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How Exercise Makes Menopause Easier

Aug 2 2021
6 min read
older woman shown from waist up power walking with green tree background

Menopause isn’t just one change; for many women, this transition brings a series of them—mood swings, sleep issues, and hot flashes, to name a few.

Check out this full list of menopause symptoms. Each might prompt you to reconsider how you’re taking care of your body and how you go about your day during this time of your life. Exercise, it turns out, is one of the most helpful ways to improve how you feel and function, now and long after this phase is over.

Exercise, it turns out, is one of the most helpful ways to improve how you feel and function, now and long after this phase is over.

Weight gain is a particular struggle for women as they go through hormonal changes—specifically, the body’s tendency to hold fat around the abdomen instead of the hips and thighs. Aerobic and strength conditioning, while important at every stage of life, become key in helping to keep weight under control. Both cardio and weight training will increase your resting metabolic rate (RMR)—the rate at which your body burns calories while performing basic functions like breathing and pumping blood (you can calculate your own resting metabolic rate). Your RMR slows down during the menopausal transition due to fluctuating hormone levels and decreased muscle mass that comes with older age. But workouts fight that slowdown, allowing you to maintain a healthy

Your RMR slows down during the menopausal transition due to fluctuating hormone levels and decreased muscle mass that comes with older age. But workouts fight that slowdown, allowing you to maintain a healthy body composition (the combination of fat, lean muscle and bone) and bone density.

Moving your body regularly can also help ease other menopausal difficulties. The release of feel-good endorphins may lift your mood and calm irritability; and getting in a good workout can help you sleep more soundly too.

Remaining active can relieve hot flashes and a heart-pumping routine can even increase your libido. Other sexual and urinary health issues that may arise due to menopause, like pelvic organ prolapse (when the pelvic organs slip out of place) or urinary incontinence, can be improved with exercise as well.

Here are six specific types of movement that may be ideal for you during the menopause transition:

Brisk Walking

Weight-bearing cardio like brisk walking not only raises your heart rate but also helps keeps your bones strong during and after menopause. That’s crucial, since declining hormone levels now are especially dangerous for bone density.

Fast-paced walking—as opposed to a leisurely stroll—allows you to burn calories and get an efficient aerobic workout without putting too much pressure on your back and knees like running might do if those areas are sensitive. If brisk walking is your only form of cardio, aim for 150 minutes per week and break up the time according to your schedule and how you’re feeling.

Strength Training

This is also a bone-strengthener and can be a simple part of your workout routine with portable, inexpensive tools like resistance bands. You won’t need to make trips to the gym to use the machines or pick up free weights (like dumbbells), and by using different colors of bands (each color is a different level of resistance) you can target various muscles.

Aim to strength train (whether with bands, free weights, weight machines or body weight) two to three times a week, preferably on nonconsecutive days. Find out how to get started with this resistance band workout.

Cycling

Riding your bike or taking an indoor cycling class is an aerobic option that makes your body work harder than you may think. If you’re riding outdoors, balance, strength and cardiovascular fitness come into play as you face changing terrain; natural surroundings may shift your mood, too. Adjusting the resistance on your stationary bike (or choosing to ride hills outdoors) will increase your calorie burn.

If you like to do a variety of types of cardio beyond only walking (including cycling, jogging, or swimming), aim for a total of 90 minutes of aerobic exercise every week.

Swimming

Getting in the pool for a lap swimming workout is a great way to engage your entire body. No matter what stroke you choose, or if you like to use a kickboard to make your way down the lane, you’ll get aerobic and strength benefits. Swimming is also a great option if other types of cardio are hard on your knees or back.

And if you happen to be having a hot flash, getting in the water will feel better than ever. Your pool time counts toward the 90 minutes of cardio you should be striving for each week.

Yoga

Whether a yoga pose is dynamic (meaning you’re moving) or static (in which you hold the pose for a period of time), it can help you work up a sweat while also challenging your muscles and allowing you to connect with your mind and spirit.

The ancient practice engages multiple muscle groups and many regular practitioners find that their mind becomes quieter and that a class gives them a restorative break—a benefit that may ease mood swings.

Experts have found that yoga can also reduce the number of hot flashes women experience. Expect a class to last from 30 to 90 minutes. Discover the ideal practice for you in our article Explore Yoga for Better Health.

Pilates

Core conditioning, the focus of this practice, strengthens the muscles and ligaments that support your pelvic floor, helping to prevent or improve pelvic and urinary issues that can come up during menopause.

Pilates workouts usually range from 30 to 60 minutes. Consider joining a class, signing up for a private session or trying an at-home Pilates program.

You may also want to try some pelvic exercises, like Kegels: With an empty bladder, pretend you’re trying to prevent passing gas, which means squeezing the muscles of your anus (part of your pelvic floor muscles). Count to 10, then relax for an equal count. Do five to 10 reps, three to five times a day.