Menopause brings about changes in various areas of a woman’s health. From shifting body composition and menstrual cycles to temperature fluctuations and emotional challenges, this period (which can go on for years) is often a challenging time. When it comes to menopause and exercise, women may find that what previously ‘worked’ for them, no longer gets the same results, and the type and intensity of their workouts might change. It’s important, however, for women to continue physical activity throughout menopause wherever possible, as the benefits of exercise can counteract some of the negative side effects that menopause brings.
Anja Lineen is a dedicated menopause coach and fitness trainer, based in Sydney. We asked Anja about the lifestyle habits that women can adopt to support their transition through perimenopause and menopause.
“Whilst all women will go through menopause, life events like health history, lifestyle, and genetics play a role in how the transition plays out for each individual. This means everyone’s approach to managing and minimising symptoms will vary.
There are, however, some basic lifestyle factors that everyone can benefit from including stress and mindset management, sleep optimisation, eating a nutritious, well-balanced diet, and of course exercise.
With life expectancy being into the 80s, there’s a lot of living left to do post-menopause. The things you put in place now, have a big impact on quality of life, health, and wellbeing.
Peri-menopause strikes at a busy time in a woman’s life and it can be difficult to know if symptoms are caused by the hormonal fluctuations or general demands of life.”, says Anja.
What's the difference between perimenopause and menopause?
Perimenopause is the early stage of menopause and is caused by fluctuating levels of the hormones progesterone and oestrogen. Lasting up to a decade for some women, perimenopause often presents as irregular periods. This might mean the menstrual cycle appears more frequently, or less frequently than usual, or a woman might experience heavier or lighter periods than she would normally. Perimenopause can cause cognitive symptoms such as sleep disturbances, mood swings, hot flushes, and brain fog, plus physical changes in body composition such as weight gain, bigger breasts, and even the need for slightly larger shoes!
Essentially perimenopause is the start of menopausal symptoms before menopause has actually kicked in. Menopause itself is classed as 12 months after the last menstrual period, but can also be caused by pharmacotherapies (such as certain cancer treatments), or surgery that affects the female reproductive system.
How does menopause affect exercise?
When hormonal changes affect body composition, it can be common for women to try dialling up the intensity of their workouts, in a bid to counteract any weight gain. During menopause, however, it’s especially important to listen to your body and avoid over-training, because it’s common for sleep to be affected during perimenopause. If sleep quality is poor, recovery is compromised.
As oestrogen levels decrease, so can muscle mass, which means not only can high-intensity exercise become more taxing, but it becomes more important for women in this demographic to incorporate resistance training into their exercise routine. Lifting weights not only counteracts the loss of muscle mass but also plays an important part in bone health.
The drop in oestrogen can also affect tissue such as blood vessels, and for some women, their blood pressure may increase. Cardiovascular exercise is still super important, but the intensity can be reduced a little. A short, high-intensity session can be well balanced out with a slower-paced, strength workout on a different day. For women in this stage of life, there should be a deliberate focus on body-weight strength, balance work, pelvic floor health, and mobility.
What lifestyle habits can help with menopause symptoms?
According to Anja, women can adopt certain lifestyle habits to help manage the effects of perimenopause and menopause.
“Sleep disruption is a common symptom of perimenopause and the resulting fatigue can exacerbate other symptoms like anxiety, mood, and weight gain. This is a great time to check in with some basic sleep hygiene tips. Think about getting a child ready for bed: it generally involves calming activities like a bath, stories and a regular lights off time. Adults can benefit from routine too – it signals to the brain that it’s time to wind down and prepare for sleep.”
Other tips include:
- No screens after 8.30 pm
- Dim lights in living spaces
- Cool and dark bedroom
- Minimise alcohol and caffeine consumption
- Avoid eating 3 hours before bed
“Managing stress is a key skill to learn.”, says Anja. “It starts with identifying stressors – learning to listen to your body and identifying where you feel stress and when you need a rest. Then create a list of things that minimise that stress.”
- Deep breathing
- Take mini breaks throughout the day – 5 minutes can be enough to reset
- Connecting with others
- Exercise – a short walk does wonders for energy levels and stress management
- “No” is a complete sentence – managing commitments to avoid burnout
“Mindset also plays a part – think about your expectations around menopause and aging. Women who approach this time with a positive outlook and clear vision for the future can have an easier experience.
Eat a balanced, real-food diet. This not only nourishes the body but also helps with waste elimination and the build-up of excess hormones in the body.
I love the Michael Pollen quote: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants” It’s a simple approach that most people can apply.”
What are the most common misconceptions that women over 40 hold?
According to Balance – a free app that provides women with advice and support during menopause, many women will undergo the hormonal changes of menopause earlier than you might think.
- 1 in 100 women go through premature menopause (that is, before age 40) naturally;
- 8 in 100 undergo menopause early due to surgical or pharmaceutical causes;
- 5 in 100 women enter menopause between ages of 40 to 45 years.
Anja says that the most common thing she hears from her clients is, “I’m not there yet”.
The fact is that perimenopause and the hormonal fluctuations that go with this phase can run for up to a decade before a woman’s period stops completely.
“Hormones start to fluctuate from early to mid 40s so putting preventative lifestyle factors in place sooner rather than later can be effective.
Many women don’t realise the symptoms they are experiencing may be menopause related. Anxiety, mood swings, itchy skin, and dry eyes can all be symptoms.
There are so many options available for women and finding the right doctor who specialises in women’s health is key.” says Anja.
“Menopause affects everyone: women experience it and men have to live, work and socialise with menopausal women. By learning and understanding this hormonal transition women can make better choices for themselves to take control of their health and wellbeing.
The conversation around menopause is growing in the workplace and society in general. By removing the taboo and recognising the value in women aged 40 – 50+, we go a long way to reducing the stigma and helping women flourish.”
Menopause is inevitable for all women, and some individuals, might spend up to a third of their life in the post-menopausal stage. It’s important to keep active throughout the perimenopausal and menopausal years, in order to set the body and mind up to best handle this challenging transitional period. If weight gain, energy levels, and difficulty maintaining the activities you previously enjoyed are causing a problem, it’s advisable to seek out specialist advice from both health and fitness professionals. Individuals who have specific expertise in working with women over 40 can help you navigate these years and develop health and fitness habits to help you get the most out of life.
About Anja Lineen:
With a passion for empowering women to lead healthy, vibrant lives, Anja Lineen is a dedicated menopause coach and personal trainer. With extensive knowledge and experience in both fields, Anja is committed to helping women navigate the physical, emotional, and mental changes that accompany menopause, while also guiding them towards achieving their fitness goals.
Recognising that menopause can be a challenging and transformative time for women, Anja combines her expertise as a personal trainer of over 17 years, with specialised knowledge in menopause coaching, helping women navigate the unique challenges of menopause, such as weight gain, muscle loss, mood swings, and decreased energy levels.
Anja is also a corporate menopause educator, bringing menopause awareness and training into Australian workplaces. She believes in the transformative power of education and empowerment, and her clients appreciate her ability to provide evidence-based information while offering compassionate support throughout their fitness and menopause journeys.
Anja is committed to helping women embrace their bodies, unleash their potential, and live their best lives during and beyond menopause.
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