Menopause is often viewed as a dirty word, due to the many deleterious effects it can have on women’s bodies, physical and psychological health, and the very way they view themselves.
A decrease in estrogen increases the body weight, particularly harmful visceral fat, brittle bones, depression, and sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass). At the same time, a decrease in strength and balance, and an increased risk of coronary artery disease are some of the more considerable changes. (1)
What if there was a way to counteract many of these effects?
As I explained in my previous article “Why it is important to be strong at any age”, there is a way. But it doesn’t come in a handy pill form. It requires hard work, consistency, and the sooner you start the better off you will be in the years to come. In another of my articles, I talk about how your health is your responsibility and how to tackle that.
Historically, many of the significant studies in the realm of strength training or resistance training (RT) focus on male subjects. Unsurprisingly, many of the studies on female subjects have focused on how strength training can help lower levels of body fat, because, let’s be honest, there is a lot of money to be made in female fat loss. (2)
However there has been a recent shift in studies, pinpointing other benefits of RT for females and more specifically a menopausal population. (3)
How getting stronger can help reduce side effects of menopause
- Muscle Mass – Increasing muscle mass will delay the onset of the crippling of sarcopenia (muscle loss). The only way to slow down the gradual loss of muscle that renders many of the elderly immobile is to actively work toward building muscle mass. (4)
- Bone density – The bone health benefits of RT are well established. This can positively impact many women as we tend toward higher rates of bone disease, especially post-menopause.
- Balance – Improvements to balance, flexibility, and coordination specifically in regards to gait. Stronger muscles, ligaments and tendons can lead to increases stability and balance, reducing the likelihood of falls and injuries. (5)
- Depression – Many women experience depression during menopause and exercise is a proven method to help alleviate depression. Strength training is an excellent way to build confidence, instill a greater sense of independence and provide a sense of accomplishment. These are all helpful tools to counteract the effects of depression.
- Disease – A 2019 study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that higher levels of skeletal muscle mass correlate to lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Increased muscle mass can also help the processing of blood sugar. This lowers the risk of Type 2 diabetes and other conditions that tend to go hand in hand such as heart attack, hypertension, dyslipidaemia (abnormally elevated cholesterol or fats) and stroke. (6)
- Pelvic Floor health and incontinence – RT if performed correctly can help strengthen the pelvic floor and prevent incontinence, something that many women find embarrassing post-menopause. (7)
Various studies seem to point to at least 2 strengthening and aerobic exercise sessions per week, combined with a healthy diet, as the magic formula. However appropriate exercise prescription should be based on the individual (8). Factors such as fitness level, heart health, mobility, injury profile, history, lifestyle factors goals and personal preference can impact what is an effective, sustainable and suitable training load. (9)
If in doubt seek out a qualified professional to help you navigate your course to a stronger healthier you for many years to come.
- Menopause: highlighting the effects of resistance training
- Resistance training predicts 6-yr body composition change in postmenopausal women Effects of exercise training and hormone replacement therapy on lean and fat mass in postmenopausal women
- Menopause and sarcopenia: A potential role for sex hormones
- Changes in muscle mass and strength after menopause
- Top 12 Weight-Training Tips for Women
- Why strength training is good for your heart
- How to Approach Strength Training During Menopause (And Why You Should)
- Exercise for health for early postmenopausal women: a systematic review of randomised controlled trials
- Exercise and Menopause: A Time for Positive Changes: The Physician and Sportsmedicine: Vol 26, No 12
Body Health. Lifestyle. Menopause. Mental Wellbeing.