Running and the Menopause

The word menopause often induces groans and sighs from those who have experience of it and dread from those who are yet to reach it. Can running help? Aren’t menopausal women hot and sweaty enough already? Our women’s health expert Dr Juliet McGrattan gives us the low down on the role of running during the menopause.

What actually is the menopause?

The average age for the menopause is 51 and you’ve officially reached it when your ovaries have stopped releasing eggs and you haven’t had a period for 12 months. Up to this point you are in the peri-menopause and after it you are post-menopausal. 

The changing hormone levels that cause the menopause, mainly a reducing oestrogen level, produce a range of symptoms from hot flushes and night sweats, to mood changes and forgetfulness. Aching joints, fatigue, weight gain, headaches and palpitations are common too. It’s no wonder you can hear the groans! 

How can running help?

It can be a real challenge staying active at this time of life. The symptoms listed above aren’t exactly ones that make you want to dash out of the door. Add the irregular and often heavy vaginal bleeding that can happen in the peri-menopause and you can see why the barriers to running are big.

It is however a really great time to get your running shoes on. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • Running strengthens bones. Our bone mass peaks around the age of 30 and we lose a little every year, there’s a sudden surge in that loss around the menopause. Running is a weight-bearing exercise that helps to stimulate bone growth, slow down that reduction and help maintain bone mass.
  • Running builds muscle. In the same way as our bone mass reduces as we age, we lose muscle mass too. This is called sarcopenia – you can read more about it in a blog I wrote here. It’s vital that we build and preserve our muscle to help protect our joints and keep us mobile and independent as we age.
  • Running helps prevent weight gain. Gaining weight is one of the symptoms women hate most about their menopausal years. Running regularly will help to control this natural weight gain and building muscle will help to boost your basal metabolic rate, this is the energy your body needs to just keep functioning daily and it typically slows as we age.
  • Running improves mood. Mood changes, ranging from mild grumpiness to clinical depression are a feature of the menopause. Exercise is a proven treatment for mild to moderate depression. The body’s release of endorphins during vigorous exercise such as running can benefit everyone.
  • Running improves general health. The risks of many diseases start to increase when women reach the menopause. Regular running is a great way to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, dementia, breast cancer, bowel cancer and many more conditions.
  • Running reduces menopausal symptoms. There’s growing evidence that the aches and pains, fatigue and possibly the hot flushes of the menopause can be reduced by exercise. It’s not always easy to get out but it’s always worth it.
  • Running brings you friends. Sometimes all you need is someone to have a good moan to, someone to sympathise with what you’re going through or someone to motivate you to get out and run. Running friends are great for all of these. If you’re a member of a 261 Fearless club you’ll understand how a community of women can lift you up, make you feel normal and spur you on to achieve more than you thought possible, whether you’re menopausal or not! 

There’s more about exercising during the menopause including top tips to help beat the barriers, in my book Sorted: The Active Women’s Guide to Health.

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