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workout tips for postmenopause: older woman deadlifting

6 Workout Tips For Improving Postmenopause Health

You may not see too many older women throwing dumbbells around on Instagram or rocking the latest workout apparel within the pages of fitness magazines—but that doesn’t mean this demo doesn’t have a place in the gym. 

On the contrary, women can—and should—make exercise a top priority as they age, including after menopause, according to physician Catherine Hansen, M.D., F.A.C.O.G., F.R.C.S.C., N.C.M.P., M.P.H., who heads Pandia Health’s menopause hormonal care offering. 

“Exercise after menopause can help individuals address and reduce the risk of some of the health concerns that come up following this transition,” Hansen says. Some of the big ones: osteoporosis, osteopenia, and sarcopenia. Indeed, one study published in the  Journal of Mid-Life Health found that a proper exercise regime can help reduce the risk of osteoporosis (a bone disease that involves declining bone mass and mineral density), which is the most common health issue facing older women. Further, another study published in that same journal found that as little as eight weeks of regular exercise improved the quality of life of postmenopausal women.

Exercising during and after this major life shift also offers significant mental health benefits. That’s particularly pertinent considering that about 40 percent of individuals going through menopause report experiencing symptoms of anxiety, stress, and depression.

Still, there are certain specific considerations that postmenopausal women should consider when putting together an exercise routine. Use these expert tips to create a sweat regimen that keeps you happy and strong for years to come.

    • ABOUT OUR EXPERTS: Catherine Hansen, M.D., F.A.C.O.G., F.R.C.S.C., N.C.M.P., M.P.H., is a physician and the head of Pandia Health’s menopause hormonal care offering. Alyssa Dweck, M.D., OB-GYN, is an obstetrician, gynecologist, the co-author of V is for Vagina, and Chief Medical Officer for Bonafide. Alisa Vitti is a women’s hormone expert, the founder of FLO Living, and the author of Woman Code and In the FLO. Dr. Judith Meer, C.S.C.S., P.T., D.P.T., is a strength coach and physical therapist with The Pelvic PT.

1. Talk With A Healthcare Provider

Broadly speaking, it’s safer to exercise than not to. After all, regular exercise has been linked with a longer lifespan, reduced risk of more than 40 chronic conditions and diseases, and improved mental well-being. 

Still, Hansen recommends that postmenopausal women consult with their healthcare team before starting any new exercise program to ensure they have a clear picture of any underlying health conditions, such as heart disease, that may impact which types of exercise they can do safely, Hansen suggests. 

It’s also worth checking in with an orthopedist or physical therapist if you have previously undergone any hip, knee, or other joint replacements, or had any previous orthopedic ailments, adds Alyssa Dweck, M.D., OB-GYN, co-author of V is for Vagina and Chief Medical Officer of Bonafide

2. Start (Or Continue) Strength Training 

An estimated 30 percent of postmenopausal people have osteoporosis, a condition wherein low bone mass means a heightened risk of bone fracture. Meanwhile, more than half have osteopenia, a condition marked by the softening of bones that suggests an increased risk for osteoporosis down the line.  

Prior to menopause, individuals have higher levels of estrogen, which helps regulate bone health and bone density by promoting the activity of cells called osteoblasts that make new bones, explains women’s hormone expert Alisa Vitti, founder of FLO Living and author of Woman Code and In the FLO. After menopause, estrogen levels dip, which means osteoblast activity dips, too. “So, in order to compensate and support bone health, people must lift heavy weights,” she says. 

Read More: 10 Strength Moves That Double As Core Training

You see, each time you put your muscles to work during a training session, they pull on your bones which automatically puts osteoblasts into action, Hansen explains. So, the more you put your muscles to work, the more bone mass these cells create. Research published in the Journal of Mid-Life Health found that exercise can help postmenopausal women maintain and even increase their bone density, as well as muscle mass. 

Better yet, it’s never too late to start. “Resistance training has been shown to improve bone and muscle mass for people even into their 90s,” according to strength coach and physical therapist Dr. Judith Meer, C.S.C.S., P.T., D.P.T., with The Pelvic PT. Whether you’re a few months or a few decades past menopause, lifting can benefit your bones. “If you’ve never strength trained before, just be sure to start where you are at and find a fitness professional who can show you the ropes,” adds Vitti. 

3. Rethink Your cardio Routine

Most people today who are postmenopausal or on the brink of menopause grew up in a time when women were not encouraged to exercise with intensity or heavy weights. As a result, many girls and women did not exercise at all—and those who did stick to long-duration, slow-and-go cardio workouts (think walks, jogs, bike rides, or jaunts on the elliptical). 

