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Menopause: How to Live Through the "Change"

Exercise is key to quality of life after menopause.

The average lifespan of the human population has been extended with the help of the development of societies. As of the year 2010 an average woman’s life expectancy is 81.1 years and a man is 76.2 years of age. The common denominator for the difference in the life expectancy for men and women is the ability to bear children and the hormones associated with maintaining healthy pregnancies.  In other words women are at an advantage with the ability to produce estrogen and progesterone. 

However, the length of years after childbearing is surpassing the childbearing years. With the increase in years later in life there has been an increase in disease for women. The key to improving the quality of a woman’s life after childbearing is understanding the phase from menstruation to postmenopause, known as menopause. Also learning what needs to be done such as exercise, nutrition and stress management to improve the quality of life for women during menopause.

Life before and after menstruation is often discussed in great detail but there is still a lack of understanding on how environmental factors may influence the timing and symptoms of what women call “The Change”.  However, what is beginning to be understood is there are phases of change that exist after menstruation and before postmenopause that are called perimenopause and menopause. The biologic process of menopause is the process when a woman’s eggs slow their production of estrogen and progesterone. In general women between the ages of 40 and 50 should experience the phases where the menstrual cycle begins to slow which is termed perimenopause, to the full onset of menopause.  

Ironically a woman is still capable of getting pregnant during this phase of her life.  It is the stage when she is unable to get pregnant that is categorized as postmenopause, or when the eggs truly stop production. The factors that influence a woman’s body into menopause is still under discussion.  However, there is a blood test that can read levels of estrogen and progesterone in a woman’s body to help indicate the onset of menopause.

So, the details of menopause exist in the symptoms that can pop up, then disappear, or drag on for years. The key to truly understanding menopause is learning about the possible symptoms and health risks. 

Here is a short list of possible symptoms of menopause:

  • Sporadic menstruation
  • Hot flashes
  • Increased sweating
  • Depression
  • Mood fluctuations
  • Sleeplessness
  • Joint aches and pains
  • Heart palpitations
  • Forgetfulness
  • Increased body fat around the midsection

As is indicated by most research, exercise is advocated throughout life for the longevity and continued health of all humans.  However when it comes to menopause, a physically active female, may or may not experience less or more of these symptoms.  A woman who pursues resistance or weight training a minimum of 3 to 5 days a week, has greater success in reducing, managing and or eliminating the effects, than a woman who doesn’t include resistance training or who doesn’t exercise at all. 

Each woman experiences menopause in her own way and may never have any symptoms other than a sporadic menses.  However, some women can suffer from many of these symptoms and not really know how to manage all at once.  A woman could experience these symptoms for 5 years or the rest of her life.

As a woman transitions into menopause the decrease in estrogen puts a woman at greater risk for heart disease, diabetes, sarcopenia, and stroke. The most recent research has shown that management of symptoms and the further prevention of possible disease, requires a healthy lifestyle which includes resistance training, stress reducing exercises and proper nutrition. 

Although a woman may not experience external symptoms associated with menopause the decrease in estrogen can still set her up for possible disease. So again, the research leads to the inclusion of resistance training, stress reducing exercise and proper nutrition to reduce her risk of disease associated with menopause.

Although menopause and postmenopause are a natural part of a woman’s life, managing these symptoms and side effects can be life altering.  If a woman can incorporate a healthy exercise regime into her lifestyle, either before or during menopause, she can improve or even eliminate the negative side effects. The next stage of a woman’s life should be one of exploration and rediscovery not one of disease and misery. 

Resources

“Strength training during Menopause” by Barbara Bushman, Janice Clark-Young, and the American College of Sports Medicine

“Relationship between physical activity and menopausal symptoms” by AC de Azevedo Guimarães

“Effect of physical activity on menopausal symptoms among urban women.” Nelson DB, Sammel MD, Freeman EW, Lin H, Gracia CR, Schmitz KH. PubMed.gov

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