middle aged woman with hand weights

One of the biggest changes during menopause is the reduction in a woman's estrogen supply. Estrogen is a hormone that supports reproductive and sexual development in women, along with bone and blood health. Unfortunately, when the body produces less estrogen, there can be long-term side effects such as weight gain, heart disease, bone loss and incontinence.

However, with planning and proactive thinking, these side effects can be well-managed and often prevented.

Weight Gain and Cardiovascular Disease

During menopause, the metabolism starts to slow down and body fat percentage tends to increase. You can counteract this by establishing regular exercise programs.

The North American Menopause Society recommends cardiovascular exercise five times per week for at least 30 minutes each time. The type of exercise can involve walking at a steady pace, jogging or running, biking, swimming and other activity that gets your heart rate up.

Not an exerciser? That's okay. You can start with 10-minute intervals.

Work some activity into your day with a few of these suggestions:

  • Try parking farther away at work and when shopping.
  • Walk over to your co-worker's desk rather than sending an email.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Go for an evening walk in your neighborhood.

The risk of heart disease increases greatly for women after menopause, so exercise is very important during this time. It's never too late to begin exercising, even gradually.

Bone Density

Changes in estrogen levels contribute to reduced bone density. This means that the formation of new bone doesn't keep up with the absorption of old bone. Our thinning bones are at risk of osteoporosis and then fractures.

Before and during menopause, it is critical for women to build their "bone bank". In addition to cardiovascular exercises, it is recommended that you include resistive and weight bearing exercises in your routine, since they are most important for bone growth.

These exercises can include:

  • Weights
  • Push-ups
  • Sit-ups
  • Lunges

Resistive and weight bearing exercises can be done two to three days per week. And don't forget to stretch to avoid injury.

You can also help prevent osteoporosis by not smoking, avoiding excessive drinking, eating a nutritious diet and making sure you get an adequate amount of calcium and vitamin D.

Urinary Incontinence

Many women believe that urinary incontinence is just a normal part of aging. They may notice new or worsening leaking of urine during activity. They may feel like they run to the bathroom more urgently or frequently.

These urinary symptoms can also be associated with decreased estrogen. There are plenty of non-surgical options to reduce these unwanted bladder changes, including pelvic floor exercises, bladder retraining and constipation management.

To learn more about counteracting the physical changes that can be associated with menopause, talk to your doctor or consider a consultation with pelvic floor physical therapist. These therapists are experts in musculoskeletal issues for women across the lifespan and can help you create an exercise program to minimize the effects of menopause and optimize your health.

Looking for a physician? Please call 1-800-515-0044 or visit UM Upper Chesapeake Health Find a Doc.

Learn more about pelvic floor therapy or call 443-643-3257.