Keeping Your Heart, Body, and Mind Strong During Menopause

Susan Clinton PT, DScPT, OCS, WCS, FAAOMPT, NBHWC

Heart health is important for everyone, but it is crucial for women in their menopausal years. According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the leading cause of death of women, and this risk increases in women who are menopausal. Menopause is a result of hormonal changes within the body, the most notable of which is the decrease in estrogen production. Estrogen helps regulate cholesterol levels and maintain flexibility and mobility of arteries and veins to accommodate varying blood flow levels. When disrupted, these processes can contribute to risk factors such as

  • High Blood pressure
  • Low Blood pressure
  • Increased risk for stroke
  • Peripheral Vascular Disease

All of these risk factors can increase the risk of heart disease. Women in peri-post menopause also endure many other hormone-related symptoms like

  • Brain fog
  • Mood swings
  • Hot flashes
  • Weight gain
  • Decreased bone health
  • Difficulty with sleeping
Eat a healthy and well-balanced diet that works for your body!

We all know that these are healthy habits we should adopt, but how do you know what exercises to do? How often? How long?

And what about the mind? Can exercise help to improve memory and cognition? Keep reading to find out the answers to these questions!

Everyone needs to exercise, especially the menopausal woman.

The benefits of weight-bearing, resistance, and balance exercise.

Bone, Joint, and Muscle health are especially crucial for the menopausal woman. The decrease in hormone production can decrease bones’ strength, increasing the risk for osteoporosis. Participating in an exercise program involving weight-bearing exercises, resistance training, and balance exercises improves bone density, which strengthens bones and reduces fracture risk.

Resistance exercises also improve muscle strength and maintain muscle mass. During menopause, metabolism often decreases, and weight gain begins. Many factors can contribute to this, but a major player is an age-related loss of muscle mass. Muscle burns more calories at rest than fat. Losing muscle mass causes the metabolism to slow as less energy needs to be expended to maintain resting energy levels. Strong muscles also aid in protecting bones and maintaining balance reactions during movement activities to reduce fall risk.

In addition to keeping bones and muscles strong, resistance, weight-bearing, and balance exercise can improve joint health and reduce arthritis pain. Maintaining regular movement increases joint fluid production keeping the joints lubricated. Strengthening the muscles around the joints disperses the forces of weight-bearing activities to the surrounding muscles. Both of these actions help to improve motion and reduce joint pain levels.

What exercise should you do?

There are a whole host of exercises that incorporate resistance and balance training and can be done from the comfort of your home and outside the gym- unless you enjoy the gym atmosphere.

Walking.

Walking is great for anyone and can be done anywhere. All that’s needed is a supportive pair of shoes, and you’re off. Whether you walk the neighborhood, the park, or the local mall, the important thing is you are moving. Walking will support your cardiovascular system and bone health as it’s a weight-bearing activity.

Dancing.

Who doesn’t get a mood boost from putting on some good upbeat music and dancing along? Whether you are having a dance party in your house as you mop the floor or ballroom dancing with a partner, dancing will be sure to get your heart rate up and boost your energy and mood.

Swimming.

What an excellent exercise for anyone that has joint pain. Whether you are swimming laps or enjoying a water aerobics class, this exercise will provide you resistance from the water and increase your heart rate without increasing the stress on your joints.

Yoga/Balance.

Maintaining flexibility, balance, and deep breathing all have fantastic benefits to our heart health. Even if you struggle with flexibility, you can always make modifications to adjust to your current level of ability. Check out our YogaPhysio classes here ,

Weight training.

Resistance training is great for building and maintaining muscle mass to keep your metabolism boosted. Weight training is also good for maintaining bone health and strength by loading the bones, especially during resisted weight-bearing exercises.

There are many types of exercise out there. These are a few ideas to get you thinking about ways to incorporate movement into your daily routine.

The amount of exercise you need can be variable.

The American Heart Association recommends about 2.5 hours of physical activity a week to prevent heart disease, and about 5 hours a week if you are aiming for weight loss.

