Changing exercise habits as you change

As we reach midlife, women’s hormones start to go haywire as we trundle towards menopause. This can be a great time to review the types of exercise you are doing and assess what is working for you and what isn’t.

The types of activity you might have done in your 20s and 30s might feel forced now, your body might simply no longer be happy to go along with it. It can be frustrating discovering that your go-to movement now brings about fatigue or other side effects, especially when that has been a way that you manage stress and generally achieve some “me time”.

Why is this happening? Well, in our 40s we go through the perimenopause, which is the lead up to the menopause. For some women, the perimenopause is a time when they experience a lot of symptoms caused by changing hormone levels. Common symptoms include fatigue, brain fog, irregular periods, weight gain, lack of motivation, low libido, poor sleep, night sweats, hot flushes and many more.

Can exercise help? Yes, absolutely. But it can also hinder. If you’re experiencing the above symptoms, and feel that your usual exercise routine is no longer working for you, it’s time to really start to tune in to your body and listen to what it needs. For example, if you have always done lots of cardiovascular exercise but you now find that it leaves you exhausted, it might be time to try some different things. Mix it up a bit.

Do I need to exercise while my body is so confused? Well, ideally yes. Exercising really does help to manage the symptoms, it helps to future-proof your body, it can help in stress management and can contribute to better sleep. However, as I have mentioned, you may need to exercise differently.

So what should I do? Well, if your current regime is working for you (meaning it isn’t adding stress to your life, it isn’t leaving you unduly tired, it is still bringing you pleasure) then stick with it. If, however, you’re finding that what you used to do just isn’t doing it for you any more, it’s time to have some fun – it’s time to check out local classes and try different things. Keep a bit of a diary of how each different thing you try makes you feel on the day itself and also whether it has any impact on the days after, and enjoy trying different things.

Should I consider anything in particular? Well, yes. I would suggest you incorporate some weight training into your new regime. This doesn’t need to mean that you suddenly start lifting huge weights, it can be lifting anything that weighs a couple of kg at home (I’m thinking bags of sugar, for example). Aim to have some weight bearing exercise in your life, too. This might be walking, it might be running (potentially shorter distances, depending on how your body is responding to it), it might be star jumps! And lastly, bring some balance work into your life – even just standing on one leg while you brush your teeth, with the aim to be able to do so with your eyes shut.

Why these things specifically? Well, as our oestrogen levels eventually diminish, we women become prone to osteoporosis. To be honest, anything we can do to delay the side effects of this has to be a good thing. The types of exercise I have outlined above all help to support bone health, with the exception of the balance work which is super important in falls prevention.

What if I don’t really exercise at all at the moment? No problem! Now’s the time to start. This doesn’t need to be when you suddenly buy all the lycra and become a gym bunny, but it is a good moment to explore what sort of activity you might enjoy going forwards. It may be that you find a local yoga or pilates class; zumba might turn out to be your thing; you might find that walking outside in the countryside is right for you. Try a few things.

I want all of us experiencing this hormone change to understand that this is a positive phase, a time to review and adjust accordingly, so that we can enjoy the next stage of life to the full.

For specific exercise advice, please contact me on emily@embracingfitness.co.uk

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