By Clare Palmer
Menopause tends to hit ladies between the ages of 45 and 55, with a 2- to 10-year transitional period beforehand, known as perimenopause. Towards the end of perimenopause, the female hormone estrogen drops rapidly, bringing with it a number of symptoms. These can include mood swings and problems with memory and focusing, but also fatigue, hot flushes, night sweats, stress, anxiety and depression. Additionally, the drop in estrogen can lead to a decrease in bone density and reduced bone strength – osteoporosis, making the bones more likely to fracture.
This all sounds like depressing reading, but there are positive ways to help both mental and physical health during this period. Regular exercise has a huge mood boosting effect, and it also improves energy levels and confidence. Natural ‘feel-good’ hormones endorphins are released during both cardiovascular and weight training exercise, triggering a positive feeling often described as euphoric.
Osteoporosis can be helped by regular weight bearing exercise, for example weight training, walking, Pilates and Yoga to name a few. As with many health conditions, prevention is better than a cure so it really pays to build strong bones in our youth, but it’s never too late to start – weight bearing exercise helps strengthen the bones over time. If osteoporosis or osteopenia (the precursor to osteoporosis) are already present, you will need to adapt your exercise to avoid certain movements, and consulting your doctor as well as an exercise professional for advice is recommended.
Classes such as Pilates, Yoga and Tai-Chi deliver multiple benefits of strengthening the body, increasing mobility and flexibility, and improving balance. These ‘mind-and-body’ types of exercise also promote a sense of calm and relaxation, thus reducing anxiety, and this effect can be enhanced further if the class includes a period of relaxation at the end.
Although the word arthritis means joint inflammation, the term is used for many conditions which affect the joints, the most common being osteoarthritis (O.A.). Often referred to as wear and tear, osteoarthritis can affect any joint, but it often occurs in the hips, knees, lower back, neck, hands and feet.
A joint affected by osteoarthritis shows degenerative changes on the cartilage that covers and protects the ends of the bones. Due to this damage the joint doesn’t move as smoothly as it should. The cartilage wears out and becomes thin, causing the bones within the joint to rub against each other, and this leads to pain, stiffness, swelling and inflammation. Sometimes bony spurs can also develop in the affected joint, changing its shape and forcing the bones out of their normal position.
Correct exercise to keep the muscles strong and to mobilise the joints, is very important. Mobilising exercises help lubricate the joints by making the synovial fluid more viscous, enabling it to flood into the joint and form a better sliding surface on the cartilage inside the joint.
Finding the right balance with exercise is essential because too much may increase pain, but too little will cause the joints to stiffen and the muscles to weaken. Little and often is ideal so aim for a mix of strengthening and low impact cardiovascular exercise.
Strengthening the muscles around the affected joints will help stabilise and protect the joint. Pilates and Yoga are good examples of exercise that offers help with strengthening around the joints but without the risk of impact, which could exacerbate osteoarthritis.
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Sources: Arthritis Research UK, The Arthritis Foundation, The American College of Sports Medicine, NHS Choices www.nhs.uk
Founder and editor of FitNet.
Previously gymnastics coach, massage therapist and personal trainer with 20 years of experience. Former gymnast and dancer.