Menopause Exercise — The Benefits, The Do’s, and the Don’ts

By Naomi Braun, MPH, MSW • Published 11/2/2023

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Hanway

woman looking at her watch as she prepares to go on a run to maintain a healthy weight during menopause

You’ve heard it again and again — regular exercise is good for you. It can help lower blood pressure, improve heart health, keep stress at bay, increase energy, and so much more. But what if I told you that highly active people tend to have less severe menopausal symptoms compared to those who are less physically active? Now that alone is a reason to get moving!

As estrogen levels drop during menopause, many symptoms including hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, weight gain, and a higher risk of osteoporosis and heart disease often increase. And while there are many ways to cope with these symptoms, according to the National Institute of Health — “exercise is the only noncontroversial lifestyle modification recommended for managing menopausal symptoms.”

What are the basics of exercise?

Let’s start with the basics. When discussing physical activity, there are 2 types of exercises recommended, aerobic activity and strength training.

For most healthy adults, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend the following:

  • Aerobic activity. Get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity OR at least 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week. Moderate exercise includes activities like brisk walking, biking, swimming, and mowing the lawn. Vigorous activities include exercises such as running, hiking, tennis, and heavy yard work.
  • Strength training. Do strength training exercises at least two times a week. You can use weight machines, free weights, or resistance bands for these exercises.

The key to all exercise is to spread it out throughout the week. Also, keep in mind that even small amounts of physical activity can be helpful. Being active for short periods throughout the day can have positive health benefits in the long term.

women in a class learning self-defense gets regular exercise and training to improve their emotional well-being during menopause

What are the benefits of exercise during menopause?

Let’s dive into some menopause-specific symptoms that regular physical activity can help combat.

Weight management

A common concern during menopause is weight gain. The change in hormone levels as well as the natural effects of aging can lead to an increase in abdominal fat, sometimes known as “menopause belly”, and a decrease in muscle mass. The primary reason for this is a natural decrease in the size and number of muscle fibers in your body. In addition, the muscle tone lost from reduced hormone production is often replaced by fatty tissue deposits.

Less muscle mass can lead to a slower metabolism, which is the rate at which your body burns calories. Muscles use more energy than fat, so when you have less muscle, you’re burning fewer calories. Regular physical activity can help maintain a healthy weight or aid in losing weight by burning calories and aiding in boosting your metabolism.

Emotional well-being

Feeling cranky or sad and having trouble concentrating are also a part of going through menopause. But being active can help fight moodiness. Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins — hormones in the body that act as natural mood lifters. Endorphins can help alleviate stress and improve mental well-being.

Bone health

A decrease in bone density is another common challenge as you age. Lower bone density can lead to osteoporosis, a condition that puts you at a higher risk of breaking a bone. Doing weight-bearing exercises like walking, jogging, and weightlifting can help maintain and improve bone density. These activities help bones to grow and strengthen by stimulating the bones to produce more bone tissue.

Cardiovascular health

Heart disease is often a bigger concern after menopause, also due to the decline in estrogen levels. Regular physical activity can help improve heart health by lowering blood pressure, reducing LDL cholesterol and increasing HDL cholesterol. It can help strengthen your heart muscle and improve the heart’s ability to pump blood to your lungs and throughout your body.

Hot flashes and night sweats

Research shows that physical activity may help ease your experience with hot flashes and night sweats. During menopause, the decline in estrogen can impact your hypothalamus — the part of your brain that helps control your body temperature. While the exact reason is not fully understood, exercise can help to control your body temperature by sending signals to the hypothalamus to cool the body down. In fact, research has shown that being physically active on a regular basis can help reduce moderate to severe hot flashes. A good reason to keep moving.

Enhanced self-esteem and body image

Menopause can lead to changes in overall body shape, specifically a change in where fat on your body is located. The lower estrogen levels, along with the decline in muscle mass, forces fat to accumulate more in the abdominal area, leading to the infamous "menopause belly”. For some, this can affect their self-esteem and body image.

It’s important to keep in mind, however, that there’s a difference between how you’re feeling on the outside about your appearance and how you’re feeling about the changes in your body on the inside. Staying active helps boost self-confidence by improving body strength, tone, and overall fitness. Physical activity can also help you to feel more in control of your body, help you focus on the power and strength your body does have, and start to feel more comfortable in your body — especially as you experience all the changes that menopause can bring.

woman getting her daily menopause exercise by lifting weights on a medicine ball to help maintain and improve bone density

The do’s of menopause exercise

How much and when?

The CDC recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week, along with strength training exercises on 2 or more days a week. While that sounds like a lot, you don’t have to do it all at once. You can spread out your activity throughout the week and break it up into smaller chunks of time that work for you.

Start slowly

If you're new to exercise or haven't been active for a while, begin with low-impact activities like walking, swimming, or gentle yoga. Slowly increase what you’re doing and how much you’re doing it. Some activity is better than no activity at all.

Find enjoyment

Choosing activities that you enjoy is the key to staying motivated and sticking to a regular exercise routine. When you engage in activities that spark joy, you’ll look forward to your workouts and be more likely to prioritize them in your schedule. Whether it’s dancing, cycling, or hiking, think about what you truly love to do. This one is really important in being able to stick to a consistent routine.

woman gets her regular menopause exercise by playing tennis to stay active and improve her cardiovascular health

The don’ts of menopause exercise

Don’t start an exercise program without talking to your healthcare provider

Before starting a new exercise routine or changing up an existing exercise program, especially if you have preexisting health conditions, talk to your healthcare provider to make sure it’s safe and appropriate for your individual needs.

If you have joint pain, osteoporosis, back pain or other injuries, don’t do high-impact activities

High-impact activities, like running, jumping, or vigorous aerobics, involve exercises that include jumping and landing, creating an impact as your feet hit the ground. While there are many pros of doing such activities, there are certainly times when you should avoid them. You need to know your own body’s limitations, listen to them, and keep in mind any restrictions a medical professional has given you to help avoid injury.

If you’re dealing with joint pain, have osteoporosis, back pain, or are prone to injuries due to any other condition, it’s important to prioritize low-impact activities over high-impact ones. High-impact activities put a lot of strain on your bones and increase your risk of fractures and injuries. Instead, focus on low-impact exercises, like walking, swimming, cycling, and gentle yoga, in order to maintain bone density, improve balance, and reduce the risk of falling. Just because you’re doing low-impact exercise, does not mean you are getting any less of a workout.

Embracing physical activity during menopause is not just about maintaining health. It can also help combat many of the symptoms that you may be experiencing. So, lace up those sneakers, grab your yoga mat, or hit the pool — the path to a healthier and happier menopause begins with the first step.

Last Updated 2/15/2024



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