Menopause in Japan is called konenki. In a literal translation, ko means “renewal and regeneration,” nen means “year” or “years,” and ki means “season” or “energy.” This is a better way to think about menopause than the way we tend to view it in the United States, as a time of hot flashes, wild mood swings and aging.
It is true that as you approach menopause, your ovaries begin to secrete less estrogen. The decline in your natural supply of this hormone puts you at increased risk for heart disease and osteoporosis, the latter of which can lead to brittle bones. However, there are ways to deal with this, including exercise.
Getting plenty of aerobic exercise can help ward off heart problems by keeping your heart in shape and by lowering your blood pressure, improving your circulation, and helping you keep your weight in check. Weight-bearing exercise such as lifting weights or jumping rope helps keep your bones strong, and may even promote new bone growth at a time when you're starting to lose bone at a faster rate. Being active also gives you better balance and coordination and makes you feel better, too.
Can exercise help relieve the symptoms associated with menopause?
Some women report fewer or less severe hot flashes and night sweats when they're working out regularly. Exercise helps relieve stress and depression by giving you a sense of competence and control, making you physically better able to handle anxiety, and possibly even boosting your levels of "feel-good" brain chemicals. It also helps you sleep better and gives you more energy to enjoy life.
What kind of exercise is most effective?
If you haven't been active for more than a year, check with your doctor before starting an exercise program, especially if you're overweight. For the best results, you should get at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise every day, such as walking for two miles, dancing, swimming, or gardening. Try to add at least two sessions a week of strength training, in which you work all the major muscle groups: quadriceps, hamstrings, biceps, triceps, chest, back, and abdominals *weight machines in a gym or Y are often easier to use than free weights). You may also want to add flexibility exercises like stretching or yoga to help you stay limber as you age. If this seems like too much, just do whatever exercise you can, since any amount of activity will help you feel better.
Wendy M. Kohrt. Exercise, Weight Gain, and Menopause, The North American Menopause Society (NAMS)
Menopause Basics, The North American Menopause Society pamphlet.
Exercise Your Way Through Menopause. Hospital for Special Surgery, New York.