Is exercise really that important for midlife women? Who has time for that??
YES! The answer is a resounding YES!
Exercise is important for people of all ages, but it becomes even more critical for women in midlife. Women in their 40s and 50s may begin to experience a variety of physical and hormonal changes that can negatively impact their health and well-being. Fun, right? It’s not all doom and gloom, though because exercise can help mitigate the results and symptoms that come along with some of these changes and improve overall health. The key is to be doing exercise that works with your body, and not against it.
Let’s dive in!
One of the most significant changes women in midlife experience is a decrease in estrogen levels. This decrease can lead to a range of symptoms, including hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness. And guess what? Exercise can help manage these symptoms!
Midlife women are also at a higher risk for other health conditions, including heart disease, osteoporosis, and type 2 diabetes. Exercise can help reduce the risk of developing these conditions by improving cardiovascular health, increasing bone density, and regulating blood sugar levels.
Regular exercise can also help midlife women maintain a healthy weight. As women age, their metabolism slows down, making it more challenging to maintain a healthy weight.
Good nutrition can help here too, but that’s a topic for another day 😀
Beyond the physical benefits, regular exercise can also improve mental health and cognitive function. Studies have shown that regular exercise can reduce the risk of depression and anxiety, improve memory and concentration, and increase overall cognitive function.
You may be wondering if there are specific exercises that are better for midlife women and the answer is YES!
Here are my suggestions for what to include in your exercise “routine”
Strength training is first on my list as it’s the most important and one that we midlife women neglect. We lose muscle mass as we age and we need strength/resistance training to prevent this from happening. Using weights, resistance bands, or bodyweight exercises, can help improve bone density, maintain muscle mass, and boost metabolism. Aim for two full-body strength/resistance sessions per week, targeting major muscle groups like the legs, arms, chest, back, and core.
TIP: Start by doing squats without weights and gradually work up to adding weight or resistance bands. Try push-ups at the wall and as you get stronger, lower the incline to a counter, then to a bench, and finally to the floor.
Cardiovascular exercise, such as walking, cycling, swimming, or dancing, can help improve heart health, reduce the risk of chronic diseases, and maintain a healthy weight. Aim for 2 or 3 30-45 minutes sessions of low/moderate-intensity cardio exercise per week. Don’t overdo it here, ladies. Get outside if you can.
TIP: Take short 5-10 minute walk breaks during your day. It all adds up 🙂
Flexibility exercises like stretching, yoga, pilates, or tai chi can help improve range of motion, reduce the risk of injury, and improve posture. Aim for at least two flexibility sessions per week or better yet, add a daily yoga routine to your repertoire. Short sessions more often can be better than fewer long sessions per week. 10 minutes a day is all you need but be warned, you may want to do more 😉
TIP: If you sit at a desk all day, take regular stretching breaks. Your body will thank you for it.
Mobility exercises are essential for midlife women to maintain flexibility, joint health, and overall physical function. As we age, our joints can become stiffer, and our range of motion can decrease. Mobility exercises can help maintain and improve joint health, reduce the risk of injury, and improve posture. Some examples of mobility exercises for midlife women are:
- Shoulder rolls
- Arm circles
- Ankle circles
- Hip circles
TIP: Incorporate these moves into a warm-up or cool-down. Many mobility moves will already be included in a yoga class.
Balance exercises, such as standing on one foot, walking heel to toe, or doing balance poses in yoga, can help reduce the risk of falls and improve overall balance. A bonus of balance work is that it also works the core!
TIP: Try standing on one foot while standing in line at the grocery store. Or do a tree pose and see what kind of looks you get 😜
High-Intensity Interval Training
High-Intensity Interval training (HIIT) is a form of exercise that involves short bursts of high-intensity exercise followed by periods of rest. It can help improve cardiovascular health, increase metabolism, and burn calories in a short amount of time. However, it may not be suitable for everyone, especially those with certain health conditions or injuries. Try to keep HIIT to 45 minutes total per week, broken up into a minimum of 2 sessions.
TIP: Don’t complicate it. Make the exercise simple but intense enough to get the heart rate up.
Overall, exercise is essential for midlife women to maintain their health and well-being. Incorporating regular physical activity into their daily routine can help manage symptoms of menopause, reduce the risk of chronic conditions, maintain a healthy weight, and improve mental health and cognitive function. Bonus – Exercise also helps improve sleep when done early in the day…zzzzz!
Need some help getting started?
If you would like some guidance on what to do and how to incorporate more movement into your day, I invite you to check out my upcoming 7-day yoga/movement challenge for midlife women – CLICK HERE
I’m often asked how important exercise and nutrition are with respect to their effects on our “menopausal” symptoms and overall health. The short answer is VERY IMPORTANT…allow me to elaborate.
Here are a few ways exercise can help:
- Reduce hot flashes: Exercise has been shown to reduce the frequency and intensity of hot flashes in menopausal women. Yay!
- Improves bone density: Regular weight-bearing exercise can help maintain and improve bone density, which can decrease the risk of osteoporosis.
