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Exercise Your Way Through Menopause

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Older woman working out

Menopause can be an uncomfortable transitional phase in a woman’s life. Marking the end of the menstrual cycle, menopause typically begins in women aged 40-50. Common symptoms can include hot flashes, osteoporosis, fatigue and sleep disturbances among other things. But exercise can help! Cooper Fitness Center Director of Fitness and Professional Fitness Trainer Mary Edwards, MS, explains how exercising is important before, during and after this phase of life. 


Our bodies change as we age
As we age, estrogen and progesterone, important hormones that help regulate the body, decrease and remain low post-menopause. The imbalance of these hormones is responsible for perimenopause and menopause symptoms. This downward slide in hormones dramatically affects: 

  • Functional Strength: Lean tissue, bone strength and muscular contraction decrease
  • Metabolic and Cardiovascular Health: Insulin sensitivity, glucose usage and cardiovascular health decrease
  • Brain Health: Cognitive decline can occur including increased forgetfulness and reduced verbal processing speed
  • Weight: Waist circumference can increase causing other health issues if poor lifestyle choices are made 

“Start now,” says Edwards. “Do not wait for symptoms and signs of menopause to arrive to start exercising.” Implementing a well-rounded strength training and cardiovascular exercise routine is one of the best things you can do as you age to prevent osteoporosis, muscle imbalances and cardiovascular disease.

Moderate-high intensity exercise
Exercise promotes heart and brain health while also reducing symptoms of menopause. “The goal of exercise before, during and after menopause is to target the major muscle groups to maintain lean mass and build strength. Weight-bearing exercises are essential in helping maintain bone mass,” says Edwards. As with any type of exercise, be mindful of your fitness level and limitations. Exercise should be part of your daily routine—breaking it up into small, 15- to 20-minute increments can make it easier to complete.

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), strength training and challenging steady-state cardio are efficient ways to maintain a healthy body weight and keep menopausal symptoms at bay. Cardio should be performed at 60-85% of your max heart rate. You can use the equation from the American College of Sports Medicine to calculate your estimated max heart rate: 208 – (0.7 x age). Practicing steady-state cardio and HIIT training supports optimal cardiovascular health.

For strength training, target major muscle groups such as the glutes, chest, back, core and legs. Four to six sets of eight to 10 reps is ideal when strength training but this will vary based on your fitness level. Incorporate exercises from each of the following exercise movement groups to form a complete routine:

  • Lift: Dumbbell or kettlebell deadlift (traditional, offset stance, etc.)
  • Carry: Farmer carry, balance walk on a line, one-arm carry
  • Press: Half-kneeling overhead press, single side overhead press
  • Pull: Traditional row, lat pulldown, assisted pull-up

For a video demonstration of strength training exercises targeting the major muscle groups, watch the Exercise Move.

These exercises are just examples of weight-bearing movements but there are many others that can be performed.

Staying motivated
It can be hard to stay motivated during this transitional phase of life but having a support system in place can help. “Anchor into your fitness community. They’ll be able to give you the support you need when you aren’t feeling motivated,” says Edwards. Getting involved in activities such as group exercise classes can help you meet people going through similar experiences and have people to turn to in times of struggle.

“When entering and exiting menopause, it is important to know and understand the whole you,” says Edwards. Knowing and understanding metabolic health measurements such as fasting glucose, HDL cholesterol, triglyceride levels, blood pressure, bone density and waist circumference can help identify what lifestyle changes should be made. Additionally, understanding mood, sleep, recovery and nutrition are important when trying to reduce menopausal symptoms. A professional fitness trainer can help you create a specific exercise plan based on your fitness level to help you relieve the symptoms and effects of menopause.

Start now. Whether you are experiencing pre-menopausal symptoms or are currently going through it, exercise can help reduce your symptoms and prevent additional health issues from arising. Exercising not only helps reduce the symptoms of menopause, it also helps you maintain a healthy body mass index, supports cardiovascular and brain health and prevents chronic disease—benefits regardless of the stage of life you’re in.

For more information about Cooper Fitness Center or to schedule a session with a Professional Fitness Trainer, visit or call 972.233.4832.