How Exercise Can Help You During the Menopause - Nicky's Story

Nicky is a 54-year-old busy mum, fitness professional and fully-fledged member of the menopause club! In this blog, she details her experience of the menopause and how exercise can help to manage menopausal symptoms. 

"I’ve been active all my life from dancing at an early age, working all over the world as a professional dancer and finally moving into the fitness industry. As a young fitness instructor working in a women’s health club, I would often have clients who were struggling with menopausal symptoms. I must admit I found it difficult to understand and could not quite get why someone just couldn’t lose weight, were tired, anxious, had no energy and generally felt quite low. Although I have studied many things fitness and wellbeing over many years, it was not until I started to experience menopausal symptoms myself that everything began to click! Ah, that is what my past clients were talking about!! 

I was in my early forties and told by my GP there was no way I was perimenopausal. I was just too young!! For the next 7 or 8 years, I experienced every symptom in the menopause book! Fatigue, stress, lack of energy, hot flushes (I remember getting stuck in my coat, overheating profusely, and panicking as the zip just would not budge!), lack of sleep, anxiety, panic, midsection weight gain; some days were a real effort just to put one foot in front of the other. In terms of symptoms, you name it - I had it. My menopause journey was a bumpy ride! Just a reminder that not everyone’s experience is the same. 

After a few trips to see my GP, I decided that I had also to take my own action and started to dig into what I already knew. I researched, read, and studied. Recent research shows that the more we know and the more information we have about menopause, the less of a negative effect it can have on our lives. Knowledge is power! I started putting in place some of the hacks I had learned. I slowly made changes to my diet cutting down on sugary foods, eating more greens getting rid of processed foods and keeping really hydrated. I am sure you know how it goes when you are trying to make changes to your lifestyle, you often fall of the bandwagon. That happened many times and on the days that the symptoms were not as bad the changes to my lifestyle didn’t seem as important, but I quickly recognised that on the bad days, putting in the changes did help, and I really did feel better.

 The one thing however that was constant in my life was fitness; although, I gradually changed the way I exercised, and this really helped. I tried to get outside a little more. The fresh air, time away from work and getting out into nature had a very positive effect on my mental wellbeing. Menopause can have a big impact on our mental health and getting outdoors can be an easy thing we can do to help ourselves. The hug a tree saying really does have some truth in it! 

During exercise, I focused on less jumping about, more lower impact exercise and this really had a positive effect on my achy joints, my back, and my pelvic floor!! The pelvic floor can suffer during menopause so keeping it strong and as healthy as you can is a bonus. Pilates is a fantastic form of exercise than can have a real benefit. I started to lift more weights and work on my strength which I knew would help my bones as well as helping to combat the mid-section weight gain. Bone loss is a natural part of ageing but happens at a much faster rate after menopause. Strength training using body weight or additional resistance can really help to combat the effects of this as well as helping us manage our weight and increasing our lean muscle tissue (which in turn helps keep up our metabolism even at rest!) and keeps us strong. 

A few years on and I’m supposedly out of the other side! I do still experience some of the symptoms but not all the time and I do feel much better. There is light at the end of what can sometimes be a long tunnel! 

I now work with women approaching 50 and beyond and help and support them with exercise, nutrition and wellbeing using my knowledge and my own experience. It can be very empowering taking control of your journey. Menopause is a natural process and our stories of are so diverse, symptoms are varied and it is a very different journey for many of us. As working women or busy mums (or both!) we often leave ourselves until last to our detriment and sometimes that of others. My advice is to embrace this next step-in your life. There are so many simple things that you can do to help yourself. It may seem like an impossible task, and I really would suggest that you visit your GP and get help if you need it, however, try and tap into other advice and help that is out there too. Be curious, be nosey and find out as much as you can and what may help you. Remember there is a solidarity with other women and talking about it; sharing your stories does help. 

Six Exercise Hacks

1) START WHERE YOU ARE! We are all at different levels of fitness, but just start where you are at now. If you don’t exercise already, just start with 5 minutes a day (yes this does count!). If you are a regular exerciser than make sure that strength training plays a big part in your regular routine. This video contains quick, gentle and easy to follow sessions for you to try if you wish. You will need the password which is Taster 

2) BE ORGANISED - Schedule in your exercise and make it an important part of your week whether its 5 /10mins first thing in the morning, in your lunch break or at the end of your day. Be realistic about what you can do and when.

3) FIND WHAT YOU ENJOY - Sometimes exercise is hard to start and to keep going. Try out a few different types of exercises and find what you love. This will help you to be more consistent. 

4) SIT LESS STAND MORE - If you are able try to stand more or at least move around a little more if you are sitting. Sitting for long periods in one position can cause pressure on the pelvic organs and put strain on our backs, necks and shoulders as well as not helping our bones. Rule of thumb sitting for 30 minutes stand for 3 or move around on your chair and incorporate some seated exercise. 

5) MIX IT UP - Try mixing up the type of exercise that you do. Variety is key as we gain different benefits from different forms of exercise. Try outdoor walking (even if it is just a walk around the car park or the garden). Pilates for mindful calming exercise and to strength the pelvic floor. Low impact Cardio, Strength training, there are so many forms of exercise you can do. 

6) STRENGTH TRAIN - If there is only one type of training, you do. Just Lift. This, for me, is non-negotiable. As members of the menopause club, strength training is vital. The guidelines are we should strength train on at least 2 days of the week. This type of training will have a positive impact on your bone density, your metabolism, your weight, and your body shape too, which in turn can also really boost your self esteem. 

I’ve focused on exercise today but there are so many things you can do to really help yourself. Good nutrition, less alcohol, creating a sleep routine to name a few. My final tip, however, is to see this as a journey not an all or nothing option. Just start where you’re at now and gradually make changes. Set yourself small goals and celebrate your wins (not wines!) and enjoy this next stage in your life. If I can help at all, please do not hesitate to contact me, and follow me for more tips and tricks on how to help yourself during menopause."

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If you are feeling inspired by Nicky's blog and would like to find out more about the menopause then our blogs 

Is Your School Menopause-Savvy? What? Why? How? and I’m Having a Funny Moment – The Menopause are ideal next reads!

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