NEW Series: Menopause Health and Fitness 101

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Editor's Note: Cathy Cram, M.S., is the resident maternal fitness expert on our sister site, Today's blog post is the first in a series on menopause health and fitness.

By Cathy Cram, M.S.

Welcome to Menopause Health and Fitness 101!

As both an exercise physiologist and a woman over 50, I’m on this journey with you, so I hope together we make this time of life as vital and healthy as possible. My focus is to provide you with the latest research on all aspects of menopause, and together we can explore how to fine-tune your lifestyle to help you reach your fitness and optimal weight goals.

One of my biggest interests is in how exercise can affect the menopause transition both physically and emotionally. I’ve found that when talking with other menopausal women, there’s been a big shift in how they view themselves, and at times feelings of depression have developed because of the changes they’re seeing in their bodies and personalities.

As a fitness professional, I know that regular exercise can improve mood, but for a long time I wondered if it could have the same effect during the roller-coaster period of menopause.

I found an interesting study out of the Journal of Menopause, in 2009* that explored the relationship between physical activity and quality of life during the menopausal years. The study looked at middle-age women who took part in a 4-month walking and yoga program (as well as a control group that didn’t exercise) and compared the results of psychological and physical test measures.

At the end of trial, the study found that increases in physical activity were associated with decreased menopausal symptoms, and those women who exercised during that period also scored higher than the controls in quality of life and physical self-worth assessment. In a nutshell, although this is just one small study, it’s exciting for menopausal women. If even moderate amounts of exercise such as walking and yoga can affect mood and quality of life, then it’s worth thinking about adding some sort of exercise to your day.

In the coming weeks and months, I’ll be exploring more studies on exercise and menopause, but for this first blog I’d like to use this study to motivate you to set some personal exercise goals. For those of you who aren’t currently exercising here are some starter tips:

  • Schedule exercise as you would any other commitment, then track your workouts and your mood using SparkPeople. (You can track your energy, sleep, stress, and self-esteem here.) I’d like to hear about your experiences with how exercise affects your mood, so feel free to post your comments here.
  • Begin with small, achievable goals. Working out for 15-20 minutes three days a week is a great starting point. (Walking is a great way to get started!)
  • Ask your friends to join you in your workouts and your goals. Having a workout buddy increases your chances for staying consistent with exercise.

    If you’re already exercising, congratulations! You’re on the right path, but you can help boost the quality of your workouts by tweaking your exercise and adding some interval and strength training to the mix.

    I hope you’ll check back for my bi-weekly blogs with information on topics ranging from bone health and strength training to cutting-edge techniques for boosting metabolism during menopause. I welcome your questions, so please post any suggestions you may have for future menopause topics.

    Catherine Cram, M.S. is the author of Fit Pregnancy For Dummies, and the owner of Comprehensive Fitness Consulting, LLC. Catherine’s company specializes in providing prenatal postpartum fitness information to health-care professionals. What questions do you have about health and fitness during menopause? Have you experienced any benefits from exercise during menopause?

