While men can just lace up their running shoes and head out whenever, wherever, we women often have other things on the go that we need to consider when it comes to our health and fitness.
Making sure we have the right tampons, double-checking the calendar before races, finding healthy, natural ways to deal with period pain, spotting after a run… And then, just when it all seems to be evening out, menopause.
We all go through it at some point. Do you need to be worried about the effect it will have on your running?
Read through our runner’s guide to menopause so you know what to expect. Stay strong ladies!
What Is Menopause?
Menopause is when a woman goes through a natural biological process that results in the ovaries no longer releasing eggs. At this point, the menstrual cycle comes to an end.
Although it’s often considered to be a single point in time, there are actually three distinct stages of menopause. Women begin to make the natural transition to menopause, known as perimenopause, roughly between the ages of 40 and 44.
While you’re in perimenopause, your periods may become irregular, either unusually early or late, or you may skip one. Or a few.
This stage can last for several years (!) until your estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone levels begin to decline. This leads to the second stage, menopause.
You’ll officially be in menopause if you haven’t had a period for 12 months and are between the age of 45 and 55 years old. Women can go through this stage between 7 and 14 years! Then comes the transition into the final stage, post-menopause.
Even when you’re in the post-menopause stage, you can still experience menopause symptoms for several years.
Keep in mind, though, that the symptoms you experience and their severity will differ from what other women experience. It’s quite an individual thing, actually!
How Do Hormone Levels Change After Menopause?
Unfortunately, once you transition into post-menopause, your hormone levels will remain at their new, low level for the rest of your life.
This happens because your ovaries produce very little estrogen and progesterone when you’re in post-menopause.
However, your levels of cortisol will increase around this time. As if we need more drama! Unfortunately, this can make the symptoms of menopause worse, disrupt your sleep, create a thyroid imbalance, and increase your feelings of anxiety and stress.
It’s important to manage your cortisol levels at this time. Ladies, that means reducing your stress levels as much as you can. Exercise helps, so don’t give up on your running!
It’s a good idea to take measures to keep your stress levels down. Make sure you get enough sleep and eat healthy meals. Wherever possible, remove sources of stress and surround yourself with people who support you!
What Does Estrogen Do?
Estrogen (alongside progesterone) is key for the development of the female reproductive system, breasts, underarm, and pubic hair.
It also contributes to healthy bone development and prevents bone loss. As estrogen levels decline, women’s risk of osteoporosis increases because of bone loss.
Estrogen also helps to expand or constrict the blood vessels, decrease inflammation, protect against heart disease, control cholesterol levels, and keep your blood vessels healthy.
Interestingly, it also plays a vital role in cognitive health, as it can affect how brain cells communicate and how the structures of the brain are connected.
It also controls the part of your brain that’s responsible for regulating your body temperature. This is why when estrogen levels drop, you experience night sweats and hot flashes!
Estrogen also promotes the production of serotonin and can increase the number of serotonin receptors in the brain, which boosts your mood.
When your estrogen levels decline, it can affect your mood, concentration level, and it can also trick your body into storing fat, regardless of your diet.
Symptoms During Menopause
Every women will experience the symptoms of menopause differently. Some ladies will experience them more intensely than others, while some might have rather mild symptoms.
Take note that the symptoms and their intensity or severity can also change over time. So while there are common symptoms, your experience of menopause will be unique to you.
Some of the signs that you’re in the stages of experiencing menopause include:
- Hot flashes or chills
- Night sweats
- Problems sleeping
- Feeling fatigued
- Brain fog (difficulty remembering things, battling to concentrate, or losing focus)
- Mood swings
- Weight gain
- Vaginal dryness
- Unusually heavy, light, or irregular periods
- Dryer or thinner skin and hair
- Increase in anxiety or depression
- Heart palpitations
- Reduced muscle mass
- Muscle cramps, aches, or stiff joints
- Reduced libido
- Absence of menstrual cycle for 12 consecutive months
- Bone loss
If you’re very active you may notice that, in addition to the above symptoms, you also experience unusually low motivation to exercise, muscle cramps, joint pain, incontinence, and slower recovery times.
You might also notice that you’ve gained weight around your stomach, hips, and thighs even though you’re following a healthy diet and exercise routine.
Can I Run Through Hot Flashes?
It’s perfectly safe for you to run or continue training through a hot flash. Unfortunately, you’re unable to prevent them or predict when you’re going to have a hot flash!
There is good news, though, as research has shown that physical activities like running are one of the best ways to reduce hot flashes and ease their severity.
Physical activity stimulates the brain to produce more good endorphins, increase blood flow to the skin, and regulate your body temperature.
Make sure that you stay well hydrated. You’ll need to replace the additional fluid loss that hot flashes cause.
To help open up your blood vessels before a run, you can try taking amino acid beta-alanine.
What Time of the Day Is Better to Run?
In summer, it would be best for you to run in the morning before it gets terribly hot. You don’t need extra heat on top of your own!
You’ll also notice that if you run a few hours before your bedtime, your core temperature may remain elevated, making it difficult to get restful sleep.
If you can’t get around running in the afternoon, you can try cooling your bedroom down by running an air conditioner or fan, using moisture-wicking sheets, and taking a cool shower before bed.
As a rule of thumb, you should layer up regardless of the season. It may seem against your instinct when you’re in the middle of a hot flash, but rather take off a layer that you can add back on later than get cold later because you went out with too few layers.
To help keep you cool during summer, consider wearing a cooling scarf like Kafka Kool Ties.
If You’re an Ambitious Athlete …
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help reduce the effects of low estrogen levels on your body and your performance.
Including strength training in your workout routines can make a huge difference. Lifting weights, using your own body weight, machines, and resistance bands will help reduce the loss of bone and muscle.
