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Women changing type of exercise during perimenopause and menopause

What Is The Best Type Of Exercise For Menopause Transition? - Carly Corrigall

carly corrigall fitness q&a specialist Jun 02, 2023

If, like me, you’re experiencing symptoms of perimenopause, you may be wondering what this means for your training. Many women get in touch with me to say that they feel like the exercise they’ve been doing for years is no longer working for them and they are feeling as though they are going backwards! This is totally normal but it doesn’t have to feel this way…. Now is a great time to shake things up. 

Why do we need to train differently in perimenopause? 

I think it’s useful here to think about why our bodies become fitter and stronger because of exercise. 

Put very simply, when we exercise, it puts our bodies under stress.  Our body then gets the signal that it needs to adapt so that it can manage this stress better next time.  

If we are sticking in our comfort zone and doing what we’ve always done, there is no signal to the body to make an adaptation, so we won’t necessarily become stronger or fitter. In fact, we may find our strength and fitness plateauing. 

Oestrogen and testosterone are “growth” hormones which aid in this process of adaptation, so if they are in shorter supply (as they are during the menopause transition), the body needs a bit of extra stimulus to adapt.  We can do this by training differently, which creates that trigger for the body to make those physiological adaptations to exercise. 

If you’re reading this and the words “stress” and “comfort zone” are leaping off the page at you, then please don’t be put off! Yes (time for some tough love!) we might have to switch up how we’re training during perimenopause so that we work a little harder, but, critically, this is going to mean you spend less time exercising (which is a massive bonus in my book!). Also, we need more than ever to allow ourselves proper time to rest, recover and refuel, without feeling any guilt about this, in fact I would positively encourage it. 

What does this mean in practice?  

To trigger the right training response in your body, you want to be working at a level where you can’t hold a full conversation (but could possibly manage a word or two). It should feel like hard work, and this may feel challenging to begin with, but stick with it! 

Intervals - little bursts of movement, followed by short rest periods, are ideal for triggering gains in fitness and to change our body composition, creating more lean tissue and tapping into our fat stores. If we can pick movements which also involve us moving our bodies in lots of different directions (side to side, forwards and backwards, rotating etc) and doing some plyometric (jumping) work, then this is also fantastic for our connective tissue and bones, too. 

Intervals are hard work, so doing a session once or twice per week will be plenty for most of us. Remember if you’re new to this type of exercise, then what matters is that you are working hard enough for YOU. Start at your own level, check in with how you’re feeling throughout and never be afraid to take a lower intensity option if you find that is sufficiently challenging.  

Lift weights (and make them heavy!) 

It’s no big secret to the women who train with me that I LOVE lifting weights and strength training. If you’re not already doing so, perimenopause is the time to start. I promise it won’t make you bulky (unless that’s what you’re aiming for, in which case - go for it!) and your muscles, bones and connective tissue - your ligaments, tendons and fascia - will thank you for it. One of the main goals my personal training clients have when they come to me is to “tone up” and by far the most effective way to do this is to lift weights.  

You may have done classes in the past which involve lifting relatively light weights but for quite a few repetitions. Whilst these sessions can be fun, they are largely based on building endurance in the muscles, which is not really what we should be prioritising as we head into perimenopause. Now’s the time to prioritise our strength - we need to be strong to improve our posture and stability, increase our metabolism, improve our bone health…. I could go on as the benefits are so many and varied but you get the gist! 

As I mentioned before, we need to put our bodies under enough of a load that they think “hmmm, this is tough, I’d better make some changes behind the scenes so that we can manage this better next time”. When we’re training strength, rather than endurance, we want to be using a weight that is sufficiently heavy so that we can only manage a small number of repetitions before we need a break. 

Make sure you start slow and light and build your strength up gradually. If you’re completely new to strength training, I’d suggest beginning without weights and doing some exercises using just your own bodyweight (squats, lunges, press ups, tricep dips etc.). You could also book a session with a personal trainer, so that they can check your technique and get the basics right before adding any extra load. 

Anything else? 

As you may know, I am a runner. In fact, I love running, it is my “me time” away from everyday life and fantastic for my mental health. I admit that a nice slow plod doesn’t really fit into the types of training I’ve outlined above. You might love running too, or your “thing” might be yoga or Pilates; going for long walks; or cycling or swimming. Please don’t stop doing these activities.  

It’s also vital that we move for how good it makes us feel, as exercise is so much more than ticking a box! I think this is particularly important in the perimenopause period as we need that mood boost from doing something you really enjoy more than ever. Personally, I just make sure that my “easy” running days really are easy, so I am fresh enough for my longer runs, strength work and intervals.  

Of course, not every type of exercise will be suitable for every person and it’s a good idea to speak to a health professional if you’re brand new to exercise or have any worries or health concerns. My inbox is always open for questions too, so please do get in touch - we’re in this together! 

 

For more fitness advice tailored to your body during perimenopause and post menopause from Carly Corrigall -  click the image below: 

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