Running through (and after) Menopause
As women, we can spend anywhere from 30-50% of our lives in menopausal state.
So why don't we spend at least 30-50% of our time learning or talking about it?
This article is mean to INFORM women on the risks and benefits of running during the menopause transition and beyond. We truly believe that Knowledge. Is. Power.
Most women in the US reach menopause between the ages of 45 and 55 years, with the average age being 51. The term ‘perimenopause’ is used to describe the time leading up to or making a transition towards menopause. Perimenopause, or the transition to menopause, is the time where women usually experience a fluctuation in hormones, which can last anywhere from 4-10 years. These changes can start in our early 30s!
Menopause is a natural phase through which ALL women will pass. For some, it’s straightforward, but for others, it’s a roller-coaster! The timing of menopause, severity and duration of symptoms are hugely variable from one women to another. There’s no doubt that the physiological impact of menopause can affect running and injury risk.
So what are the facts about the impact of peri-menopausal health on running? Considered conversely, what’s the impact of running on peri and post-menopausal health?
Potential physiological impacts on runners
Women have this lovely hormone called estrogen which has over 400 functions! And, starting in the menopause transition, the ovaries will slowly stop releasing eggs or if you have had a hysterectomy, your ovaries have been removed. Therefore, the amount of estrogen hormone in a woman’s body decreases.
Hormonal influence on tendons and ligaments
The research implies that estrogen has protective benefits for our connective tissue tensile strength, healing, and ability to take load. Therefore, estrogen deficiency reduces the ability for our tendons and ligaments to adequately respond and adapt to external mechanical and metabolic stressors (i.e. exercise) which are otherwise the main stimuli that should maintain musculoskeletal integrity (Nedergaard et al, 2012, Le Blanc et al, 2017).
Some studies imply a connection between declining estrogen and pelvic organ prolapse. (Le Blanc et al, 2017). Also, trunk and pelvic floor strength and control are vital for pelvic organ support, continence and coping with the increase in intra-abdominal pressure during running (Leitner et al, 2016).
Lastly, gluteus medius tendinopathy (Alison Grimaldi research) is more common in females than males, with a ratio of 3-4:1, peaking in the perimenopausal period.
Posterior tibial tendon dysfunction (PTTD) is also commonly noted in this group (Kohls-Gatzoulis et al, 2009) (Ross et al, 2018), with figures varying from 3.3 to 5%.
Both of which have direct connections to our pelvic floor strength and coordination.
Another reason to incorporate pelvic floor exercises into your routine.
Check out our Breath + Core Activation video to get started!
Bone and muscle strength declines
Estrogen plays an important role in the growth and maturation of bone, as well as in the regulation of bone turnover or regeneration in adult bones. Women can lose up to 20% of their bone density in the first 5-7 years post menopause. This is why osteoporosis becomes more of a concern during the menopause transition, and beyond.
Muscle strength losses during peri and post menopause are well documented with up to 8% muscle strength loss per decade from the age of 30 if no steps are taken to counteract this. A recent Finnish study (Bondarev et al, 2018) of over 900 women showed menopausal status is significantly associated with reduced muscle strength, power and vertical jump height.
Another reason to consider adding strength training into your routine.
Check out our MenoWell series to inform you on all aspects of menopause!
As we mentioned earlier, the symptoms of menopause can be high variable from women to the next. However, 80% of reported women state that menopausal symptoms affect her quality of life. And, 1 in 4 women would classify them as severe. Therefore, menopausal symptoms can have a direct impact on running, and possibly injury if not recognized or addressed, but we are here to help!
So, should I run my way through menopause?
It’s not just a ‘doom and gloom’ picture – it’s important to remember this is a normal process of a women's life. There are positive benefits of running and the impacts it has on physical and mental wellbeing still apply. In fact, maintaining regular exercise is even more important in combatting the effects of hormonal and age related changes. NOW more than ever.
Mood and mental health
We are all well aware of the mental health benefits of running! Women’s mental wellbeing has been shown to benefit from running with others (Grunseit et al, 2017). Interaction with nature through running outside may help with reducing anxiety levels (Lawton, 2017) and rumination (Bratman et al, 2015). Women’s running groups may also enhance social connections and a sense of being connected at what can be a time of physical and emotional change.
Offset physiological changes
Menopause can negatively impact metabolism (hello, abdominal weight gain), visceral fat and lipid profiles (Saha et al, 2013). But, a higher engagement in physical activity is associated with a healthier metabolic profile in post menopausal women (Major et al, 2005).
A wealth of literature support weight bearing exercise to strengthen bone throughout women’s lives to reduce risk of osteopenia and osteoporosis. This can be from a combination of strength training and running. For example, Stiles et al (2017) examined the effect of high intensity of exercise on pre and post-menopausal women’s bone health in over 2000 women. They found that accumulating 1-2 minutes a day of high intensity physical activity, stated as equivalent to running in pre-menopausal women and slow jogging in post-menopausal women, was associated with better bone health.
Menopause is a not a time to fear. This is a natural process in our lives that we want to embrace. We want to use this time to become more in tune with ourselves, with our bodies and to listen to what we need. We have a lot of life to live, so let's make the most of it.
3 tips for managing running during menopause
Manage expectations. We all get frustrated as we get older, especially that we don't heal as fast as we used to (or would like to...) Progress might look different now and beyond, so stay positive and give your body the time/love it deserves.
Monitor training load. Our training schedule might look a little different now pending influence of menopausal symptoms (i.e. hot flashes, migraines, pelvic heaviness), other life demands (i.e. work, family) and injuries.
Be your own advocate. Take the time to know what professional are out there to help you make the best decisions possible for YOU and YOUR symptoms. Look for professionals who specialize in menopause.
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