Weight Bearing Exercise for Post-Menopausal Women
During perimenopause, the time of transition leading up to actual menopause, a woman’s sex hormones estrogen and progesterone are fluctuating and dropping. By the time she reaches menopause – 12 consecutive months without a menstrual cycle – her ovaries are no longer producing enough estrogen to support regular monthly periods.
To date, I haven’t met a woman yet who thinks this is bad news. Because, let’s face it, a life with no more menstrual cycles, PMS, crazy mood swings, hot flashes or night sweats? Oh, happy day! The downside, however, is that low estrogen levels put us at risk for other serious health issues, such as osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis in Post-Menopause
Osteoporosis is a condition characterized by a thinning of bone tissue and loss of bone density. Prior to menopause, our body is constantly building and rebuilding bone through a process called deposition and resorption. After the age of 30, however, this process begins to slow down. By the time a woman reaches actual menopause, sometime in her 50s, her body is beginning to break down more bone than it actually produces.
In the years post-menopause, many women begin to lose as much as 20 percent of their bone mass, with 1 in 5 actually developing osteoporosis. Half of women – a whopping 50% over the age of 50 - will fracture a hip, wrist, or vertebrae in the post menopause years.
While the statistics and science certainly appear to be against us, we do not have to accept osteoporosis and bone fractures as a given in our post-menopausal years. By eating a diet rich in bone health minerals such as calcium, and engaging in exercise which encourages bone growth and strength, we can help our bodies continue to build and strengthen bone.
Weight Bearing Exercise & Diet Increases Bone Density
We all know that whatever you don’t use, you lose. Without enough cardiovascular exercise, for example, our heart muscle becomes less efficient. Without enough exercise to work our muscles, we lose tone. Without keeping our mind active, our brain function begins to suffer as well.
Likewise, for our bones to stay strong and healthy, we have to subject them to exercise that apply pressure and weight to slow mineral loss and build density. For most of us, the easiest activity to do that would be walking. In fact, according to the American Osteopathic Association walking is the best form of exercise for post-menopausal women.
If you prefer other activities, however, dancing, low-impact aerobics, stair climbing, and even gardening are excellent alternatives. Strength training with free weights, machines, resistance bands, or just good old-fashioned push-ups, are also an excellent way to build bone density without stressing aging joints.
Calcium rich foods such as yogurt, milk, and orange juice are essential for women in the post-menopause years. Greens such as kale, spinach, and turnip greens are an excellent source of calcium, along with cheddar cheese, and Swiss cheese. Some fish are also good sources of calcium, such as sardines and salmon.
It’s also important to have enough vitamin D in your diet so that your body can properly absorb calcium. While exposure to sunlight enables your body to produce vitamin D, as we get older our body produces less. Consequently, many physicians recommend taking supplements of both vitamin D and calcium.
It is also important to note that if you smoke or drink alcohol in excess, it can interfere with your body’s ability to properly absorb calcium and vitamin D.
Regular Screening is Essential!
Regular bone density measurements are a must for every woman in her post-menopausal years. It is a simple, painless test which can be performed in your doctor’s office in less than 15 minutes. After the age of 65, it is strongly recommended that you are screened once a year, especially if you have other risk factors such as cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption.
And finally, before you begin any exercise program, see your physician for a fitness assessment and bone density measurement.