PMS and Menopause. How Diet And Exercise Can Help:
We hear all the time about the benefits of exercise and now we are hearing that exercise can help us fight the mood swings that are associated with our hormonal shifts? Gosh, will our friends and family welcome that! The truth of the matter is that the shifting tides of your hormones and the effects on your body are fairly common at certain times in life for women. Men experience hormonal shifts too, just not to the same degree. The influences of higher levels of estrogen during our child bearing years, which for most of us is between the ages 20-40, can cause symptoms that occur a week or two before your period, such as bloating and moodiness. The combination of all of these factors can lead you to fatigue and lethargy, which can result in a lack of desire to launch into your normal fitness routine. Instead of skipping exercise completely, swapping high-intensity workouts with light exercise can actually help alleviate symptoms associated with PMS and your period. Here are some low-impact workouts to try to help you fight PMS and have more energy.
Go for a brisk walk: Head out on your lunch break for a 20- to 30-minute walk in the park or around your neighborhood before dinner. This light form of cardiovascular activity is enough to get your muscles moving and your heart rate up, which can help immensely with cramp relief. For an added bonus, chatting it up with your gal pal will let you vent about work, your BF, or other things that especially set you off during that time of the month.
Go swimming: Hitting the pool is a great way to relieve cramps and get your exercise on. Since your body feels so light and free, you can move your limbs in all directions without having to expend much energy to hold your body weight. All that movement and increased blood flow is sure to lift your energy levels and improve your mood.
Do strength training moves that target your abs: I know this seems a little odd to purposely tense up the area that already feels like it’s in knots, but doing exercises that improve the blood flow to your stomach area will actually help to bathe you in hormones such as endorphins that have natural pain relieving and anti-inflammatory properties.
Gentle yoga class or stretching at home: The slow and steady holding of poses in yoga is perfect for that time of the month. Since yoga focuses on pulling your energy inward, no matter how tired you feel, you can always muster up enough oomph to do some stretching. Here are some yoga poses recommended for relieving period symptoms:
Butterfly: This seated pose relieves tension in the hips.
Wide-Legged Child’s Pose: Separating your knees in this version of Child’s Pose will reduce lower back pain.
Camel: Stretching your abs can relieve abdominal tension.
Down Dog: It gets the blood flowing to your head, which can ease mood swings or sad feelings associated with PMS.
Intimacy: If all else fails, making love and releasing all those feel good hormones like oxytocin can pick up your moods and relieve stress. The uterine contractions you experience with orgasm can relieve the sense of heaviness you feel in your uterus. Plus the endorphins released can ease tension and pain associated with cramps. It may only offer brief relief, but it’s better than nothing, right?
Menopause on the other hand is a gradual process that starts in your mid 40s whereby your estrogen levels start to drop off, you may begin to experience hot flashes, weight gain and mood swings as well. Menopause is a term that means you’ve had your last menstrual cycle or period. This typically occurs between the ages of 48 and 55. Prior to that time women notice gradual changes in the frequency, regularity or amount of their menstrual flow. One’s flow normally becomes lighter and the interval longer between each period. Cycle length may also become shorter or erratic. This is due to progressive reductions in estrogen during the 5 to 10 years leading up to menopause. Menopause can be accompanied by a number of physical changes or symptoms including hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, sleep disturbances and emotional ups and downs. Many women experience only mild symptoms; others have more difficulty. In the years following menopause, risk for various health problems such as heart disease and osteoporosis increases.
Menopause is a time of transition often coinciding with other life changes (body, family structure, relationships, job, self-identity). Exercise has a significant and positive impact on mood and has been shown to be particularly helpful in the treatment of mild to moderate depression. Exercise in the morning has been shown to be helpful in improving sleep, whereas too much evening exercise may increase difficulty sleeping.
Many studies have found that weight gain after menopause is more likely in women who are sedentary than in women who maintain a physically active lifestyle. Exercise appears to have a more powerful influence on a woman’s total body fat and abdominal fat during early menopause than hormone replacement therapy. If a woman does gain weight during her postmenopausal years, the pattern of fat deposition will probably look different. This is because a woman’s sex hormones seem to promote the “pear” shape instead of the “apple” shape. A woman who has always deposited fat in her hips and thighs may find that she now gains fat in her stomach and waist. Unfortunately, this switch to abdominal and visceral (inside around your organs) fat storage is associated with increased heart disease and diabetes risk. So it really pays to find activities you enjoy that keep your body fit and your waist trim!
Estrogen appears to confer a “protective effect” on women when it comes to diseases such as osteoporosis and heart disease. When estrogen levels drop, women become more vulnerable to these health problems. Exercise can step in and provide its own “protective effect”. The five years following menopause are normally a time of rapid bone loss. Strength training and weight-bearing exercise can help you keep the bone you have, while sedentary women are losing bone mass. Regular cardiovascular exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and type II diabetes, lower blood pressure, improve lipid profiles, increase insulin sensitivity and prevent weight gain. There are a lot of reasons to keep moving.
Women may experience more urinary stress incontinence (poor bladder control) after menopause. This is because the pelvic floor muscles atrophy when estrogen levels drop. Pelvic floor muscles control urination, defecation and support the sexual organs. Many women benefit from the regular performance of pelvic floor or “Kegel” exercises. Check with your doctor if incontinence has become a problem for you to make sure you are performing these exercises properly and that you receive other medical treatment if necessary. Your doctor can refer you to a physical therapist who is trained in this area and uses specialized techniques to help you learn how to strengthen these important muscles.
Exercise should add enjoyment and energy to your life, so find ways of moving that give you pleasure along with better health. Many women enjoy activities such as hiking, golf, skiing, gardening, dancing (ballroom, folk, modern, jazz) or yoga. Find your own activity niche and invite your friends, neighbors or family members to join you. Exercise can be a great way to stay connected with those we love or build new relationships. However, EVERY woman can benefit from regular exercise in a variety of ways as there are no unwanted side effects except for occasional muscle soreness and your healthy glow will be an added bonus to your health!
So, until next time, here’s to the best of your health!!
Elizabeth Salada MD
Internal Medicine and Wellness