Your body faces challenges during the menopause, and it might be tempting to skip the gym if you’re feeling tired or you’re struggling with hot flushes…
‘…but don’t give up, exercise is more important now than ever!’ says hormones expert Dr Marilyn Glenville, author of Natural Solutions to Menopause (£12.99, Pan Macmillan). ‘Before, you might have exercised because you wanted to lose weight or look better, but it’s much more fundamental than that as you head into the menopause and beyond,’ she says. ‘Exercise impacts on heart disease, bone health, breast cancer and Alzheimer’s. There are more reasons to exercise than ever. If you lacked motivation in the past – it’s time to find it now!’
Exercise is a must for bone health – what you need is resistance training
One of the many functions of oestrogen is to keep your bones strong, so when levels decline during the menopause, your bone density can fall as well – but strength-building exercises can help with this.
‘Our bodies are really clever – if you’re not using your bones in a dynamic way, it starts to think to itself, “why do I need to keep the bones strong if they’re not being used much?” But if you make demands on your skeleton, your body keeps them stronger,’ says Marilyn.
Resistance training is a great way to make this demand. By working against the weight of another object – be it weight lifting, moving through water or using your own bodyweight – you strengthen your muscles and build bone. This form of training also helps to keep muscle mass intact.
Get into a plank. Moving fast, draw up one knee to your chest and back, then the other, and repeat for 30 seconds. ‘This works your legs, bum, core and shoulders,’ says personal trainer, Kathryn Freeland.
‘Lie on your stomach with legs wider than hip distance and arms forward, wider than your shoulders,’ says Jaime Cooke, of SPN:Fit studio. ‘Stretch arms forward and legs back, so they naturally come off the floor and your head moves off the mat, with your face looking down. Next, extend alternate arms and legs (e.g. left arm, right leg), pumping them up and down in small pulses.’
Pilates curl up
‘A controlled curl builds abdominal strength,’ says Jaime. ‘Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, hands behind your head, elbows out. Inhale, then as you exhale, tuck your chin in and lift your head, shoulders and spine off the floor, one vertabra at a time. Take a deep breath at the top, then slowly reverse. Do this three times a week, aiming for 30 curls.
‘Stand on your right leg with your left leg bent behind you. Your left arm should be forward and your right arm to the side. Step onto the other leg and swing your arms into the opposite position, as if you are ice skating. ‘Intensify it by jumping from leg to leg, squatting deep on the standing leg and moving your arms powerfully. This is great for improving your co-ordination balance and strength,’ says Kathryn.
‘Use a log or weight for this back, arm and shoulder strengthening exercise,’ says Kathryn. ‘Hold the weight in front of your chest. Push it out at shoulder height and return to the centre. Twist your torso to the left and push the weight out and in, then repeat to the right. Gradually increase the number of repetitions of this exercise as your strength starts to improve.’