I was invited on World Menopause Day, on Monday, to give a talk to staff at Scotrail about menopause, sport, fitness and the great outdoors. It was pertinent that the theme of Menopause Day 2021 was bone health.
Here is an overview of my presentation. I added in some examples from my own peri-menopause and menopause, which you can discover more about under Menopause Matters.
Blame your hormones
You really can… Oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone reduce in all women, and usually from early 40s. Cortisol (stress hormone) levels increase. The hormones decrease over time and they do undulate over many years but the end result is that oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone levels drop. These hormones do not return.
Well known symptoms of menopause
You will probably know most of these:
- Hot flushes
- Brain fog
- Night sweats
- Heavy & irregular periods
- Mood swings
Lesser known symptoms of menopause
- Itchy skin
- Low libido
- Loss of confidence
- Dry skin
- Hair loss
Sport and menopause symptoms
- Weight gain, often around the middle
- Reduced metabolism
- Muscle loss and weakness
- Muscle cramps
- Reduced skeletal mass
- Saddle sores – caused my drier and thinner skin/membranes
- Low motivation
- Joint pain
- Slower pace
- Slower recovery
- Low confidence
More detail about muscle loss and weakness
From birth to around the age of 30, muscles grow larger and stronger. But at some point in your 30s, muscle mass and function decrease. The cause is age-related sarcopenia.
Physically inactive people can lose as much as 3% to 5% of their muscle mass each decade after age 30. Even if you are active, you’ll still have some muscle loss.
There’s no test or specific level of muscle mass that will diagnose sarcopenia. Any loss of muscle matters because it lessens strength and mobility.
In addition, for menopausal women oestrogen deficiency causes the reduction of the the bulk of skeletal muscle and the maximum muscular force in women. It also impairs muscle recovery after injury.
Testosterone also produced by the ovaries and when levels reduce this can also have an affect on muscle (and bone) strength. (Other affects of testosterone reduction include lowered libido, reduced sexual arousal and orgasm, reduced metabolic function, mood swings and poorer cognitive function.)
Real life quotes on menopause and fitness
These are some of the things I have been told or heard from women in peri, menopause or post-menopause. They all enjoyed sport or fitness activities of some kind but they faced various obstacles.
- “I lost all motivation”
- “I was too tired to even think about exercise”
- “My joints ached”
- “Muscle cramps were so sore”
- “I hated that I could no longer keep up”
- “I was so out of breath”
- “I suddenly had saddle sores”
- “I had no confidence”
- “I felt too fat to go out in my sports clothes”.
Tips and ideas: Sport, fitness and menopause
I offered some ideas and tips for how to cope with the menopause. It is important that women stay fit, active and healthy throughout their lives. Sadly, the symptoms of reduced and reducing hormones in the middle to later years can affect motivation, desire, speed, strength, bone density and more.
But it is still important to have good cardiovascular fitness and also to maintain muscle strength, flexibility and bone mass.
- HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) – not everyone can take HRT but it can be a good solution for many women. Read about why HRT can be a benefit for sporty women. HRT doesn’t return hormones to previous levels but in many cases it can help to alleviate symptoms.
- Testosterone replacement – Have a read of this from the British Menopause Society. As such, there are no treatments for women but it is possible to receive “female doses” of male testosterone replacement. I have heard that it can be very difficult in the UK to get a GP’s prescription, but it would appear that testosterone deficiency can be an issue for menopausal women.
- Strength and resistance training – vital for maintaining muscles, especially as reduced oestrogen and testosterone will cause a depletion of muscle density.
- Plyometrics – a type of exercise training that uses speed and force through different movements to build muscle power. Examples include jumping and bounding, especially if you jump from a height or if you bound and jump on one leg.
- Pilates – great for core strength and general muscles.
- Flexibility / yoga – vital for keeping the body in good condition and for avoiding injuries through tight muscles and joints.
- Recovery / be kind to yourself – as we age and our hormones reduce we need more time for recovery. Muscles, tendons and joints require extra time after exercise to repair and recover. It is a good idea to do gentle exercise or have a rest day between high impact exercise days, such as running or aerobics. Listen to the body and have a rest if you need it. (Although, this should not be an excuse to do nothing.)
- Massage – sports massage helps muscles to recover and can potentially guard against injuries caused by over-tight muscles. It’s also a great treat if you have been working hard with your fitness and sport.
- Take care of wasted calories – reduced lean muscle leads to lower metabolism, which means it is easier to put on weight. Take care with your calories intake.
- Eat more protein – protein is a useful aid to maintaining lean muscle.
More tips: How to stay fit through the menopause
- Take baby steps not giant steps – it is better to do something even if it’s a short walk or run, than nothing at all. Building up with smaller steps will achieve a bigger step in the end. Do little and often – and see where this leads.
- Go early – it always feels better if you have done a run, gone for a walk, or cycled in the morning rather than hoping you will have the motivation to do so later in the day. I find I lose motivation later in the end, unless I have arranged to meet a friend or head to a club session.
- Join a club – you are far more likely to stay fit if you belong to a friendly club, whether it is running, kayaking, SUP, cycling or yoga.
- Say yes to adventure – an adventure could be a dog walk in a new local place, a spontaneous wild swim, trying a new activity, such as stand-up paddleboarding or kayaking, or hiking a mountain with a friend. It doesn’t matter what your adventure looks like but always try to say yes to an adventure if someone invites you.
- Don’t worry about speed – it is better to be out there doing some kind of exercise than at home worrying you will be too slow. I have had to adjust my mindset as I have aged and gone through the menopause. I used to be fairly fast and now I am fairly fast for my age. Some days I am slower than normal and I tell the person I am with that I need to walk for a bit, or slow my pace. If you have good friends they will understand.
- Likeminded friends – make friends with people who enjoy exercise. Even better still, make friends with women who are at a similar phase in life. There are several reasons why friends will be great for your fitness: If you commit to exercise with a friend you are far more likely to turn up; you can share how you feel with a good friend; you can rant with a friend if that is how you feel; you will know you are not alone when you are having a tough day.
- Keep talking – tell your partner and friends how you feel. It is good to share information about the peri and menopause, both to women and men and to people of all ages. I was shocked to discover the symptoms of peri-menopause and I wish I had known more as I went into my 40s. It is good to share information with people so we are all more informed. It is also helpful for men to have a better understanding of what women are dealing with.
- Seek advice and help – whether it’s from a medic or from friends. I discovered that saddle sores are more common in peri and menopausal women and so we should use lubricants or buy a female -specific saddle.
… And discover the skort!
I am well known for loving a skort (shorts and skirt combined). I wear Flanci skorts mostly and the bright colours and designs always make me smile. This, in itself, is a great motivator to get outdoors and be active.
Many women, especially in the menopause years, feel self-conscious and the skort is a brilliant alternative to shorts, as well as being a great way to cover up the bum and thigh areas. So many women prefer not to wear tight lycra shorts or tights in public and a skort is a good solution.
Also, when incontinence or random bleeding are issues, the skirt part of the skort provides the perfect cover for any accidents.