Let’s face it, going through menopause can be tough.
From hot flashes and joint pain to weight shifts and mood swings, women can experience plenty of uncomfortable symptoms during menopause. These are mostly due to a reduction of estrogen and progesterone hormones in the body.
Those symptoms can be as mild as a slower metabolism to more serious conditions like bone density loss, which increases the risk of osteoporosis and broken bones.
There’s no magical cure for every effect of menopause, but there’s evidence that low-impact aerobic exercise like walking can help alleviate some symptoms for many women.
While a simple walk around the block is beneficial for overall health, there are ways to make those steps go further to remedy menopause-related issues.
Loss of bone and muscle mass can be a major problem during menopause.
Research at the University of Minnesota found that muscle cells begin to disappear with a decline in estrogen. As muscle mass decreases, so does the support the muscles offer the spine, joints, and other bones.
According to Dr. Stephanie S. Faubion, director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Women’s Health and medical director of The North American Menopause Society, adding weights may help maintain muscle mass.
Choose small hand or wrist weights that you can easily carry or wear while walking to increase strength in your arms and legs. Stick to 1 to 3-pound weights to build strength without risking injury.
While walking can be an effective way to maintain a healthy weight, it may be necessary to change the pace to improve fitness.
“There are benefits to interval training — brief bursts of running in between walking — to help with cardiovascular fitness,” says Dr. Faubion.
Start with short intervals — running or walking faster for 30 seconds and then returning to a regular pace for around 2 or 3 minutes. As your fitness level improves, extend the intervals to 40, 50, or 60 seconds.
Likewise, incorporating uphill walking into your route can increase a walk’s fitness benefits. Uphill walking can work with either smaller single hills or by using a moderate incline on a treadmill.
Estrogen helps reduce inflammation in the body, and as levels of the hormone decrease during menopause, many women experience increased pain.
Areas particularly susceptible to this pain are the joints of the:
Some women experience new or increasing joint pain or intensification of old joint injury aches.
But according to advice from the Mayo Clinic, 150 minutes of low-impact aerobic exercise like walking each week can help ease the joint pain and stiffness common during menopause.
If long walks are too painful, break them up into short 10-minute jaunts. Dr. Faubion says low-impact aerobic activity like this helps maintain muscle mass and support joints.
And be sure to stretch before walks to loosen up the muscles and prepare them for the impact of exercise.
“Exercise may be helpful for mood because it’s a stress-reliever and may be associated with the release of endorphins,” says Dr. Faubion.
A study by Brunel University London found that adding music to exercise can help elicit positive thoughts and ward off fatigue.
Music can help distract you from negative or anxious thoughts while also reducing perceived effort, making workouts feel more like fun than a chore.
Bone is living tissue, and to keep it healthy, the body breaks down old bone and replaces it with new tissue.
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A drop in estrogen during menopause produces even more bone loss. Bone loss can contribute to osteoporosis, a weakening of bones that can cause fractures. Walking can help fight the effects of bone loss.
“Walking is weight-bearing exercise, so it can be helpful for maintaining bone health,” says Dr. Faubion.
Weight-bearing exercises like walking directly engage the bones of the legs, hips, and spine, helping to slow mineral loss.
The best way to reap the benefits of walking is by incorporating it into your daily or weekly routine.
To meet the recommended 150 minutes of exercise each week, take at least one 30-minute walk 5 days a week.
To help build the routine, schedule at around the same time each day. First thing in the morning, during lunch, or after dinner are all easy-to-remember times.
When the weather permits, take walks outside for a change of scenery and to reap the added benefits of fresh air and sunshine.
If you prefer to exercise with others, find a walking buddy to help hold you accountable. Once you create the routine, walking becomes a habit you won’t want to break.
While no exercise plan is guaranteed to remedy all the uncomfortable symptoms of menopause, adding regular low-impact aerobic activity like walking can help you build a strong, resilient body and mind.
That mental and physical strength will help make weathering these changes in your body easier to manage, both emotionally and physically.