No doubt, this kind of cardiovascular training is better than no training—and there is some place in your workout routine for some slow-and-go cardio if that’s your preference. However, after menopause, longer-duration cardiovascular training alone won’t effectively keep you healthy—or help you manage age-related weight gain, according to Hansen. 

“Your metabolism naturally decreases as you age, so the same slow-and-go exercise routine that once worked for you will likely lead to weight gain post-menopause,” she explains. Evidence suggests that, on average, women gain approximately three pounds per year during the peri-menopause transition, resulting in an average weight gain of up to 20 pounds by the time menopause is reached. 

One of the best ways to avoid weight gain is to keep your metabolism revved, Hansen says. How? By putting on muscle mass, which is a more metabolically demanding tissue compared to fat. 

“Incorporating exercises like weight lifting, resistance training, and HIIT will help you build and/or maintain muscle mass,” she says. “Ultimately, this will help keep your metabolism from slowing and fight postmenopausal weight gain.”

As it goes, a recent review published in Frontiers of Endocrinology confirmed that the best way for people to fight weight gain post-menopause is through a workout regime that combines aerobic and anaerobic exercise. That’s why Hansen recommends that postmenopausal people adhere to the current physical activity guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine and CDC: a minimum of 150 moderate-intensity aerobic activities (think: running, cycling, swimming, hiking) and two strength training sessions per week. 

4. Start A Mobility Practice

You’ve likely heard of collagen, which is a popular ingredient in both topical skin-care products and supplements. The body naturally produces this important protein, which helps form our connective tissues and makes our muscles stronger and more pliable. 

Thing is, the body starts to produce less and less collagen as we age. Research actually suggests that the body begins producing about one percent less collagen every year after an individual hits 25 to 30. Production drops even further with menopause, leaving some people with only half their previous collagen levels around middle age.

Given protein’s protective role in fascia, diminished collagen levels can negatively impact muscle strength and mobility, which can lead to feelings of stiffness and declines in strength, explains Vitti.

Read More: How To Make Menopause Less Of A Menace

The good news: There are ways to preserve your mobility and starve off stiffness following menopause. A daily movement practice that encourages you to stretch and access your full range of motion can help offset the mobility lost from collagen levels dropping, says Vitti. Most local yoga and pilates studios offer lower-intensity flows that prioritize deep stretches and improved mobility over intensity, and you can also follow along with an at-home mobility program, such as Movement Vault, Pliability, or The Ready State. (You might also consider adding a collagen supplement to your morning or post-workout routine.)

5. Ditch High-Impact Exercise 

Declining collagen isn’t the only factor that can impact connective tissue and joint health post-menopause. “Estrogen acts as an anti-inflammatory, so when levels start to plummet inflammation throughout the body can increase, which can cause aches and pains such as joint issues to surface,” says Hansen. This should prompt postmenopausal women to limit higher-impact exercises in favor of lower-impact ones. 

As their name suggests, high-impact exercises put a high amount of force—equal to about 2.5 times your body weight—on your joints. This is neither safe nor suitable for any individual at an increased risk of bone or muscle damage, including those who are postmenopausal, says Meer. 

As such, she recommends that people replace high-impact exercises (think plyometrics and running) with lower-impact, lower-risk alternatives. “Lower-impact exercises like swimming, yoga, or cycling are more appropriate for postmenopausal people, especially those who have significant pain or joint mobility concerns,” she says. (FYI: Yes, strength training is also low-impact!)

Worth mentioning: There are additional measures postmenopausal individuals can take to help minimize joint pains, according to Meer. Strengthening the muscles that support the joints and consulting with a registered dietitian for any needed dietary adjustments are two biggies. You might also consider supplements that support joint health, such as plnt Turmeric Joint Support Herbal Formula.

6. Find Some Workout Buddies

Time and time again, research has shown that having a workout buddy (or ten) increases an individual’s likelihood of adhering to their fitness routine. Not to mention, having an exercise partner has also been linked with increased mental well-being. That’s why Vitti recommends finding a workout community that resonates with you (whether you’re postmenopausal or not).

Exactly where and how you find your own workout community will depend on a variety of factors, such as your movement preferences, financial and locational access, and more. Generally speaking, group fitness yoga, bootcamp, and pilates classes are good options — just be sure that the instructor is adept at providing instruction to people of all ages and physical abilities (not all are!). 

If you are specifically interested in finding a group of other postmenopausal individuals to exercise with, you might check out your local SilverSneakers offerings, join Meet-Up groups for older exercisers, or start your own walking club. 

You might also be able to find an online community by following fit-over-50 and fit-over-60 role models on social media, says Vitti. “Following these people (like @trainwithjoan) helps you see that fitness is achievable at any age,” she says. Meanwhile, the comment sections are often ripe with individuals of a similar age (and menopause status) looking to connect with one another. 

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