Why should you weight train when going through the menopause?

menopause, exercise, weight training, older women

October 30, 2023

Over my years in practice as a Chiropractor, I’ve noticed my largest patient base is women in their 40s and 50s who seem to suffer a lot with musculoskeletal issues. When you think about it, this is not surprising. The perimenopause and menopause cause a lot of changes in the body, many of which can affect your muscles, joints and bones. This is why I have increasingly promoted the benefits of resistance training to these group of women. I believe resistance training is great for people during any time of life; but it is particularly important for women going through the menopause due to its benefits on muscle mass and bone density. This article will give you details about how the menopause affects you, why weight training is so important and give you tips as to how you can get started on your strength journey!

What is the menopause and how does it affect our bodies?

The NHS describes the menopause as being when your periods stop due to lower hormone levels. It usually affects women between the ages of 45 and 55, but it can happen earlier. The perimenopause is when you have symptoms of the menopause but you still have periods. This can occur for many years prior to your periods actually finishing.

During the perimenopause, your oestrogen levels decrease but in an irregular fashion- what people don’t realise is that this means there can, at times, be higher levels of oestrogen than previously. Levels of your other hormones, progesterone and testosterone , also change during this period. These changes can result in a wide variety of symptoms:

  • hot flushes
  • decreased libido
  • heavy or lighter bleeding
  • insomnia
  • mood swings

Over time, the hormone levels will start to stabilise and these symptoms will start to get better. However, there are other longer-term symptoms on muscle and bone health which will continue.

How does the menopause affect our musculoskeletal health?

As a chiropractor, I am particularly invested in how the changes in hormones during the menopause affects our muscles, joints and bones. The reduction in oestrogen in particular has a huge impact on musculoskeletal function. It causes a decrease in muscle mass and strength, which can have a big impact on our fitness and risk of injury. Less oestrogen also causes an increase in the stress hormone cortisol, which makes you more sensitive to pain, thereby increasing the likelihood of sore and tense muscles.1

A drop of oestrogen also affects your ligaments and tendons. Less oestrogen reduces the collagen content of connective tissues, which makes them stiffer. This increases the risk of tendinopathy because there is more load going through the muscle and tendon.

The menopause also affects bone health. Oestrogen plays a role in slowing down the natural breakdown of bone; as a result, reduced oestrogen in menopause leads to increased loss in bone density. Overall, the menopause charity estimates there is approximately 2% of bone density loss each year2 and the endocrine society records that 1 in 2 post menopausal women will have osteoporosis3. Osteoporosis is not a painful condition in itself, but it increases the risk of fractures (which are obviously extremely painful!). Older people with osteoporosis can also develop a stooped posture as a result of fractures in the spine.

Woman training with dumbbells
Image by gpointstudio on Freepik

How can weight training during the menopause help?

1. Builds up Muscle

Weight training during the menopause can help to reduce the muscle loss associated with the menopause. In fact, one study showed that a year of strength training 3 times a week had the same effect on promoting lean muscle mass and strength as hormone replacement therapy.4 Maintaining muscle mass helps to prevent many aches and pains, and reduces the risk of injury. You can find out more about how weight training is specifically good for low back pain here.

2. Better Bone Density

Strength training is a weight bearing exercises, which loads the bones and stimulates bone cells to lay down more bone. Walking and running will also have similar effects. However, strength training has more benefits as it targets bones of the hips, spine and wrists , which are more likely to fracture.

3. Improves Metabolism

The menopause can often make it tricky to lose weight as hormone changes lead to an increase in body fat and a slow down of the metabolism. The good news is, by helping you maintain muscle mass, weight training during the menopause also helps to keep you burn more calories, whilst exercising and at rest.

4. Stronger pelvic floor

Many women experience pelvic floor issues, such as incontinence and prolapse. Strength training can help improve pelvic floor issues by improving core strength. It is often not appreciated that the pelvic floor is an important part of the core muscles, working in conjunction with the abdominals, gluts and diaphragm to stabilise the body.

5. Better mood

The menopause can often cause mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression. Exercise has been shown to have huge benefits on mental health, as it stimulates release of the happy hormones. Furthermore, strength training can often improve self confidence, and confidence in your body shape, which both have a positive impact on mental health.

6. Better sleep

changes in hormones in the menopause can wreck havoc on sleeping patterns, with many women reporting problems with insomnia. However, exercise can help to improve sleep patterns with experts finding that exercise increases the amount of slow wave sleep we experience which correlates to time spent in deep sleep 5.

You can find out more about the benefits of weight training generally here.

What exercises should I do when weight training during the menopause?

When starting any exercise programme, always remember to check with your GP first and start slowly to avoid injury. We have some great programmes to get you started on strength training here.

1. Strength training– these exercises are designed to build and maintain muscle mass and bone strength. They can also help to prevent injury and make day to day activities much easier.

2. Core exercises– core exercises are vital as we get older to help improve our balance, posture and strength, all which are help prevent falls and injury. Core exercises are also particularly important for women who struggle with back pain and hip issues.

3. Balance exercises– as we get older, falls are one of the greatest risk to our health. Maintaining good balance can help reduce the risk of falls. In fact good balance is often used as one of the indicators of overall health.

4. Pelvic floor exercises– women going through the menopause can often suffer with pelvic floor issues, such as stress incontinence and urgency. Pelvic floor exercises are key to help manage and prevent these issues.

5. Mobility Exercises – as we get older, we often find ourselves getting stiffer and less mobile. Regular mobility exercises can help improve our daily movement.

What exercises should I avoid during the menopause?

As far as I’m concerned, any exercise is better than no exercise when it comes to helping you through the menopause. However, there are certain things that should be taken into consideration

  • Reduce amount of high-intensity workouts– our recovery time is slower as we get older as muscle regeneration is fuelled by cells that respond to oestrogen. It may be beneficial to limit your high intensity workouts to once a week to allow good recovery and reduce risk of injury.
  • Don’t just done one type of exercise– As discussed above, the menopause has a wide variety of effects on our health and wellbeing. Doing a wide range of exercises, including aerobic, strength, balance and pelvic floor exercises will have the most positive impact on your health.
  • Make a plan and Listen to your body – when starting to exercise, it is important to start slowly with a plan that is right for you. We have plans on our website to get your started, but it is always worth seeking the advice of a professional to make sure you are doing the exercises correctly.

As always, before starting a new training programme, please contact your GP to check it is safe and appropriate to do so. It may help to consult a personal trainer for more personalised advice.

1 Sydney pelvic clinic. www.sydneypelvicclinic.com.au

2 The menopause charity. www.themenopausecharity.org

3 The endocrine society www.endocrine.org

4 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12673136/

5. John hopkins medicine. www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health

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