Walking. Running. Spinning. When you’re deep in the throes of hot flashes and night sweats, exercise is probably the last thing on your mind. But staying active—or getting into the habit—might be your ticket to a happier, healthier menopause.
Why sweat it out? Well, here’s one reason: A 2013 study published by Norwegian researchers found that greater physical fitness was associated with lower weight and slimmer waist circumference in women of menopausal age. But aside from warding off pesky menopause-related weight gain, exercising can actually bring relief to menopause symptoms. In a study from Penn State, when menopausal women took part in a four-month exercise regimen (walking or yoga), they reported a decrease in symptoms and improvements in mood and quality of life, compared to a non-exercising group.
So the message is clear: get moving. But what’s the best exercise for women-of-a-certain-age? With the help of Becky Williamson, founder of lifeSport Fitness in San Jose, California and a personal trainer who focuses on Boomer women, we’ve got the scoop:
Strength workouts: “Exercising with weights is the best thing you can do to build muscle, burn fat, and maintain bone density,” Williamson says. For sedentary women, muscle mass decreases at a rate of 10% per decade. To reverse that statistic, build muscle, and stay slim, Williamson suggests doing a weight workout 2-3 times per week for 25 to 35 minutes, focusing on full-body exercises like squats with an overhead press. Weights should be heavy enough that muscles feel fatigued by the end of your final set. “That’s when you’ll start to see results,” she adds.
Yoga and Pilates: Downward dog today and you could sleep better tonight. A 2013 study from The Journal of the North American Menopause Society found that women between the ages of 40 and 62 who did yoga for 12 weeks significantly improved their insomnia symptoms. More than that, yoga is great for strengthening your core, improving flexibility and relieving stress.
Tennis: Whether doubles or singles, Williamson loves tennis because it gets your heart rate up and can also double as a strength workout, thanks to all of the squatting, lunging, and rotating motions you make when hitting the ball. Additionally, jumping provides impact on your joints that keeps bones strong, which is important as osteoporosis risk greatly increases after menopause.
Swimming: If you have osteoporosis and need a workout that’s kind to your joints, hop in the water. Water workouts like swimming and water aerobics (there’s even aqua spinning!) can provide resistance without the impact. Additionally, it’s a great cardiovascular workout that torches calories and tones from head to toe.
Walking: Even if you work out on a daily basis, you still have to be active. What counts as “active,” you wonder? Research shows that exercisers can have the same heart risks as non-exercisers if they spend most of their day sitting. So here’s another reminder about taking small opportunities to fit in activity—and reach those 10,000 steps. Pick up lunch from a restaurant that’s a five or 10-minute walk, walk a couple extra blocks to public transportation, or take your dog out after dinner.