Why Exercise Is Crucial For Women in Menopause
Menopause has a lot of negative connotations, including menopause weight gain—especially menopause belly fat. If you believe the messaging we see out the world, it’s the time when a woman’s body dries up, she puts on weight, and she’s on her way to becoming old and frail. If you’ve had those thoughts yourself, it’s time to reframe what this experience can look like. While menopause does signal a shift into a different stage of life (hormonally speaking) there is a lot to embrace about this time—and exercise can play a pivotal role in helping you look and feel strong and happy.
That’s why we’ve created our new fitness series, for women in perimenopause and menopause. Made in partnership with Elektra Health, it’s designed to help women combat menopause symptoms with movement and mindfulness, and includes short cardio HIIT workouts, resistance and weight training, and meditation. It’s just another way P.volve supports women throughout all stages of their lives with evidence-based fitness workouts designed for where you are now—and where you want to be.
Table of ContentsMenopause and Exercise
Menopause: Understand What Your Body is Going Through
Menopause Exercise Plan with P.volve
Resistance & Weight Training
Pelvic Floor Strengthening
Menopause and Exercise: Full Body Benefits
Menopause and Exercise
At the core of our menopause exercise plan is functional movement, which helps you move better in the world outside your workout, either by mimicking the movements you do in everyday activity, or by strengthening the muscles necessary to do them—and, often, by simultaneously sharpening your mind-to-muscle connection so you can move more freely and feel more open in your body all day, every day. The P.volve Method uses sequencing that weaves in all these elements to unlock your body so it can move the way it was designed to.
Menopause: Understand what your body is going through
As your body enters perimenopause leading up to menopause—defined as going 12 months without a period—there are lots of changes happening. “We currently recognize that there are at least 34 possible menopause symptoms,” says Jackie Giannelli, FNP-BC, NCMPFNP-BC, NCMP, founding nurse practitioner of Elektra Health, our partner in the Moving with Menopause series. “And around 80 percent of women will experience at least a few of them.”
Some of the more commonly discussed symptoms include menopause weight gain/redistribution, hot flashes, night sweats, “brain fog,” mood swings, and vaginal dryness. And much of that can be blamed on hormonal shifts.
“Menopause often involves a change in body composition as estrogen levels decline and our body becomes more insulin resistant,” explains Antonietta Vicario, VP Talent & Training for P.volve. “Many women experience weight redistribution from the thighs and hips to the waist and abdomen, often referred to as belly fat.”
Estrogen decline impacts many systems within the body, resulting in less lubrication of muscles, ligaments, and joints. Of particular concern, notes Vicario, is the pelvic floor. Estrogen helps maintain elasticity and hydration within all the connective tissue of the pelvic floor which supports our sex organs, the bladder, and the rectum. “The pelvic floor is another essential muscle we address to help prevent pelvic prolapse, hypertonicity, incontinence and constipation due to the ever changing environment of the connective tissue. These exercises may even improve one’s comfort during sex,” she says.
Estrogen also plays a protective role for our bones, which are susceptible to losing density with estrogens decline during perimenopause and menopause.
But it’s not the only area women can see a decline. “In addition to the decline in estrogen, we lose muscle mass as we age, sometimes as much as 2 percent year over year after the age of 40!” Vicario says. “That muscle is often replaced by fat tissue which is less metabolically active so one’s resting metabolic rate diminishes.”
A combination of cardiovascular movement, strength training, and meditation works with your changing body to build strength and retain the flexibility and functionality you don’t want to lose.
Menopause Exercise Plan with P.volve
“There are so many things we can do to support the body through menopause and help potentially manage some of these changes in body composition,” Vicario says. She and P.volve expert trainers Maeve McEwen, Cecily McCullough, and Reneé Settle lead the Moving with Menopause workouts.
“First, I’d say to prioritize heavy weight training at least 2-3 times per week. The more muscle on the body, the higher your resting metabolic rate so you want to keep that ratio optimized as muscle burns fat,” she says. “A big component of this at P.volve is both our strength-based movement exercises and our resistance-based equipment.”
Cardiovascular exercise helps keep a woman’s heart, bones, and brain strong while also keeping cortisol levels in check, Vicario says, making it a perfect complement to weight training. “Shorter intervals of cardio—think 20-25 minutes incorporating 20-30 seconds of all-out movement—balanced with strength training is protective without spiking cortisol, a stress hormone that when triggered repeatedly can create a signal in the body to hold onto fat tissue,” she says. “Keeping these workouts short works out perfectly, since women in this life stage are often juggling career, family, and prioritizing their own needs.”
Meditation for menopause is another tool to try. “Arming yourself with breathing techniques to reduce cortisol in the body can help offset the negative effects of this hormone that can lead to weight gain, disrupted sleep, even shrinking the size of our brain!” Vicario says. And the mind-body connection can also be harnessed during pelvic floor exercises. “By working to be able to both strengthen and release these muscles through mindful activation, we can help keep the pelvic floor functioning well,” she says.
Each workout in this series will help you reach your goals, move better, and feel stronger.
Resistance & Weight Training
“Building lean muscle mass is one of the best and most effective ways to mitigate the changes that happen when we begin to lose estrogen,” Giannelli says. “Muscle is a more metabolically active tissue, and therefore more regular exercise—specifically strength training—will help with weight maintenance as well as strength, endurance, stability, and balance, in order to slow down muscle loss.”
