October is World Menopause Month and this year’s theme is Cardiovascular Disease. In the UK around 82,000 women die from cardiovascular conditions per year - more than twice as many women die from heart attacks than breast cancer.
Menopause is a natural biological process marking the end of a woman's reproductive years, typically occurring in her late 40s or early 50s. It is a significant life transition accompanied by various physical and hormonal changes. One of these hormonal changes is the drop in oestrogen levels - something which research has found has a large impact on cardiovascular health.
How does Menopause impact cardiovascular conditions?
Pre-menopausal women have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. It is believed this is because oestrogen has a protective effect on the cardiovascular system by helping to maintain cholesterol levels, keeping good cholesterol levels high and bad cholesterol levels low.
In perimenopause and menopause, oestrogen levels drop leaving the cardiovascular system vulnerable to damage as cholesterol levels go unchecked.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is known to help protect the cardiovascular system by replacing the oestrogen the body is lacking. Lifestyle changes can help, as well to ensure a healthy mind and body, prevent weight gain and support the cardiovascular system.
Why is exercise important during (peri)menopause?
Exercise is especially important to maintain a healthy cardiovascular system. Any activity that causes muscles to work harder and burns calories is classed as exercise. Swimming, running, walking, gardening are a few examples of cardiovascular exercise.
There are many reasons to exercise in menopause including:
- Weight Management: Menopause often brings about changes in metabolism, leading to weight gain, especially around the abdominal area. Regular exercise, including both cardiovascular and strength training, can help manage weight and prevent the accumulation of visceral fat, reducing the risk of chronic diseases.
- Bone Health: The hormonal changes during menopause can contribute to a decline in bone density, increasing the risk of osteoporosis and fractures. Weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, jogging, or resistance training, stimulate bone formation and help maintain bone density, promoting skeletal health.
- Mood Regulation: Hormonal fluctuations during menopause can impact mood and contribute to symptoms of anxiety and depression. Exercise has been shown to release endorphins, the body's natural mood lifters, helping alleviate symptoms of mood disorders and enhancing overall mental well-being.
- Hot Flash Relief: While the exact mechanisms are not fully understood, some studies suggest that regular physical activity may reduce the frequency and intensity of hot flashes, a common and often bothersome symptom of menopause.
- Cardiovascular Health: Estrogen plays a protective role in cardiovascular health, and its decline during menopause can increase the risk of heart disease. Exercise supports cardiovascular health by improving blood circulation, reducing blood pressure, and lowering cholesterol levels
Additional reasons for exercise are for maintaining healthy skin; improving brain acuity and memory; helping to de-stress, relax and improve sleep; reduce chronic pain and improving sexual function.
How much exercise should I be doing?
The NHS recommends an individual should undertake a minimum of 150 minutes of exercise per week. As well as cardiovascular exercises an individual should try to incorporate at least two strength training sessions per week. These can include weight training, yoga, resistance bands, etc. This will help strengthen and build muscles and bones allowing them to work harder and develop a strong foundation to allow an individual to exercise harder and improve results.
There are many benefits achieved from exercising the main one being preventing cardiovascular complications, but in perimenopause and menopause, it is more important to aid in total physical, mental and emotional health and ensure longevity and high quality of life.
Menopausal women should pay attention to their bodies and adjust their exercise routine accordingly. It's important to choose activities that are enjoyable and sustainable to ensure long-term adherence.
Embracing an active lifestyle can empower women to not only endure but thrive during this transformative period.
If you have access to myTamarin virtual support with your employer and would like to discuss any questions around Menopause book a 1-1 appointment with a specialist at myTamarin via your company-specific landing page or app.
BBC, (2014) Why More Women Die of Heart Disease than Men. www.bbc.co.uk
British Heart Foundation, (2023) Menopause and Heart and Circulatory Conditions. www.bhf.org.uk
NHS, (2022) How to Improve your Strength and Flexibility. www.nhs.uk
NHS, (2021) Benefits of Exercise. www.nhs.uk
Tipane, J. (2023) The Top 10 Benefits of Regular Exercise. www.healthline.com
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