- Improves mood and reduces stress and anxiety: Exercise has been shown to improve mood and reduce anxiety in menopausal women.
- Improves cardiovascular health: Exercise can help lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease, and improve overall cardiovascular health.
It’s important to stay active and engage in regular physical activity, which can help support bone health and maintain muscle mass. Be sure to incorporate strength/resistance training in your exercise plan. Make sure you are doing the right type of exercise as well as the right amount for your midlife body. While we know exercise is good for our health, there is the potential of too much of a good thing, especially when it comes to cardio.
The importance of Nutrition:
- Helps manage weight: Proper nutrition can help women maintain a healthy weight during perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause.
- Improves bone health: A diet rich in calcium, vitamin D, and other bone-healthy nutrients can help maintain and improve bone density.
- Reduces the risk of chronic diseases: A healthy diet can help reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
- Reduces hot flashes: Certain foods, such as soy products and flaxseed, may help reduce the frequency and intensity of hot flashes in menopausal women. Yes, please!
Overall, a healthy and balanced diet for perimenopausal women should focus on whole, nutrient-dense foods and limit processed and high-sugar foods.
Here are some guidelines for a healthy and balanced diet for perimenopausal women:
- Eat your veggies…and lots of them! They are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which can help support overall health and reduce the risk of chronic diseases. Especially leafy greens and cruciferous veggies like broccoli and cauliflower.
- Whole grains: These are a good source of fiber and can help regulate blood sugar levels, which can be important during perimenopause when insulin resistance may be increased.
- Prioritize protein: Protein is important for maintaining muscle mass and supporting bone health, both of which can be affected during perimenopause. Choose lean sources of protein such as poultry, fish, tofu, and legumes. Try to get a serving of protein at each meal.
- Incorporate healthy fats: Omega-3 fatty acids are important for brain health, can help reduce inflammation and improve heart health. Good sources of omega-3s include fatty fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts.
- Incorporate phytoestrogen-rich foods: Phytoestrogens are plant compounds that mimic estrogen in the body. They can help alleviate hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms. Foods rich in phytoestrogens include soybeans, tofu, tempeh, flaxseeds, sesame seeds, and whole grains.
- Avoid processed foods: These often contain high amounts of added sugars, salt, and unhealthy fats, which can increase the risk of chronic diseases and exacerbate symptoms of perimenopause.
- Limit alcohol and caffeine intake: Sorry, ladies…both can disrupt sleep and exacerbate symptoms such as hot flashes and mood changes.
Want more tips and encouragement for managing your menopause symptoms? Download your 6-Step Guide right here!
It’s supposed to be our time for aging gracefully. But how can we feel graceful when midlife brings symptoms like insomnia, weight gain, irritability, and joint pain? Read on to learn how yoga helps with menopause symptoms – the 10 most common.
Yoga Strengthens Bones
At every moment, cells in our bones are naturally deteriorating and regenerating. After menopause, the regrowth stage slows, so our bones start to lose density. This can lead to fractures, pain, loss of height, and even dowager’s hump (kyphosis).
How can yoga improve bone strength in perimenopause?
According to a 2016 study, six months of regular yoga was enough to improve bone density in women already suffering from osteoporosis.
How? Pressure stimulates bones to retain more of the calcium we get from food and supplements and slows the break-down part of the cycle, meaning we stop losing faster than we can rebuild.
We get this pressure from weight-bearing activities like running and walking. And yoga is even better, because it strengthens arm, spine and shoulder bones as well as legs.
Planks, side planks and crow poses all decrease your risk of fracturing arm or shoulder bones, while Warrior and Chair poses strengthen leg and foot bones.
Yoga Reduces Joint Pain
When estrogen levels drop after menopause, we can experience painful swelling in our joints, that sometimes turns into arthritis.
How does yoga help with joint pain?
When your joints hurt, you don’t feel like moving. But the less you move, the more joint pain increases.
Yoga is a great solution because movements are safe and gentle but still provide enough activity to make our joints feel better, and keep them operating in their full range.
Attend a full class a few times a week and do some gentle warm-ups like arm circles and leg lifts in between times to keep joints lubricated and moving in their full range.
Yoga Improves Sleep
Hands up…who’s having trouble sleeping?
40% of us struggle with terrible sleep in peri- and post-menopause. (Compared to only 12% before menopause). Blame the drop in estrogen and progesterone for insomnia, night sweats, restless legs, snoring and sleep apnea, and increased depression and anxiety.
How does yoga help with sleep?
A 2022 study found that yoga significantly improved sleep quality for post and perimenopausal women.
A regular yoga practice can make it easier to stick to healthy sleep routines.
Mindfulness practices increase melatonin which helps with going to sleep and sleeping more deeply.
And even the annoying symptoms of restless leg syndrome are shown to reduce in women who practiced yoga regularly for eight weeks.
And while yoga doesn’t stop night sweats, it can lessen the anxiety we feel about it. So when the hot flash is over, we get back to sleep more quickly.
