What is strength training?
Strength training includes exercises that improve the strength and endurance of your muscles. This means that your muscles are contracting against a form of resistance. This could be a weight, a step, or fitness band.
Strength training can include a wide range of activities and doesn’t have to mean going to the gym or lifting weights.
Good forms of strength training include:
- climbing stairs
- hill walking
- HIIT workouts
- body weight work outs
- resistance band exercises
You can also build strength in your muscles by using dumbbells or kettlebells. You can even build strength by carrying your shopping home, or by standing up from a chair without using your arms. So, its easy to incorporate strength training into your daily life even if you’re not a fan of the gym.
Why is strength training important for menopause?
During the perimenopause period your hormones fluctuate. This can cause menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes or anxiety. But, at the end of this time, your oestrogen (female sex hormone) levels decline for good.
This can affect your body in many ways. In particular, the loss of oestrogen can lead to an increased risk of osteoporosis. This is because oestrogen is responsible for helping to keep your bones strong. When oestrogen declines you can lose bone density and be at more risk of fractures.
Strength training helps to reduce this effect. One study showed that that women who exercise regularly can reduce their risk of getting osteoporosis after the menopause. And another study looked at women who already had postmenopausal osteoporosis. It found that women who strength trained twice a week had better bone density than those who did not.
Aside from keeping your muscles and bones strong post-menopause, strength training can also help with the following.
After the menopause, you can be at an increased risk of heart issues. This is because oestrogen also helps to protect against heart disease. So when you have less of it, your risk can increase. But the good news is that strength training has a positive, and protective effect against heart disease.
One study showed that menopausal women who strength trained regularly had fewer inflammatory chemicals linked with heart disease. And there’s also evidence to suggest that resistance training reduces the risk of someone having a heart attack or stroke. So it’s worth making strength training part of your lifestyle.
Unfortunately, weight gain can be more common around the menopause. This can include an increase of ‘visceral fat’ which is the harmful type of fat that can build up around your internal organs. The reasons for these changes in body composition are not clear, but may include the loss of oestrogen at menopause.
Strength training can help to improve your metabolism at this time of life. By building muscle mass, you can increase your resting metabolic rate. Having a higher metabolic rate is good because it means you use more energy even at rest. So, building more muscle can help you to manage your weight during the menopause and beyond.
Many people choose to strength train for the mental health benefits as well as the physical. Around the menopause you can be more likely to experience mood swings, or increased anxiety. This is often due to the hormonal fluctuations.
Studies have shown that strength training can help to improve the mental health of menopausal women during this time. This may be because it produces feel good hormones called endorphins and may improve sleep too.
How often should you strength train?
The UK government recommends that you exercise for a minimum of 150 minutes a week including 2 strength training sessions. This means you can mix up your exercise to include a range of cardiovascular and strength training.
This will give you a wide range of benefits and help to support your heart, bone, and general health. You might like to try some activities that combine both cardiovascular and strength training elements such as power yoga, HIIT, or water aerobics.
And remember that you can do multiple short sessions of movement during the day if you find it hard to fit in longer sessions. ‘Movement snacking’ is a good way of getting your activity levels up, and can also include strength, cardio, and balance elements.