Running and the menopause
What is the menopause?
Your periods become irregular and eventually stop as your ovaries stop producing eggs
Oestrogen levels fall
This happens around the age of 45 and takes, on average, 4 years from your periods starting to become irregular to stopping completely, at which point you are post menopausal
Hormones, tendons and ligaments
The impacts of lower oestrogen isn’t well understood but there are some studies that link lower levels to poor tendon and ligament performance and healing
This can impact the core and pelvic floor more than other areas, so make a start on a core strength routine
This can also delay tendon and ligament healing as well as potentially increase risk of injuries in those tissue, so endure you properly plan your training to reduce injury risk
Some research has shown than up to 8% muscle strength is lost per decade from the age of 30 if no steps are taken to counteract this, this is due to dropping Oestrogen levels
Women’s testosterone levels also decrease gradually as we age, like mens, and this can lead to gradual muscle loss.
Strength training seriously can really help stop, of perhaps reverse these changes
Also doing high intensity exercises like jumps and skipping as well as hill work, even for endurance runners as it slows fast twitch muscle loss
Joints and bones
Oestrogen plays an important role in bone health and studies show that women can lose up to 20% of their bone density within 5-7 years of the menopause
Running itself helps maintain and/or improve bone strength as it's a high impact exercise, so keeping running throughout and post menopause is a great plan
If you are starting running during or post menopause take care to ramp up training gently to allow the bones time to adapt and grow stronger
Whilst some women report joint pain during the menopause no one has explained why this might happen or proven that it does
Strength training again really helps here!
Lower Oestrogen levels can trigger your body to store fat instead of building muscle.
How you metabolise carbs also changes, you may find you are more sensitive to your usual carbohydrate sources, especially sports drinks and gels etc, and don’t use them as effectively as you used to
Consider cutting back on more processed carbs and focussing on wholegrain, fruit and vegetables as carbohydrate sources
Protein become more important to help you off set muscle loss, a protein rich post run snack works well here!
Temperature regulation and blood pressure
Your blood pressure and temperature perception shift with changes in Oestrogen levels.
You may be more likely to feel woozy after a run, and keeping cool helps here
The first steps to manage temperature and hot flushes are to manage the timing of training and also to have ways to keep yourself cool with different strategies on your runs; like a cold water soaked bandana or ice water to drink
Some studies show the impact of hot flushes is less in women who were already exercising
Training through a hot flush poses no danger!
Try to stick to morning runs if you can as exercise increases your core temperature and close to bed time this could increase hot flushes at night
Why run as you go through the menopause?
To lift your mood
To off set the changes in your metabolism which can lead to weight gain
Running can off set the changes in bone density
Strength training can slow or stop the changes in muscle strength
Know it’s going to be a changeable period in your life and build in flexibility to your training to accommodate this
Monitor your training load (frequency of runs, distance and intensity) and adapt to suit your changing body
Keep a training diary to track how you feel, the impact on your training and other factors like sleep and food
Get support; from others also going through these changes (both in person and online groups are available) or your GP to get access to help with nutrition, or emotional support
Remember the menopause struggle are temporary, 4 years on average. After that your body finds a new rhythm and balance :)