More and more women are continuing to lace up their sneakers to train and race hard later in life. But the physiological changes brought on by menopause can be tricky to navigate for many women, particularly when paired with the physical toll of training. Fortunately, the challenge of training through menopause can be worth it in the long run—research shows that active women fare better than their sedentary counterparts later in life.
Much like how each woman’s menstrual cycle is different, symptoms associated with menopause will vary between individual women. If you want to learn more about what happens to your body during menopause and why, you will definitely want to give this blog a read.
Aerobic capacity changes as we age—but there’s good news
Though we can certainly make lifestyle choices to hedge the aging process, the physiological changes we face as we age eventually become unavoidable. This is particularly true for exercise and physical output due to decreases in objective measures like
Other changes that will impact aerobic capacity and performance include:
Biomarker changes to expect during menopause
Certain biomarker changes are to be expected during menopause and during aging in general. Here’s what to anticipate and the causes of some of these transitions.
Testosterone plays an important role in maintaining an active lifestyle, as it helps maintain energy levels, muscle development, and bone health. But both general aging and menopause can cause ovarian testosterone production to decrease. Fortunately, moderate testosterone will still remain in circulation due to continued production by the adrenal glands.
Sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) increases
Calcium becomes king
As one of the major structural components of bone,
Vitamin D decreases
Aging can cause a decrease in the formation of active vitamin D in our bodies, so your levels during menopause will reflect this. But vitamin D is incredibly important during the menopausal transition and beyond; it’s necessary for calcium absorption and the building of new bones. Even if you’ve never taken a vitamin D supplement before, this might be the time to do so. A blood test will help to identify which dosage is appropriate for you.
Exercise can help mitigate weight gain associated with aging in postmenopausal women
Weight gain—particularly around the abdomen—is a dreaded but a common challenge for women experiencing menopause. This change can actually independently impact health, as abdominal weight gain is associated with a higher risk of certain chronic diseases, including coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and hypertension.
And so, exercise during menopause is of acute importance for weight maintenance. A study from the American College of Sports Medicine found that higher levels of physical activity in middle-aged women were associated with less weight gain during menopause. Another study showed that, though fat-free (muscle) mass did not differ between pre- and postmenopausal female runners, post-menopausal women had higher body fat percentages and fat mass in comparison.
Despite this finding, staying active was still beneficial—postmenopausal women who participated in regular exercise had lower body fat percentages, fat mass, waist circumference and abdominal fat than those who did not. The takeaway? Though some weight gain around the time of menopause may be unavoidable, regular exercise can still be a mitigating factor.
Some high-impact tips for staying active through menopause
So what are the best ways to emerge from menopause feeling most like your premenopausal self? Though the physiology of menopause is complicated, you can find comfort in knowing some of the most powerful actions you can take are the simple, tried and true ones.
In addition to the benefit of weight management, research indicates that
Adequate hydration is obviously key for an active person. But this is especially true for post-menopausal women, as dehydration is more common in older individuals due to physiological changes during the aging process. First, due to slower kidney function and hormonal responses, the rehydration process is slower. Interestingly, the thirst sensation both during exercise and in everyday life is also dampened in postmenopausal women. Older women are also slower to excrete water, putting them at increased risk for
Focus on a balanced diet
While it is
Certain micronutrients also help to support metabolic and physical function. Here are a few of particular importance to active postmenopausal women:
What’s the best way to make sure you aren’t falling short? Focus on a balanced diet with a variety of whole foods and adequate calories.
The takeaway on the effects of menopause on endurance training
The physiological changes experienced during menopause and aging are inevitable, but this doesn’t have to put a halt to your active lifestyle. Knowing how your biomarkers will change and how to adapt your nutrition, hydration, and training can help you to achieve your health and wellness goals through this phase of the life cycle.
Stevie Lyn Smith, MS, RDN, CDN
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