Exercise for menopause: it’s time to get moving

Resistance training is the best way to prevent loss of muscle mass, which is a major cause of disability in older women

‘One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well,” according to Virginia Woolf. To add to that, you cannot grow strong, be strong and stay strong without good nutrition and some exercise.

No single piece of a jigsaw presents the big picture when it comes to health after the menopause. No single factor such as diet or activity will determine your health overall. There are lots of small pieces of the puzzle that all come together to create the picture of good health.

One of these pieces is often overlooked by women before, during and after menopause – fitness.

Important at every stage of life, exercise is arguably even more so during menopause. Experts will list the many benefits – it can improve or maintain cardiovascular fitness; preserve or improve muscle mass; assist weight control and metabolism; stabilise or improve bone density; improve reaction time and balance; and assist psychological health and self-esteem.

For me, alongside these, the key benefit is that it makes you feel good.

Exercise is about setting yourself challenges and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, but it’s also about going at your own pace – some days that may be a fully fuelled run, other times a slow jog or calming yin-style yoga. Most importantly, however, it’s about finding an exercise you enjoy.

Whatever you choose, ensure it continues to challenge your strength, your breathing and your endurance. Once you start, you will find that the beginner’s yoga class or 500 metres that you found quite challenging soon becomes a kilometre or a power yoga session and one day, perhaps, a 10km run or a yoga retreat. It could be one of the most exhilarating and rewarding things you will ever do.

When exercising, eating adequate protein with meals is important to promote repair and build new muscle mass.

Typically, as a nation, we eat very little protein at breakfast and too much with our evening meal. A better distribution (about 30g protein per meal) has been shown to reduce the risk of sarcopenia, which is the loss of muscle mass and strength as we get older.

Resistance training is the best way to prevent loss of muscle mass, which is a major cause of disability in older women. Some women see its effects as early as their 40s.

Research shows that women over 60 have to lift weights more often than younger women to maintain their muscle mass and muscle size. In other words, the older you are, the more you may have to work to maintain your muscle.

Research has shown that a mix of carbohydrate and protein promotes a faster recovery, compared with a carbohydrate-only snack or meal.

The sooner you eat after strength training, the quicker the muscles begin to replenish their energy stores. Ideally, aim to eat a carbohydrate- and protein-rich snack within 30 minutes of exercise and no later than two hours afterwards.

A build-up of the free radicals that are generated during exercise can leave muscles sore and tired. Although regular training improves the body’s defences against free radicals, you can boost them further by eating antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables.

On a side note, don’t let hot flushes turn you off exercise. Note when they occur so that you can spot patterns of incidence. Then, plan your workouts and other physical activities away from those times. And drink plenty of water.

Reasons to move:


Exercise makes us happier. When we

are active, our brains release feel- good endorphins that bring a more positive outlook on life.


With many sports, the only person you’re really competing

against is yourself. When you are running or practising yoga, each practice is an opportunity to push your endurance a little. Beating your personal best is a feeling that is hard to beat.


A sense of belonging. Statistics show that activities

such as running, yoga, swimming, tennis and many others can bring new friends and a sense of community.


A combination of cardiovascular and resistance work, when done properly and consistently, engages muscles, improves joints and boosts endurance – making us stronger in every way.

This is an edited extract from Your Middle Years – Love them, Live Them, Own Them. Written by Paula Mee and Kate O'Brien, it is published by Gill Books on March 11th. €16.99.