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I am 58 and I have been extremely fortunate. I seem to have gone through menopause without too many issues, unlike most women (including my own sister and mother). Other than the rare hot flash I really have not experienced the symptoms that most women report having. I don't know this for a fact but I think that some of it may have to do with the fact that I was on birth control pills for so long. I have now been post menopausal for about 18 months now. Report
Besides being in menopause for about 2 years, I had most of my pituitary removed a year ago and am now taking steriods (low dose) for adreneal insufficeincy and am also now on Synthroid for Hypothroidism. I exercise daily (walk 4 miles, do 2 days of a one hour body contioning class and strenth train 2 days per week) and keep track of my calories, protein, carbs, calcium etc. Can you offer any other suggestions? Do you think biodentical hormones is something I should check into?
Thanks for all your great info. I'll keep checking back. Report
I am about to turn 60 and have had a real problem with bellyfat in he last 6 months. Would really like this addressed. My goal is to lose 50 pounds by the time I turn 60, but the scale doesn't seem to budge. Was wondering if hormones would help with that? Report
Great blog. I am 62 and excersie and do weights and eat within Sparks gidelines , have lost some weight .The fat is on my belly above my waist not the back or hips and willnot move any ideas on what i can do would be appreciated. Report
Thank you for the blog it is just what i needed. I am 50 and have been having all the signs of menopause. Hot flashes, night sweats, irritability, i still have periods but they are no longer regular heavy at times and sometimes a couple in a month. I don't really like myself because i don't seem to have patience with people and get angry much easier. I have friends who have been through menopause and they tell me that sometimes you don't get out of this phase. I hope they are wrong. I also find it very hard to lose even 5 pounds and that extra weight is sitting on my hips and abdomen. I have been trying to watch the calories and exercise more but it seems I am tired alot more maybe because I don't sleep as welll as I use to. I have put on 20-30 pounds in the past 7 months and nothing fights. I look forward to your blogs and reading everyones post, it helps to know there are others who are going through this with me. Report
Thanks Cathy and Spark people! I am 55 my last menstrual cycle was exactly one year ago! Great news to all women! This too shall pass we just don't know when. In the meantime read every book you can get your hands on by Dr. Christiane Northrup. In particular "Women's Bodies Women's Wisdom" and the one on Menopause. And keep on blogging glad to have joined Sparkpeople looking forward to checking in with you my friends! Report
Yay! I'm so glad you've decided to address menapause! I am 56 and have been suffering with night sweats for 5 years. I was on HRT for a short time and it helped very little and I just did not want to put that stuff into my body, so I stopped and decided to go to a Naturopath about 3 years ago to try something different. I had also been diagnosed with hypothyroid (double wammy!) and was gaining about 10 lbs. a year! My naturopath put me on a soy based hormone (Phyto B) which helped a lot. I have hardly any hot flashes during the day, but unfortunately the night sweats have returned somewhat. Hot, cold, hot, cold for about half the night. It really disrupts my sleep which can make me irritable and is linked to weight gain. The good news is I am 25 lbs. lighter since I started with my naturopath. He suggested going on a site such as Sparkpeople to help track what I eat and to help me stick to an exercise routine. It has been a very slow weight loss,but I've been able to keep the weight off and the scale is going in the right direction. Most of all, I feel so much healthier and happier! He said that with weight loss I would probably have less hot flashes. I really look forward to more information on this topic and hearing what works for others who are in the same boat as me. Thanks so much! Report
I am 52 and finally finished with my heavy periods last February. I haven't had one since. I exercise a lot and haven't experienced any problems - no hot flashes, no problem sleeping, feel good. Report
Hi Everyone-
The next blog will be posted this week, and is part one of a three part series on hot flashes lifestyle changes and treatments. There's a lot of information on this topic, and although not every treatment will work for your hot flashes, there should be some relief in one or in a combinations of treatments covered in this overview.
Keep your suggestions and comments coming!
Cathy Report
I went through menopause when I was 45. I'm 52 now, and my system seems to have calmed down. I do still get hot flashes... usually in the morning. My biggest complaint is the toll menopause has taken on my metabolism. It seems like I have to do twice as much exercise to get the same effect. It also seems to be harder to lose weight. Thanks for this series! Report
Well, now I really feel like I'm not alone. I'm 51, and started with the flashes approx. a year ago, they lasted a few months, then went away, but they are back again. I have found some relief from soy milk, and the flashes are getting less intense and frequent for the time being. However, I am having the worse time losing wt. It's always been a battle that I fought, but it's worse now than ever. I'm so committed this time because I refuse for this Florida gal to go through another "fat" spring and summer. Can't wait to see more on this topic. Thank you. Report
I'm 54 and been peri-menopausal for about 8 years. I don't take hormones, thank God. I have always been physically active, but it is definitely harder to lose weight, especially around my waist. I have also had the "are people really that stupid" attitude as well as memory issues. I am in a water aerobics class with people from my job and it does wonders for my mood. I am looking forward to learning more from this blog. Nothing I read addresses the mental issues in any depth. Luckily my hot flashes are moderate in nature. I have always been hot natured so I just keep a fan in my office and one aimed at the bed. ; )