Vary your workouts by adding plyometrics and HIIT workouts into your training schedule too, where you can carry the intensity of your training.
Make sure that you plan for longer recoveries between your runs and workouts to prevent overtraining and injury!
Why Is HIIT Beneficial During Menopause?
HIIT workouts are a great way to prompt your body to build lean muscle while getting rid of visceral fat. It also keeps your heart and lungs healthy.
Interestingly, with the low hormonal levels that come with menopause, HIIT workouts are more effective. In this state, the body responds better than it would to a slow-burn endurance workout.
HIIT workouts also help your body to process insulin efficiently, reducing your risk of becoming insulin-resistant, which could increase your risk of becoming overweight.
Not only are HIIT workouts fun and challenging, but they will help keep you healthy and strong as you transition through menopause.
That being said, keep your HIIT workouts to a maximum of 45 minutes. The best way to maintain your bone density and muscle mass during this time is through a series of plyometric exercises, like jump squats, box jumps, and clap pushups.
Be Careful About Overtraining
You may find it hard to push yourself to the max in every training session when you’re dealing with menopause. To avoid overtraining, we recommend sticking to 3 hard, focused workouts a week.
Try to include three of the following each week:
- 1-hour+ cardio session
- HIIT training session
- Weight training session
- Tempo training
- Biking hills
- Intense interval training (running, spinning, cycling, rowing)
Try to stick to just 3 hard workouts a week. Schedule your easy and rest days around them. Not only will you see better results, but you’ll avoid low-energy, high-cortisol states.
Keep easy days easy. Go for a 30 minute light jog, do a yoga class, take a leisurely walk, or go for a swim. With menopause, your body isn’t going to adapt as quickly as it would before and everything takes a little longer.
Include mobility work, like dynamic stretching and foam rolling. This will help reduce muscle stiffness and keep you feeling good.
Make sure to plan your rest effectively. Too! This will help keep your parasympathetic nervous system balanced and keep those cortisol levels down.
If you’re not getting enough rest you may feel more overwhelmed, have trouble sleeping, and feel more physically stressed.
By making sure that you get proper rest, your recovery time improves, reduces the risk of injury, and you’ll improve your overall body composition.
Incorporate regular down-weeks into your training schedule. I know that we all hate down-weeks! But they’re essential for health, recovery, and ultimately, high performance.
The pattern of the down-weeks will depend on the type and intensity of your training. Ideally, you should have a down-week every 6 weeks, where you significantly reduce your training load and intensity.
Don’t do this
Avoid training fasted. This can cause a significant increase in your cortisol levels, which would reduce the effectiveness of your workout.
If your levels of cortisol are constantly high, this could lead to a cortisol imbalance which in turn can lead to a loss of muscle mass, weight gain, and exhaustion.
Make sure that your easy days are truly easy days! Don’t try to go for a tempo run on your easy day, for example, as this will interfere with your recovery.
If Low Hormone Levels Cause All These Issues, Can’t I Just Replace Them?
You may be giving hormone replacement therapy (HRT) some serious consideration, as you can replace your hormone levels with synthetic estrogen and progesterone.
While hormone replacement therapy can minimize some of the symptoms of menopause, like reducing hot flashes and protecting against bone loss, it does come with risks.
Recent studies have shown that risks associated with hormone replacement therapy include:
- Heart attacks and stroke
- Endometrial cancer (when estrogen is taken without progestin)
- Breast cancer
- Cardiovascular disease
- Increase in inflammatory markers
However, these risks may depend on the type of hormone therapy you have, how long you’re on the treatment, your age, personal medical history, and your family’s medical history.
Before considering hormone replacement therapy, speak to your doctor about the different treatment options and then choose the right one for you.
More Tips on Running Through Menopause
Start Easy by Walking
Remember that low motivation thing we mentioned above? When that hits and you can’t bring yourself to run, transition to walking instead of stopping completely.
Even if it’s a walk around the block or down the street and back, try not to give up your physical activity completely.
This way, when you do want to get back into it, it’s a simple case of building up your pace until you’re running again.
Take a Break Then Rebuild
There’s nothing wrong with taking some time off from running if you do want to. But take a strategic break and plan to get back into it.
Return slowly. Don’t expect to get back to your same level right away. Give it 3 or 4 runs to ease back into it and find that joy again and then you can work on a training program.
Try Other Sports
If running becomes uncomfortable for you during menopause, why not try a different sport? Cycling, rowing, swimming, or weight training could be an excellent alternative and keep you just as fit, just without the discomfort.
Remember the Mental Health Benefits
Remember that exercise helps alleviate anxiety, which menopause tends to worsen. You can actually use exercise as a weapon against your menopause symptoms! Even a short run every day can make a world of difference to your mental health.
Find Like-Minded Women
There are communities out there filled with people who can help you through. There are tons of women who have gone through the same thing and can offer advice and guidance. Whether online or an in-person group, try to find like-minded ladies to talk to.
Talk About It
Find a friend you can talk to who can support you. Bonus if they understand what you’re going through because they’re experiencing the same!
Just talking through how you feel can be a relief, and having someone who understands when you’re not motivated or you have weird aches can just be a relief.
Take steps to stay comfy! If your hot flashes are ruining your runs, stick your headband and wrist bands in the freezer before you go for a run so you have a cooling effect as you run. Get creative!
Also, pay attention to your body and see if you need to take more nutrition with you on runs, stop more often for bathroom breaks, or change up your routine.
Whatever you need to do to feel comfortable and protected while you run, do it. Ladies, this is your body and your experience. It doesn’t have to ruin your running! Prepare, look it in the eye when it arrives, and go forth and do great sporty things anyway.