When it comes to training and the menopause, it can be a struggle for women to find the answers they want and need. But this trend is starting to change
The menopause has long been a taboo subject, with many women left feeling embarrassed to discuss it. Unsure where to turn, they find themselves in the dark as to how to adjust their training accordingly. Luckily, the times are changing and discussions around this topic are becoming much more commonplace.
For Baz Moffatt, founder of The Well HQ, the menopause, the changes it brings and how to adapt to them, is a subject around which she is hugely knowledgeable and passionate. We spoke to her about what can be done to reap the rewards and avoid injury while training during this stage of life.
Have you seen a change in conversation around the menopause?
Oh yes! The world of menopause has always been a desert. In contrast to pre and post-natal which is just a hive of information, menopause has been barren. The problem is that historically no-one cared about middle-aged women. The pathway has always just gone from juniors to elite. There’s been a gaping void of expertise for midlife women but there’s finally a movement towards supporting them and bringing the menopause to the fore.
We don’t want to stop training so understanding how to adapt needs addressing. It’s about learning not to fight it – we can’t all train like we did in our 20s – but this shouldn’t stop anyone.
What would you say to those who try to fight this change?
Firstly, I would say change is normal but doesn’t have to stop you. It’s about adaptation rather than a complete upheaval. It’s 100 per cent okay to be like: “Just because I’m a middle-aged woman I do not need to be stroked and pandered to. I am a powerful woman experiencing something completely natural.”
When you get to your 40s and 50s, even if you’ve been sporty your whole life, it’s not going to be as easy as when you could party all weekend and still train every day. And that’s totally natural.
Don’t try and cling on to the 20-year-olds at your club because that’s not going to benefit you physically or mentally. It’s about being in tune with your body and adapting in the same way you did when you went through puberty.
Don’t fight it, just learn to ride the change, and understand that it is normal and there is still so much that you can get involved with. Your realms of activity might have changed but that can be exciting as it gives you a chance to take stock and see what suits you. It could be something completely new that you’ve never tried before, or you can just adjust things you’ve been doing your whole life. The opportunities are much more than you realise.
What would you advise in terms of training and any adaptations that need to be made?
Start by making those swaps that answer what you need at the time. Sub out an easy run for a strength and conditioning session because putting in those junk miles isn’t going to give you much cardiovascular benefit but will only increase your risk of injury.
Strength training will help maintain your bone density, which is something that naturally declines during menopause. They don’t need to be huge sessions with massive weights. Not having a good strength and conditioning programme is one of the biggest mistakes women make at this age.
What are the benefits of training during menopause?
There are physical and mental benefits of exercise at any age, and it’s no different with menopause. On the physical side, it can help do two things. Firstly, it can help you manage your symptoms by getting the blood flowing and moving your body. Secondly, it supports your immune system, cardiac health, muscle strength, metabolism and long-term health.
There’s also a wealth of positive mental aspects around training. There’s no denying that your hormones are running wild during menopause and it’s no coincidence that the highest suicide rates in women are at age 51 – average menopause age. But the endorphins released are incredible and if you love the freedom and sense of flow state exercise brings, it’s kind of meditative. This is very special, and that meditation can help combat the stresses of midlife.
How important is everything else around training?
It’s huge. The supplementary stuff is as important as the session itself. Where you might have skimped on it in your youth, you now can’t afford to. It comes in three parts. Number one is the importance of the right pre and post session things like warm-ups and cool downs, rehab, nutrition, and hydration.
The second part is that you cannot ignore the niggles. Dealing with them sooner rather than later is key to preventing further injuries and you can’t go for a mind over matter approach. Get the support from a physio, should you need it.
The third aspect is about working smarter, not harder. You need to be realistic and say: “What do I need and what is going to be best for me in this moment?”
What would you say to someone who came to you asking how to go about getting back to training in menopause?
In terms of a starting point, make an educated guess. Listen to your body and consider where you are physically and mentally. You’ve got to be able to feel compassion with yourself before, during and after training.
Don’t set your standards too high because physically it isn’t going to benefit you and mentally it’s going to hurt if you can’t achieve what you’ve set your sights on. There’s no “one-size-fits-all” to it. Remember that something is always better than nothing and adaptations can always be made.
Is there anything else that people don’t tend to consider?
Pelvic health is not something that gets talked about much, but I’ve had so many runners tell me they get sudden bladder urgencies or bladder weaknesses and it’s stopping them from training because they don’t want it to happen while they are out.
There are loads of oestrogen receptors in the vagina but when oestrogen is reduced in menopause it leads to pelvic floor weaknesses. This leakage becomes all-consuming during a workout and prevents women from focusing on the positive aspects of their session.
It can also be dangerous as some try to self-manage by not drinking before training or continually going to the toilet ahead of a session.
Luckily, it’s easy enough to combat and vaginal oestrogen is something a woman can get from their doctor. It’s such a tiny dose as it only targets the vagina so it’s nothing to be at all scared of. To put it into context – a whole year’s worth of vaginal oestrogen is the same a single day of HRT, so this is a small thing that can make a huge difference.
In my opinion, vaginal oestrogen should be handed out to women over the age of 45. It’s not a magic bullet but alongside pelvic floor exercises and avoiding too much caffeine and refined sugar it makes a huge difference. Focus can then return to enjoying training.
Where can someone find more information?
It can be confusing finding the relevant information and a lot of women just cling on to anything they hear which often is of little relevance to them. The most important thing to do is get it from a credible source rather than Doctor Google. There are people out there who prey on your insecurities, take you money, promise the world and deliver nothing.
The British Menopause Society is a great place to start and it suggests registered practitioners and offers lots of advice. If you can afford a private practitioner, make sure it’s one that is registered through them. These can be expensive so there is also plenty of help through the NHS that can also be explored.
My key piece of advice here is make sure it’s a credible source and then apply it to what you need in that time.
» Baz Moffat is a retired GB rower and now a women’s health and fitness coach. She is co-founder of The Well HQ a digital hub and a collective movement to educate and empower active women and those that support them
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