Cindy Report
I went into "instant menopause" because of chemotherapy for breast cancer. I have never had a hot flash, mood swings, nor any of the symptoms of menopause except no periods. I know I am very fortunate. But I really want to start strength training, as I am seeing my mother, who has exercised all her life but never done strength training, lose all her muscle tone at age 90. Should I live so long, I do not want to be where she is! But I can't afford a gym membership nor expensive home equipment. Report
I am 53 and am in menopause, I deal with night sweats, hot flashes, anger problems and I find myself right now not knowing who I am anymore or what I want in life. I suffer from depression but it's controlled with meds and I know they don't cure everything. I sometimes lose the positive approach to life and have a hard time trying to get back to it. I deal with negative work conditions and that doesn't help me at all. I hope the next few articles can help me find a way to a better life style. Report
Thank you. I am looking forward to reading more in this series. I am 53 and having 1-2 periods a year now.... I have nightly sweats and exercise seems to bring on mild hot flashes. It's not the same as getting warm from the exercise as in the past. Report
My Dr told me that if one man could experience these "darn" hot flashes then there would be a cure by now or a least a whole fleet of Drs working on the cure. I am able to manage most of my symptoms, but the hot flashes.I can't wait to see if there is any new and exciting information on this. Report
Thanks, I look forward to reading more in this series. I'm 51 and I've been peri-meopausal for maybe a year now, went to my gyn when I started having periods 2 weeks apart and she put me on the ring birth control to regularize -- which worked and I had fairly regular periods until I got off the ring because I was having surgery. I had one period after that and then none for the past 3 months. The only other symptom I've been having is trouble going to sleep and staying asleep, and that's been bothering me, as I dont like taking sleeping pills on a regular basis. I exercise regularly (running average of 12 miles/week and yoga) which I've done since I was 37 and recently have been successful in taking off about 2o pounds, so I feel pretty lucky. But will continue to watch for your articles - very interesting! Report
Great timing! I'm 52 and peri, healthy and active, though 15 pounds heaver than I would like. Looking forward to reading more in this series! Report
I am 57 and had everything removed at 32. I hated taking hormones and felt like they made me fat so I just didn't take them. Now my health is at risk because I have developed Osteo-Penia and my scan last October revealed I am almost crossing the line into osteoporisis. I am just sick about it but decided to do something about it. I am currently take sottopelle (pellets) hormones inserted in my hips that last 3-4 months. I feel better than I have in years and no more hot flashes. On January 10, 2011 I weighted 150 pounds and today I weight right at 137 pounds. I am exercising every day and I think it makes a difference. Check it out on the net by just typing sottopelle and it will tell you if there is a physician who does the sottopelle in your area. I live in Chattanooga, Tennessee and there are 4 just right around my area. Check it out. I realize now the damage I have done with the yo yo dieting and no hormones, but I believe with God's help I can regain the bone loss, lose weight and feel like I'm 30 again. Report
Looking foward to more posts! Report
I had a hysterectomy 2 yrs ago and no matter how much I work out and change my eating habits, no matter how much water I drink, I can not lose the 40 lbs I've gained since I started the HRT. Some body please Help. Are there any Natural estrogen or progesterone that has no side effects. I think one of the side effects of the HRT is weight gain, nobody seems to have done a study on that. Report
So thankful for this blog. I had a hysterectomy when I was 40 and since then it has been more and more difficult to lose weight. For me I need to be more consistent with my diet and exercise. Report
The timing for this could not be any better! I hit menopause last year and exercise really helped me-little to no hot flashes or night sweats, but some insomnia. I've really been struggling the past couple of months to get back on track with healthy eating habits. I exercise almost daily for 45-60 minutes and love the way I feel afterward. Now if I could get that feeling about my eating habits I would be grateful. I know what I need to do as I did it before & lost 40 pounds. But after back surgery last year, I have gained most of that back due to my lack of discipline & a feeling of "I just don't care" anymore! Any help you can give would be gratefully appreciated! I look forward to your next blog. Report
The timing on this could not have been better. I am 52 and assume I am in menopause. I had a hysterectomy about 10 years ago, so really don't know how official I am. Anyhow, I went off my estrogen pills and now occasionally have a hot flash. At work I wear layers, so I just take off my jacket until it is over. I had pretty bad night sweats, but those are pretty much over. I recently gained weight, it just seems like I look at food and gain it anymore. I can't wait to read more. Report
I guess I'm in the minority here, but I've had very few symptoms and still don't think I've ever had a hot flash! Haven't had a period in 2 1/2 years and thought at first that I'd miss it, lol! I did notice that I cannot lose weight like I did before menopause, but I keep trying :) Report
I was peri-menopause at age 40, full menopause at age 45, and at age 52 now and post-menopausal, although I still experience occasional hot flashes. Report
I am 49. I started perimenopause two years ago. So my doctor put me back on low dose birth control which has gotten rid of hot flashes. Exercise (especially cardio) helps with my moodiness. But it still is very difficult to lose weight. Can't wait to see more blogs on this entire subject. Report
Sounds like I'm in good company! Glad to see this issue being addressed.

