Pilates and menopause header

Menopause and exercise

What is Menopause?

Menopause is something every woman goes through and recently it has been a topic that has been brought much more into the spotlight. Although there is still some way to go it is great that women feel more able to talk about their menopause journey and hopefully feel more educated and empowered regarding the menopause. The average age of menopause for women in the UK is fifty-one. As our life expectancy has increased, women are living a large proportion of their lives post menopause. Being aware of some of the health implications that follow menopause is important to encourage everyone to live well for longer, and to do things that can help to improve our quality of life.

Perimenopause is what we call the time following the last regular period and when you may start to get some symptoms of menopause which may include irregular cycles, muscle aches and pains and mood changes, as our bodies adjust to the hormonal changes. Perimenopause can occur anywhere up to 10 years before periods permanently stop. During this time our estrogen levels can fluctuate which may mean some days you have symptoms and other days do not.

Menopause is defined medically by the permanent cessation of menstruation (periods), normally when it has been twelve months since your last period. This process happens to every woman but in some cases ‘induced menopause’ occurs through surgery, for example, after removal of ovaries or from chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Menopause symptoms

There is a wide range of symptoms that we can experience with the menopause which present both Physically and Psychologically.

There is no way of predicting the symptoms we may have and experience. For every four women in menopause, one will have no outward symptoms and one will have life changing symptoms.

Menopause can have a huge impact on women emotionally. Women can experience mood swings, fatigue, anxiety, depression, irritability, difficulty concentrating and lapse in concentration, all symptoms of menopause.

Physically there can be lots of changes happening too. Due to the hormonal changes that occur women may also experience muscle aches and pains, skin and hair changes, weight gain and headaches. Women may also suffer from vaginal dryness, pelvic floor muscle dysfunction and incontinence.

Education for women, friends, family, and work colleagues can help us to recognise these symptoms, seek help for symptoms and support people around us that may be experiencing them.

Exercise can help alleviate menopause symptoms

Exercise can have a positive impact on all aspects of health and can benefit lots of symptoms related to menopause. It is recommended that we try and achieve 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise and activity each week.

We know that the hormonal changes and symptoms related to menopause can reduce muscle mass and strength (sarcopenia), increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and the prevalence of osteoarthritis.

Working on a range of exercise that includes strengthening, stretching, weight bearing, balance and aerobic exercise are all important components to include for menopausal women and an important tool for health promotion and disease prevention.

Specifically strengthening of the pelvic floor muscles can also help to improve genitourinary symptoms that women may suffer with such as incontinence and pelvic floor muscle dysfunction.

Lots of women out there though find it difficult to exercises for lots of different reasons. For some people it is hard to find time or prioritise themselves to exercise or cannot find exercise that is accessible to them. For others there can be psychological barriers to exercise such as feeling embarrassed or loss of self-esteem.

Although there are lots of other forms of exercise, Pilates is a perfect exercise for women either perimenopause or post menopause that combines both physical health benefits and psychological well-being. I want to encourage all women to exercise and show them that it can be possible, fun and great for our well-being.

Mindfulness and Pilates

 Mindfulness is a way we can be more present in the moment. Mindfulness is a great way to help promote relaxation and stress relief and is often incorporated into Pilates practice. Deep breathing exercises can be effective in calming down your nervous system. Try sitting comfortably or lying on your back, closing your eyes and taking five deep, long breathes in and out. Whilst you are breathing bring your attention to your breathing, noticing rhythm and experience of breathing.

Here are some exercises to try:

Squats with arm reaches using weights in hands

Stand with your feet hip width apart. Inhale to prepare, exhale and slowly bend your knees and hips into a squat, keeping your weight back onto your heels. At the same time holding some small weights or weighted balls (0.5-1kg) reach your arms forwards to shoulder height as you lower into a squat. Inhale as you extend back up into a standing position pushing the weight through your heels.

Squats with arm reaches using weights
Squats with arm reaches using weights in hands

Leg pull in prone level 1 and 2

In a four-point kneeling position with your knees under your hips and hands just in front of your shoulders. Inhale to prepare, exhale and raise your knee an inch or so off the mat. Inhale to hold and exhale as you lower your knees back to the mat.

You can progress this exercise, starting with your hands slightly further in front of your shoulders. Inhale to prepare, exhale and raise your knees at the same time extending your legs bringing your body forwards over your hands into a plank position. Inhale to hold and exhale as you lower back down onto the mat.  

Leg pull in prone
Leg pull in prone level 1 and 2

Push ups – level 1

Staring in four-point kneeling with knees under your hips and hands just slightly forwards from your shoulders. Inhale to prepare and exhale as your bend your elbows and bring your chest towards the mat. Inhale to return to the start position.

To progress as above but modify starting position to  extend your hips into a modified push up position to start.

Press up level one
Push ups – level 1

Child pose

In a kneeling position, widen your knees and bring your feet together, reaching your hands forwards. Inhale to prepare and as you exhale lower your bottom down towards your feet, lengthening through the upper back and shoulders. Hold this position breathing in and out for 5 breath cycles.

Pilates child pose
Pilates child pose

Side bend

On your side with your upper body propped up on your elbow and forearm. Lift your underneath waist and ribcage away from the mat. Your hips and shoulders facing forwards, and your hips and knees slightly bent. Inhale to prepare and exhale as you gently lift your pelvis off the mat, forming a diagonal line from your head to your knees. If you can at the same time reach your upper arm above your head. Inhale to hold this position and exhale as you lower your pelvis onto the mat, simultaneously lowering your upper arm.

Pilates side bend
Pilates side bend

Lifestyle and menopause

Living a healthy lifestyle can have a big impact on menopause symptoms. As well as regular exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, smoking cessation and reducing alcohol intake can all help towards maintaining a healthy body.

Protein intake is an important part of our diet to help with strengthening. Taking supplements or food rich in vitamin D is also important for menopausal women, as well as foods rich in calcium. Avoiding too many sweets, stimulants such as caffeine, and spicy foods which can irritate the bladder are all helpful steps you can take to improve symptoms.

Keeping up your fluid intake it also important so we stay hydrated. Having a bottle of water with you during the day so you can regularly sip water and keep up your fluid intake to avoid dropping into dehydration.

Pilates for menopause

Pilates for menopause class

We have put together a class that incorporates these movements and more. Please remember to go to a level you’re comfortable with. Follow the link below to find the class.

  • sam

    Hi Vicky,
    As a post menopausal woman, I find your classes invaluable both for my physical health and overall wellbeing. I only started Pilates a few years ago when I found your website and You Tube channel, but can honestly say it makes a positive difference to my day. Thanks Vicky

    1. Vicky

      Thank you Sam. So pleased you’re enjoying the classes!

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