If you're in the middle of menopause, you may be experiencing challenges such as weight gain, hot flashes or fatigue. Ugh! The good news is that exercise can make a positive difference. Although there is much more to learn about exercise research and menopause, what we do know supports physical activity as a means to help manage menopausal consequences and protect against heart disease and osteoporosis.
If you have been a consistent exerciser during the years leading to menopause, you already have an advantage. Aerobic activity during childbearing years reduces the risk of breast cancer, a disease that becomes more prevalent after menopause. You also will have a jump on your bone health since your strength-training exercises may have increased the density and strength of your bones. Keep in mind, though, that good nutrition works hand in hand with a physically active lifestyle. A low-fat, high-fiber diet and adequate calcium intake are vital to realize the full benefits of exercise.
To reap the benefits of exercise, a balanced program of weight-bearing aerobic activity (walking is great), strength training (with weights, resistance bands, yoga or even gardening), and flexibility is essential. Consistency is the key so strive for some moderate activity daily or at least most days of the week, every week. During menopause, women are likely to lose muscle and gain belly fat. Any extra physical activity can assist in preventing unwanted weight gain. Working out not only improves physical health, it also enhances the mood. Endorphins are released during physical activity, and they trigger an upbeat feeling to the body. After working out, many people experience an elated, euphoric mood.
Improving range of motion and flexibility in all joints will remedy stiffness and soreness that are so common as we reach menopause.
The following exercises are done in sequence sitting on the floor, legs stretched out in front.
Toes - Place your hands at your sides and flex your toes 10 times.
Ankles - Rotate your ankles in each direction 10 times, keeping heels on the floor.
Knees - Bend the right leg and bring the heel near your buttock. Then lift the right leg off the floor and straighten the right knee, repeating 10 times. Then the left leg and knee 10 times. Next, holding your thigh near your body, rotate your lower leg as you did your ankle, 10 times clockwise and 10 times counterclockwise.
Hips – Bend the left leg and place your left foot on your right thigh. Hold the left knee with the left hand, and the left ankle with the right hand. Gently move the knee up and down with the left hand; then repeat with the right leg. Now rotate the left knee clockwise 10 times then counterclockwise 10 times. This improves hip flexibility. Repeat with the right knee. Also for hip flexibility, bring the soles of the feet together, bringing the heels close to the body. Using your hands, press your knees to the floor and let them come up again. Repeat 10 times.
Fingers – Lift your arms to shoulder height. Keeping your arms straight open the hands wide. Flex your fingers, closing over your thumbs. Repeat 10 times.
Wrists – Flex and extend the wrists, repeating 10 times. Rotate your wrists clockwise and counterclockwise 10 times each. Now hold the hand in extension and move it from side to side at the wrist. Repeat 10 times.
Elbows – Stretch out the arms at shoulder height with palms facing upward. Bend the arms at the elbow and touch the shoulders with your fingers; then straighten out the arms again. Repeat 10 times with arms front, then with arms extended sideways.
Shoulders – With arms bent and fingertips touching the shoulders, make circular motions with the elbows. Repeat 10 times clockwise and 10 times counterclockwise.
Spine – With legs straight out in front, reach over and touch your legs without bending your knees. Repeat 20 times.
*Image courtesy: © Thinkstock photos/ Getty Images
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