Yes, for me, I do see a direct correlation to caffeine intake & sleeplessness and/or night sweats.

I think exercise is helping me find equilibrium. However, the fatigue is dragging on me. If I get in a good workout, it seems like that's about all I can do on some days. That's not much help to my spouse & family as the household falls apart.

,,,this too shall pass...eventually!?! Report
I went through menopause about three years ago. Started out with very heavy periods, decreasing over time. About a year in, I started eating right and exercising. I believe 100% that this is why I did not have any trouble. No hot flashes, no mood swings. I went into permanent Pollyanna mode. Even today, if I overload on sugary or fried foods, I will have a hot flash or two. I'm thankful that after a rocky start, my transition into menopause went very smoothly. Report
To EllieB123: Yes! I'm 47, and 3 years ago I was diagnosed with idiopathic urticaria, which is a fancy way of saying, hives of unknown cause. However, around the same time, things started changing (increasing rather than decreasing) with my cycle, and I became much more emotional almost all the time, crying for virtually no reason. I think it's pretty clear that there's a lot of hormone stuff going on, and that I'm perimenopausal, but it never occurred to me or my doctor that the hives might be related! So glad you made that comment! Now, I have something to talk to my doctor about.

Really looking forward to following this blog. Report
So many things have improved in my life with proper nutrition and exercise, but not hot flashes! They just go on and on and on... Report
Hi, I'm 47 and the hot flashes are happening almost hourly. Night time flashes are the worst. Thanks for the article. I'll be checking back regularly. Report
I'm 55 and been suffering through hot flashes and what I call "is everyone here stupid!!" anger issues for at least 8 years! They've been lessening so I'm hoping I am almost through and ready to reach the "other side". Just talking to friends and friends of friends, it seems that the heavier women seem to have more frequent/difficult symptoms. I wonder if this is because it is said that the heavier you are, the more estrogen in your body... anyway, I am very eager to hear more about dealing with menopause -- Report
Thank you for addressing this subject. I'm 53 yo, menopausal, and trying to understand what I need to accept and what I can change. My question is: Why can't I get the extra weight in my lower ab/hip area to budge? I exercise regularly doing cardio and strength training but nothing changes in that area. I look forward to reading your future articles. Report
I'm 62 and exercise changed my "menopausal life". I literally "tricked" my body into thinking it was younger and the symptoms almost completely stopped in their tracks. As I got more fit, instead of going with the weight gain and hot flashes; by fighting back with diet and exercise (no drugs!), I improved my life considerably. YEAHHHHHH! Report
I was already a believer that exercise helped with menopausal symptoms, but I got a hefty reminder during our recent trip to Australia. For most of the trip, we were doing a cycling tour with lengths ranging from 30-65 miles for 12 out of 15 days. During that time I experienced a few hot flashes, as was normal for me. I tend to exercise a lot, usually 6 days a week.

