause are often based on myths and lack of information. While it is a time of change, menopause often gets the blame for symptoms that are actually caused by aging.
Let’s dispel some big menopause myths and look into ways to make symptoms more manageable:
“I’m going to lose control of my body and not be able to maintain my weight, especially around my middle.”
The normal aging process means that your body loses muscle mass much more quickly than when you were younger. This happens to coincide with menopause where hormonal changes also affect how your body distributes fat. This can feel frustrating, but two things may help:
1. Believe that your value and attractiveness do not come from your weight or clothing size. The sooner you internalize this, the more accepting you will be of the very natural process of menopause.
2. Good news! Although you lose muscle at a faster rate by the time you reach menopause, research has shown that you can still gain muscle mass at the same rate as when you were younger! Maintaining or increasing your muscle mass may help you feel better about your appearance, but more importantly, it will make you feel strong and capable.
“I guess the days of satisfying sex are over.”
UM, YOUR VITALITY DOES NOT END WITH MENOPAUSE! Sex is still a part of living during menopause.
Symptoms like vaginal dryness, caused by the drop in estrogen and collagen levels, can affect your desire or ability to have satisfying sex. These symptoms can be addressed by your doctor and pelvic floor physical therapist.
Exercise, especially weight training, can have a positive effect on hormones during this time. It’s also a great confidence and mood-booster, all of which can be very helpful in maintaining your desire and ability to have satisfying sex.
“Better start buying Depends.”
Aging is a known risk factor for many pelvic floor disorders, including bladder leaking, but the estrogen deficiencies brought on by menopause can make a woman more suceptible. Leaking urine is VERY COMMON and you are not an anomaly if you experience this..
If incontinence is a concern for you, know that you have options to treat it, including sessions with a pelvic floor physical therapist. Adding strength training (e.g. squats and lunges) with good form and proper breathing technique and increasing your daily movement (e.g. walking) can help strengthen your pelvic floor. If you’re already lifting and moving, you’re already on the right track!
Even MORE about Exercising though Menopause
Because perimenopausal symptoms extend through menopause, continue incorporating recommendations from our perimenopause blog. In addition:
Continue strength training. Did we mention that already? It’s incredibly important! With the added drop of estradiol levels during menopause, combined with other lowered hormone levels from perimenopause, your body is at an even higher risk of osteoporosis and losing muscle mass. Strength training will help you keep your bones strong and maintain muscle mass.
Increase daily movement. If you wear a fitness tracker, you likely already have an idea of how much movement you get each day, but if you don’t own one - or if the thought of wearing one is stressful - try to incorporate more low-to-moderate intensity activities into your daily routine. Even if you strength train a couple days a week you should still aim to add daily movement, as doing so can improve your cardiovascular health, aid in exercise recovery, reduce stress and improve your overall mood.
Throughout womanhood, you’ve likely dealt with anything from cramps to migraines, pregnancy cravings to childbirth. You can get through menopause with less suffeing and more thriving with the help of healthcare professionals and adding exercise to your daily routine.
"Menstrual Cycle and Menopause," GGS-1 Coaching. Girls Gone Strong (c) 2020.