I’ve been helping women of a “certain age” from all types of fitness backgrounds meet their weight loss and fitness goals for many years, including women who run marathons and compete in triathlons, as well as women who have never intentionally done cardio or lifted weights in their adult lives.
No matter what your fitness background is, once you hit menopause you may experience exercise as, well, a little bit (or a “lotta bit”) harder than it was before. This isn’t true for everyone, but for many of us it’s one of the most frustrating side affects of aging.
(And before we go any further, let me remind you to see your health care provider for answers about YOUR body! The information in this article is very general in nature, and not meant as a diagnosis.)
Here’s why exercise may feel harder after menopause:
Menopause and Fatigue
Did you notice that after fifty your energy level tanked? In a recent study, more than 85% of post-menopausal women reported fatigue. 85%! Now, compare that to the 19% of pre-menopausal women who report experiencing fatigue, and it’s clear that for the majority of us, the struggle is real.
So what causes fatigue? There are two main factors contributing to increased fatigue in menopausal women: hormones and quality of sleep.
Hormone Fluctuations Can Cause Fatigue
Estrogen, progesterone, and adrenal hormones fluctuate during peri-menopause and menopause, and these fluctuations can cause rapid changes in the body that lead to us feeling wiped out.
Lack of Good Sleep Can Cause Fatigue
While low-quality sleep can cause fatigue at any age, many of us in menopause have other factors contributing to our disturbed sleep. Hot flashes, sleep apnea, pain, or stress — all of these can lead to a bad night of sleep. And unlike our younger selves, who could party all night and then sleep in the next day, many of us aren’t able to catch those extra zs to make up for a rough night.
These feelings of fatigue can make it more difficult to want to exercise, but ironically exercise can help fatigue! Once you get started and develop a consistent routine of regular, moderate exercise, you might find that your fatigue lifts.
Menopause and Joint Pain
Another reason exercising after menopause can seem so hard is that we’re experiencing newer aches and pains, due to fluctuating hormones, arthritis, or a combination of the two.
I do NOT recommend pushing through the pain or adopting a fitness routine that ignores your joint pain. Instead, commit to a regular, moderate routine of low-impact exercises that keep your joints safe while helping you get in shape and reach your fitness goals. It’s a lot easier to exercise when you know it’s not going to cause you even more pain!
Menopause and Hot Flashes
Some of us sweat buckets when we work out, and we’ve done so our whole lives. Add on hot flashes and oof! Sometimes it just feels too hot to exercise.
I get it.
While we can’t control when or where a hot flash will hit us, we can often create an exercise environment that will be more conducive to helping us stay cool and comfortable, with or without a hot flash. Be sure to workout some place with air conditioning or a fan, plenty of water available and maybe even some ice. You might also prefer to exercise first thing in the morning when it’s still cool out, or later in the evening after the sun has gone down to help you regulate your temperature.
It is worth it to exercise, even with hot flashes. A recent study showed that women who began a regular exercise routine reduced their hot flashes by 60% because daily, moderate exercise lowers your basal core temperature overall, keeping you consistently cooler.
Menopause and a Racing Heart
Another irritating, though usually harmless* symptom of menopause is a racing heart or heart palpitations. Like other menopause symptoms, this is caused by fluctuating hormones. In fact, heart palpitations are often included under the hot flash umbrella.
It can be scary to do something that increases your heart rate when you already feel like your heart is pounding, but getting regular cardiovascular exercise is crucial to maintaining heart health as we get older. As the protective effects of estrogen wane, it’s up to us to make our heart health a priority. This doesn’t mean you need to lace up your running shoes, though — as little as 23 minutes a day of a moderately elevated heart rate is enough to see and feel the healthy heart benefits of exercise.
*I say usually harmless, but please check with your doctor, who will assess your symptoms and give you personal and specific recommendations about your risks for cardiac disease.
Fatigue, joint pain, hot flashes, and a racing heart — any one of these symptoms (or any combination of them!) can make exercise feel harder after menopause, but developing a moderate, consistent workout routine may help ease your symptoms.
Want some help putting together an exercise program that doesn’t feel harder than it used to? Download my free 5-0 Method for a fitness program proven to help women over 50 reach their fitness and weight loss goals.