After this cycling portion, we still had a week in the country. During that week the most I did for exercise was snorkel and extensive walking. Suddenly my hot flashes were coming multiple times a day, and often much worse in intensity. When I got back home, I immediately got back into my normal exercise schedule and the hot flashes are back under control - thankfully!

I know this is only anecdotal evidence, but I'm sure the exercise makes the difference!

I hope you will address excess gas during this "interesting" time of life. This change is as bad as the hot flashes. Report
I can't wait for the hot flash article. I've started experiencing them again after not having them for over a year. My whole body is going through a definate hormonal change that I don't like. It's so hard to lose anymore weight too. Help!!! Report
I am 53 and have been in serious menopause for about a year. The worst is the hot flashes/night sweats. I have been known to have them every 1/2 hour and usually one an hour. It isn't just a flush it is soaking the jammies and sheets and a lovely wet ring around my shirt. Very becoming! Jogging with hot flashes isn't my favorite but the exercise always helps with the stress and mood swings. I do drink caffeine and have heard that if you eliminate that or at least cut back to the bare minimum (as someone said on her post here) it helps. I work long hours and get up at the crack of dawn (4 a.m.) so can't imagine going without it but if it helps...I am willing! Does anyone think cutting back caffeine helps? I am looking forward to more info. Thanks, Anne Report
This is a great topic! I am 53 and in menopause. I am 5'9" tall and was always on the thin side until I hit my 40's. I went into my 40's weighing about 145 to 150 (and felt that was heavy, because in my 30's I weighed 138) and by the end of my 50's I was up to about 190 lbs. Ouch! I've always exercised and always been good about what I eat (I have a B.S. in Dietetics). I never thought I would have a weight problem! On top of that I started having mood swings (once a month, I would become so sad and tearful, and could barely pull myself together, other times I was so irritable that little things would make me very angry---I thought I was losing my mind!) and periods that were so heavy that I was worried about becoming anemic! I also started having painful cramps like I hadn't experienced since before I had children. On top of all that, I was getting more frequent migraines that lasted for 3 days at a time and I just wasn't sleeping. If I managed to fall asleep, I woke up a couple of hours later and then couldn't fall back asleep. This was a lot to deal with and I used herbs, progesterone cream, and exercise to get me through, but finally reached a point where I talked to my OB-Gyn. He helped me make the decision to use hormones. I don't like the "idea" of using hormones, but this has made a huge difference in my quality of life. I joined Spark People about a year ago. I'm down to 177 now and still have a long way to go (I'd like to get back to 150), but in the last year I've made some significant changes. I'm down one dress size, I'm drinking more water, I'm eating less, I'm exercising more consistently (a new marriage and new job 5 years ago affected my diet and exercise more than I realized), I'm sleeping at night, I have less migraines, I don't have periods any more (thank goodness!), and for the most part I am the happy, energetic person I used to be! I had to learn to take time for myself and to take care of myself. Diet and exercise are a huge part of taking care of myself. I've changed the way I exercise (more stretching and change the type of exercise I'm doing more frequently----I also do smaller increments of exercise when I need to---if my life starts getting crazy, I can do 10 minutes of exercise rather not doing anything, because I can't fit in the 90 minutes I want to do) and the main changes I made in my diet were to eat less, drink more water and increase my omega 3 fatty acids (this has helped with pain in my knees). I also added glucosamine chondroitin and MSM to my supplements---again, for the knees. My knees were such an issue that I went to a sports doctor for a few months for help. Now I can do 7 mile hikes, and some lunges and squats as long as I don't overdo it. I dreaded menopause in my 40's, but now that I'm on the other side of it, I'm in a good place physically and mentally and happy not to deal with periods! Report
Hi Everyone-
I'm so excited to see such a great response to my first blog, and after reading all your posts I've gotten a lot of ideas for future blog topics. From your comments it looks like hot flashes are a big issue for many of you, so for the next blog I'm planning to offer some information on what causes hot flashes (or flushes) and what may help reduce the frequency of the episodes.