Practice regulated breathing (pranayama) in bed, rather than let your mind run away into worries about tomorrow. Intentionally focus on a slower exhale to shift your body out of the sympathetic (fight or flight) function and into a parasympathetic (rest and digest) phase.
Yoga Helps Us Cope with Irritability
Irritability, sadness and mood swings are extremely common for women post-menopause. The drop in estrogen and progesterone can feel like constant PMS.
How does yoga help with irritability?
Focusing on sensations while we practice yoga actually enhances our ability to ride out waves of emotion in daily life. We get better at observing a situation and our emotional reaction without judgment.
For example, instead of shrieking at your family’s slobbiness, you might simply observe, “Seeing my family’s shoes and socks scattered around the entryway makes my heart beat really fast. My mind is filled with swear words. I feel like yelling. I’m experiencing rage about shoes.”
Then you get to choose between telling your family off now, or talking to them calmly after taking a brisk walk.
Yoga Supports Heart Health
After age 50, women’s risk of heart disease increases significantly. The good news is that women who get their hearts pumping by moving their bodies regularly have a lower chance of suffering from heart disease.
How does yoga help with heart health?
Yoga is a great option for those of us who don’t like the more obvious cardio exercises like running or team sports. Take a vinyasa class once a week. Or add a handful of sun salutations to your daily hatha practice.
Yoga improves heart health indirectly too. People who do yoga regularly are more likely to feel like engaging in other forms of exercise. A regular yoga class can also motivate you to eat healthier, quit smoking or cut down on alcohol intake.
Yoga Improves Balance
Of course, you know yoga helps with balance. Tree pose or Vrksasana is probably the most common image you’ll see if you search for yoga images online. But how does that relate to peri- and post-menopause?
Why Balance is Important after Menopause
Better balance prevents falls. And since falls can result in fractures for older women, balance is super important. So don’t skip Eagle and Tree just because they frustrate you. These poses help you keep your footing when pathways get icy or the dog rushes past you on the stairs.
Yoga Increases Esteem
Perimenopause and menopause can really kick you right in the esteem. Not only are you dealing with moodiness, exhaustion, weight gain, and hot flashes, but you may also feel embarrassed about these perfectly normal symptoms.
How does yoga improve self-esteem after menopause?
A regular yoga practice maintains your confidence in your physical abilities: “So what if you’ve gained a few pounds! You can hold a Warrior 3 longer than any of them!”
Meditation brings your perspective back to your own inner experience. Remember that how you perceive the world is more important than how the world perceives you.
Yoga Reduces Chronic Pain
Chronic pain is an unfortunate reality for many women in later life. Migraines, fibromyalgia, back pain or arthritis can really tarnish your golden years.
How does yoga help with pain?
Lack of sleep makes pain feel worse. Take the edge off with restorative practices or yoga nidra to support a more restful sleep.
Even on tough days, try to do a few gentle postures or movements to keep joints limber. On better days, you can engage in more active practices.
Meditation and pranayama will help you manage stress throughout the day – another factor that worsens pain.
Yoga Prevent Weight Gain
Gaining weight is one of the more common symptoms of aging. Hormone changes mean that we gain inches around our middles instead of our hips. We also lose overall muscle mass, which means that we aren’t burning as many calories as when we were younger. And if we’re sleeping poorly, we’re probably snacking more too.
How can yoga prevent weight gain after menopause?
Keeping up with your plank, boat and chair poses will help to maintain your calorie-burning muscle mass. Add in some morning vinyasas to get your heart pumping and some evening meditation to stave off snack-inducing insomnia.
Yoga Reduces Stress
Let’s be real. It’s not just hormones causing stress in mid-life.
We’re also juggling worries about careers, teenagers, aging parents, mortgage fluctuations, leaky roofs, a pandemic, inflation, climate change, the cat throwing up on the rug, and …what else you got?
How does yoga reduce stress in peri- and menopause?
Take a deep breath. And another. And another. This is what pranayama is for – reducing stress so we can focus on what really needs our attention.
Practicing pranayama regularly makes it more likely that you’ll reach for this technique when dealing with difficult traffic, difficult people, or difficult situations.
Just noticing your breath can be enough to slow your heart rate and your racing thoughts. Then you’ll be able to recognize which problems belong to you, and which belong to others.
Can Yoga Help with Menopause Symptoms?
The answer is a resounding YES!
Hormone changes in perimenopause and menopause can serve up a bumpy ride of physical, mental and emotional symptoms. But a regular yoga practice addresses all of them.
Asana supports bones, heart, joints, and balance, while reducing pain and limiting weight gain. Pranayama helps us cope with sleep loss and irritability. And meditation boosts our self-esteem, while providing a protective bubble that can insulate against stress and chronic pain.
If there’s a time for recognizing that yoga is a holistic system for supporting physical, emotional, and mental health, it’s definitely peri- and post-menopause.
Ready to Rock Your Way Through Midlife?
Join me in the Wellness Oasis for more learning and Midlife Health and Wellness. Or check out my upcoming 5-week Menopause Rest