During perimenopause and into menopause, it becomes critical to create muscle with resistance training to help burn fat, she explains. In our menopause series, you’ll notice the workouts call for heavier weights and less reps. “We specifically created workouts for menopause that lean on lifting the heaviest weight load one can manage while maintaining proper alignment, breaking down our muscle fibers to stimulate muscle growth,” Vicario explains.
“This is intentional in order to take the muscle to its point of failing,” says Amy Hoover, DPT, member of P.volve Clinical Advisory Board. “That is what ultimately builds lean muscle mass.”
While the P.volve Method emphasizes lower impact movement, for this series, we took the intensity up a notch with short cardio pushes. High intensity interval workouts can improve blood sugar levels, as well as improve cognition and memory. This type of workout may also improve blood vessel function, burn fat and lead to better cardiovascular health, Hoover says. And the benefits don’t stop there. “Cardiovascular exercise is not only good for the heart, but also helps to reset and maintain circadian rhythm or our sleep cycle,” she adds.
As women get older and start to worry about bone density loss, these strategic cardio pushes can play a role in staying strong. “Multidirectional stresses on the body stimulate bone growth,” she explains. “P.volve has functional, multidirectional movements as a foundation and now we are adding more stress through the body.”
Plyometrics, or jumping movements, is another key component in increasing bone density and heart health overall. And with the P.Volve workouts, it’s something anyone can incorporate into their movements when done with good form. “Plyometrics helps stimulate bone as well as muscle power,” she says. “We include stresses through the upper body as well as the lower body, so if you can’t jump because of joint issues you can still practice plyometrics or even light impact to get this benefit.”
Pelvic Floor Strengthening
Strengthening the pelvic floor can help support sexual health and combat urinary and/or fecal incontinence, and pelvic prolapse. And while pelvic floor health is essential in all phases of a woman’s adult life, once a woman enters perimenopause and menopause, it is more important than ever to address this muscle group specifically.
“Sixty percent of women will experience urogenital symptoms like urinary or fecal incontinence, bladder dysfunction, constipation, or pelvic organ prolapse,” Hoover says. “Keeping the connection to the pelvic floor and practicing both good relaxation and strengthening of these muscles will help you mitigate these changes and can compensate for the tissue changes.”
As estrogen levels drop, there is thinning of the connective tissues and structures around the pelvis including urethra, vaginal wall, and rectum, she explains. This may have a negative effect on the way the pelvic floor functions, contributing to pelvic floor weakness, tightness, or both.
Pelvic floor exercises are another key component of P.Volve’s workout series for menopause. And they have whole-body benefits. “Once you know how to incorporate the pelvic floor in your movements, you can integrate this muscle into all of your workouts when you need stability and when lifting heavy weights by contracting or when you are opening all the muscles in the hips and abdomen during recovery through release,” Vicario says.
Our meditation sessions—which include both breathwork and stretching—are essential for improved mindset, sleep, and recovery. They help regulate cortisol spikes (which can lead to belly fat), encourages recovery through mindful movement and helps your body maintain a healthy circadian rhythm, which is especially important at a time when many women report disrupted sleep.
“The breath is such a powerful tool that we can tap into anytime and anywhere that has a dramatic and immediate effect on lowering our stress hormone to help us with insomnia, sleeplessness and stress,” Vicario says. “Prioritizing recovery and breath work as needed is a great way to ensure you feel good in both mind and body during what can feel like a chaotic time.
Menopause and Exercise: Full Body Benefits
Incorporating all these movement and mindfulness tools can help you manage the menopause transition with greater ease, says Vicario. “We are so excited to arm you with all this knowledge and these specific interventions and work with the body during this natural process,” she says.
And she and the other experts tapped for this menopause series emphasize other lifestyle tweaks you can make for optimal overall mental and physical wellness.
“Dehydration is more common during menopause, and without estrogen it’s a lot easier for our muscles, tendons, and ligaments to become dehydrated,” Giannelli says. “This can make weight training more difficult and even lead to injury. Hydration is key!”
Vicario has a favorite way to stay hydrated. “We have our Recover 9 supplement that blends pomegranate fruit extract and 9 essential amino acid compounds to help speed your recovery, reduce soreness and inflammation, and build muscle,” she explains. “It’s my personal strategy for hydration and optimizing muscle gain after lifting!”
What’s more, Giannelli says, it’s important to listen to your body’s cues. “Push yourself on the days you feel well and have more energy, but also be kind to yourself on the days you feel more tired,” she says.
Nutrition is also important to feeling your best through menopause and beyond. “Making sure we get enough protein in our diet and choosing whole grains and complex carbohydrates (over simple sugars) will ensure that the energy and building blocks we need to maintain muscle mass are available to us,” she says.
And as with most things in life, having the right mindset going into this phase of life can have a huge positive impact on your overall wellness. “Being brave and approaching menopause with an open mind is key,” Giannelli says. “We may not always be capable of doing all the things we did in our younger years, but we do have the chance to rediscover our changing bodies and explore all the new possibilities out there for us. When we view menopause through this lens, it becomes a period of opportunity.”
Ready to get started with the workouts?
Because everyone’s menopause journey and specific mix of symptoms are different, this program is designed for you to choose the classes that best work for you. That means there’s no prescribed path to follow in terms of what workouts to do on what days—but there are a few guidelines we recommend:
To build muscle you want to lift heavy two to three times per week, alternated with two cardio and strength circuit classes. Mix in pelvic floor exercises to strengthen and release this key area and add in restorative classes to help lower cortisol.
Get started with this Full Body Heavy Weight Training Workout for Improved Body Composition right now.
Learn more and sign up today.