One suggestion to the person who posted that they felt hungry after a hot flash episode-it makes sense that you may feel that way, as the hormonal shift that can occur during the hot flash may leave you feeling depleted, and even may impact your blood sugar level. To prevent that from happening try eating a piece of fruit and a high protein snack right when you start to notice the hot flash starting. The fruit will help prevent your blood sugar level from dropping in the short term, and the protein will help keep it stable afterwards. Keep an "emergency hot flash kit" in your purse-an orange or banana and some almonds or even one of those vacuum packages of tuna will provide the perfect snack.
WENDYJOHN-Always check out any issues you are having with an irregular heartbeat. It's not uncommon for women to experience episodes of a racing pulse during hot flashes, but it's important to have your doctor check out any changes with your heart function.
Keep your posts and comments coming and I promise to read each and every one!

Cathy Cram Report
I am post-menopause now, however, still have flashing at night. Wake up with wet head and back for three years now, evn during the winter : (
Also agree with others that it is very difficult to lose weight. Anyway, looking forward to your advice and tips. Thank you : ) Report
Thank you for the information, I do know that exercise help a lot with hot flashes, while going thru this moment in life, I am premenopause, no cycle for almost 1 yr, April will be my big month (soon), the hot flashes beat me up daily, I will try yoga to see how much that help me out, cause I need all the help I can get--with the help of calcium w/vitamin D it slows the flashes down a little, my church member told me to take Lydia Pinkham, it has been a week now and I did not see a difference with the flashes......Thanks a lot... Report
Thank you for the information, I do know that exercise help a lot with hot flashes, while going thru this moment in life, I am premenopause, no cycle for almost 1 yr, April will be my big month (soon), the hot flashes beat me up daily, I will try yoga to see how much that help me out, cause I need all the help I can get--with the help of calcium w/vitamin D it slows the flashes down a little, my church member told me to take Lydia Pinkham, it has been a week now and I did not see a difference with the flashes......Thanks a lot... Report
I suspect I am in perimeno, but I have not been formally diagnosed....if there is such a thing.

I have been strength training with a dab of low impact things like walking, rowing, elliptical and walking the dog for 2 years (2x a week minimum with a trainer...) Report
Thanks for the informative article. I'm going through menopause and since joining this site I have been pretty active. I walk and do the treadmill a lot. Sometimes I don't feel too well but I keep going becausing I'm also losing weight. I'd like to know what good vitamins will you recommend for someone like me. Today I was at a pharmacy and I bought some B vits. with iron and a lady told me that iron is not recommended for women who are going through menopause. Is this so? Report
Great info! I went into early menopause 7 years ago at the age of 39 because of my breast cancer. My oncologist didn't want all that estrogen in my body, so I had to take Lupron injections. Report
I'm so happy that someone is talking about all the things that we go through during and after this time in our life.
I'm finding it very hard to lose any weight even though I have been exercising and watching what I eat.
Anything that you can share with us on this topic would be great!
I look forward to all your future blogs!
Thank you so much. Report
I'm thrilled to see this series being in the throws of perimenopause right now!
2nd TOM this month right now:( Report
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