Exercise and the menopause

Expert reviewers Dr Sam Wild, General Practitioner, and Karen O’Hara, physiotherapist
Next review due December 2023

Exercise can be helpful to keep your body healthy as you approach the menopause, and after your periods have stopped. This is because exercise can help you manage some of the physical changes that happen in your body at this time. There are also some specific exercises you can do to help with certain symptoms of the menopause.

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Changes in your body due to the menopause

The menopause is a natural life stage when your periods stop. People who experience the menopause usually reach it between the ages of 40 and 60. You might start to experience symptoms years before it happens, as your hormone levels start to change.

The menopause causes changes to your body. Everybody experiences the menopause differently, but some symptoms you might experience include:

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Can exercise help with my menopause symptoms?

You might find that being more physically active helps with some of your menopause symptoms. Regular exercise might:

  • reduce your hot flushes
  • help you to manage your weight
  • lift your mood
  • improve your self-esteem
  • help you to sleep
  • reduce anxiety

After the menopause, you’re also more likely to be affected by osteoporosis, a condition that causes your bones to become weaker. This is because you have less of the hormone oestrogen in your body, which is important for bone density.

Keeping active can help keep your bones healthy and can reduce the chance of them breaking or fracturing if you fall over. Bones get stronger as you use them and give them work to do. To help keep your bones strong, you should try and do both muscle-strengthening exercises and weight-bearing exercises.

Speak to your GP if you are experiencing joint aches and pains. They might refer you to a physiotherapist, who can suggest specific exercises you can do to help.

Cardiovascular exercise

Cardiovascular exercise makes you breathe more quickly and causes your heart and other muscles to work harder. Each week we should all aim to do:

  • at least 150 minutes (1 1/2 hours) of moderate activity, such as cycling or brisk walking
  • or 75 minutes (1 1/4 hours) of vigorous intensity, such as running or playing sport
  • or several short sessions of very vigorous activity, such as sprinting up hills

Try to include some weight-bearing exercises, as part of, or alongside, your cardiovascular exercise, as these are good for your bones. Weight-bearing exercise is any activity where you support your body weight through your feet and legs (or arms and hands). This includes things like walking, jogging, dancing, or playing tennis.

Muscle strengthening

Try to include two sessions of muscle-strengthening exercises on at least 2 days a week. Muscle-strengthening exercises are movements where you move your muscles against some resistance. This includes lifting weights, using resistance bands, or doing body weight exercises like press-ups.

Balance and flexibility

It’s also important to make sure you are working on your balance and flexibility as you age.

This can include activities such as yoga, dance and tai chi. Keeping flexible and practising your balance might help reduce the risk of falling over as you age.

Bladder, bowel and sexual problems

The menopause can also cause your pelvic floor muscles to become weaker. The pelvic floor is a group of muscles that stretches across the base of your pelvis. They support the organs in your abdomen (tummy) and pelvis, such as your bladder, uterus and bowel. When you cough, laugh, sneeze or lift something heavy, your pelvic floor muscles tighten. This helps you keep control of your bladder and bowel.

Your pelvic floor muscles are also important during sex and can help increase sensation in your vagina. If they’re weak, this may affect your enjoyment of sex. You can strengthen your pelvic floor muscles by exercising them.

Pelvic floor exercises involve squeezing (or contracting) and then relaxing the muscles around your rectum (back passage), and front passage. To do them correctly, imagine that you’re trying to stop yourself from passing wind and urine at the same time. Don’t hold your breath, clench your bottom or squeeze your legs together when doing these exercises. A physiotherapist can give you advice about how best to do these exercises.

To help improve your pelvic floor, you should also avoid lifting heavy things if you can. If you need to lift something heavy, make sure you do it correctly.

If you have problems tightening your pelvic floor muscles, speak to your GP or a physiotherapist. They might suggest using biofeedback or electrical stimulation to help you.

  • Biofeedback is when sensors placed on your skin or into your vagina send signals to a monitor when you squeeze your pelvic floor muscles. This can help to show you how well you’re doing the exercises.
  • Electrical stimulation uses an electrical current to stimulate your pelvic floor muscles from a small probe placed in your vagina.

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Related information

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  • Written by Abbey Stanford, Specialist Health Editor, December 2020
    Reviewed by Dr Sam Wild, General Practitioner, and Karen O’Hara, physiotherapist
    Next review due December 2023