Being aware of your target heart rate during exercise helps you self monitor your activity level. If you’re interested in knowing your target heart rate, here is a link to the CDC guidelines for calculating your target heart rate. Self-monitoring heart rate will help you gauge how intensely you are exercising and whether you need to increase or decrease intensity depending on your goals and age.

Not into math? No worries. A simple way to tell if you are exercising at an appropriate level is the Talk Test. In this test, you self monitor how easy it is for you to talk during your activity. Here’s how to self monitor your intensity level using the Talk Test.

  • Low-Intensity Exercise: There is no difficulty talking or carrying on a conversation, and you can sing along to music easily.
  • Moderate Intensity: You can talk with some breathlessness, but you can’t sing.
  • High intensity– You can say a few words but not carry on a conversation

Remember that if an exercise starts to hurt or doesn’t feel right, stop performing that exercise and try a different one. If you are unsure about the exercises you are performing, give Embody Physiotherapy a call, or make an appointment for a consult on how to change the exercises to fit your needs.  

We know exercise can benefit the body, but what about the brain?

Multiple studies have researched the benefits exercise has on the brain and its ability to process and recall information. According to these studies, 30-60 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise can improve cognition such as memory, processing, reasoning, and planning.

The changes in the brain when you exercise.

Aerobic exercise increases blood flow and circulation to the whole body- including the brain. This greater blood flow increases the supply of oxygen circulating in the bloodstream. Like any other organ, the brain thrives on oxygen, and increased supply helps it function more efficiently.

According to the above studies, increased circulation creates new brain pathways, improving memory and information processing after exercise. Elevation of heart rate and oxygen demand improves mood by triggering the brain and related systems to release endorphins or the feel-good hormones. Improved mood and energy levels also contribute to the increased ability to think and plan.

But be sure to maintain hydration during your exercise sessions, as the studies showed that dehydration decreases the benefits of exercise on the brain. 

The time of day you exercise also impacts how the brain reacts to exercise.

Researchers have concluded that exercising in the morning causes a higher spike in brain activity than at any other time during the day. Having a spike in brain activity early in the day helps

  • Prepare you for the mental stresses of the rest of the day
  • Increases retention of new information
  • Improves your reaction to complex situations

To prepare for a busy day with many decisions to make, take time for at least 30 minutes of exercise before starting your day to help prepare!

Exercise not only benefits our body physically by improving heart health, bone health, and muscle integrity, it also can boost brain function.

If you’re a menopausal woman, these benefits are extra important to you as exercise can help manage many menopause symptoms. If you aren’t already incorporating physical activity into your life, now is a great time to start!

There is no need to jump into a rigorous exercise routine. Start small and make changes a little at a time. Maybe it’s incorporating a walk around the block during your lunch break. Or perhaps it’s doing a 10-minute yoga flow to start the day. The important thing is that you start moving. Over time you can incorporate longer times and more days a week into your exercise routine.

Embody Physiotherapy’s Health and Wellness Coaching and Physioyoga programs can be of great benefit if you are in the throes of menopause, are post-menopausal, or are preparing for this change. With Embody’s help, you can transform your health and improve the quality of your life.

If you’re interested and want to learn more, follow the link to book a free discovery call to start your journey. Tell me more!

Susan is a certified health and wellness coach, an award-winning physical therapist in professional achievement, and co-owner of Embody Physiotherapy and Wellness in Sewickley, PA. She is an international instructor of post-professional education in women’s health (including GI issues in women), orthopedic manual therapy, and business psychology. Susan is the co-founder and board member for the foundation: Global Women’s Health Initiative. She is also the co-host of the 5 five-star podcast, “Tough to Treat,” the guide to treating complex patients, and “The Genius Project,” reframing the treatment of persistent musculoskeletal pain.

Resources:

Exercise Beyond Menopause: The Do’s and Don’ts

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3296386/

Effects of acute bouts of exercise on cognition

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12595152/

Physical exercise is not only important for your body’s health- it also helps your brain stay sharp

https://www.brainhq.com/brain-resources/everyday-brain-fitness/physical-exercise/