From the beginning of time, people with uteruses have experienced menopause. Menopause occurs when a person’s estrogen and progesterone levels decrease and their period permanently stops. This decrease in hormone levels typically starts between the ages of 45 and 55 in people with uteruses, but it can sometimes start earlier or later. Once you have gone without a period for a whole year, you are officially menopausal. Congrats! If you want to start preventing symptoms now, you may be able to thanks to the connection between exercise and menopause.
What to expect in menopause
The time leading up to menopause where you experience symptoms like hot flashes, mood swings, and decreased muscle mass is called perimenopause. This begins during the ages of 45-55 (sometimes sooner, as I mentioned), and symptoms from this period can last for up to 14 years after menopause is done. That seems unfair to me!! During this time, your baby-making hormones are decreasing, and your body is no longer able to make a baby. That’s why it causes someone’s period to stop. Similar to puberty when all of your sex hormones are gearing up, menopause can come with a lot of symptoms. In addition to hot flashes and mood swings which we are typically aware of, menopause can also cause a decrease in bone density and a decrease in muscle mass.
Estrogen levels are linked to healthy bones and muscles in women and people with uteruses, so when these levels decrease, bone mass and muscles decrease as well. Many studies have shown that people who practice some form of exercise, particularly weight-bearing exercise, experience some milder symptoms related to this decrease during menopause.
How exercise can help symptoms
Lifting weights and doing strength training helps increase bone density. It’s recommended that women in the early 40s start exercising intentionally to lessen the symptoms of menopause even before they begin. If you lift weights, even light ones, and build up that bone density and muscle mass for years before your menopausal symptoms even begin, your body will be in an even healthier state to make up for some of those losses once those hormones start to fluctuate.
Cardio exercise is also recommended for menopausal women. Dancing, going for walks, light jogging, and yoga are all great for relieving stress and mood swings that accompany changing hormones, but they also ensure the body is fit and healthy, creating as pleasant of a menopausal experience as possible.
Start to exercise and menopause may be milder
If you begin weight training now, when perimenopause beings, hopefully, some of the physical changes in the body will be less noticeable or less painful. Although a great stress reliever, unfortunately, weight training won’t stop hot flashes from happening. Some women will treat this with hormone replacement therapy, or HRT. During this treatment, patients take either estrogen, progesterone, or both to help alleviate menopause symptoms. By adding in some hormones through treatment, the decline in these hormones in the body will hopefully be milder.
Although I am decades away from experiencing menopause myself, it’s something I’ve become increasingly fascinated with. Despite learning about my period and birth control very thoroughly, no one has ever talked to me about what to expect in menopause. It seems like a scary adventure no one is talking about.
Resources such as The Menopause Manifesto by Dr. Jen Gunter talk in-depth about this time of life and ways to handle the changes and live a wonderful life after menopause. This, in addition to exercising and talking with your doctor can make menopause a less scary thing to navigate.