By Elisa Cottarelli | Team MM
At a younger age, you may have been the most active person you knew….
…the kind that woke up extra early for a morning jog and was part of every sports team your school offered. Or, you may have always been the more ‘relaxed’ type, the kind of person to ask philosophical questions such as, ‘Can I really be considered out of shape if I’ve never been in shape?’
Regardless of your typical fitness habits, it’s undeniable that the menopause makes exercise a lot more difficult. It’s not just the physical symptoms, like hot flushes, joint pain, and fatigue, or the mental symptoms, like depression and anxiety, that make it harder to work out. A 2016 study found that the menopause causes the pleasure-centre of the brain to become less active, which means that you don’t feel as good after a workout as you did before. But as fitness is incredibly important and can help you to manage your symptoms, we need to find a way to motivate ourselves to get active.
First, let’s talk about barriers. As we’ve said, your symptoms can be a major challenge in motivating yourself to exercise. You wake up from a near-sleepless night, your back is on fire, you’re irritated, you’re already sweating from head to toe and now you’re meant to put on tightfitting activewear and battle through an hour of working out? No thank you.
The first step to motivating yourself is to minimise your symptoms, since that’s probably going to be the first biggest challenge. Diet is a great start, since it’s going to be your natural fuel and will help with many of your symptoms. And again, exercise in and of itself is incredible for managing your symptoms, so once you get started, you’ll start feeling better! That means the second and third week (and so on) of working out will be easier and easier. Keep that in mind when you’re first getting going!
Getting to the gym is hard enough, let alone how demoralising it can feel once you’re there.
Second, let’s say you’ve made it to the gym. One look around at all the slim and toned 20-somethings and you may feel like curling up into a ball right there and then and rolling yourself all the way back home. Getting to the gym is hard enough, let alone how demoralising it can feel once you’re there.
That said, here’s a few things to remember: for one, there’s no need to go to the gym right away if you’re not ready for it. When you’re just starting to exercise again for the first time in weeks (or months, or years), it’s okay to take it easy at first. Don’t expect yourself to be the fastest, slimmest, strongest person right away. You can start at home with some home exercises or go out for a jog to get yourself back in the zone. Once (if ever) you feel comfortable, you can then move onto the gym.
Getting yourself to workout is an accomplishment…
It’s also good to bear in mind that there’s no compulsory reason for going to the gym. Especially if that’s not your style. Sure, it IS a great way to keep motivated: that little bit of silent pressure you feel from the people around you can actually motivate you to run a little bit longer. That, and if you pay for membership, you’ll want to get your money’s worth. But if you feel like you can get a great workout outside the gym, then there’s no need! If you do prefer to go to the gym, then keep in mind that this is your journey and your experience. Everyone else there is focused on making themselves stronger too, they won’t be focused on you and so you shouldn’t focus on them! Getting yourself to workout is an accomplishment, and if you’ve made it that far, don’t let the people around you feel like you’re not good enough. They don’t have the same aches and pains as you do!
A final barrier to working out is, simply, a lack of resources. Gym memberships can be costly, and you might not feel like you have time. If you come home from work in the evening, the last thing you’ll want to do is put on your activewear and step back outside into the cold. But again, you don’t need the gym! There are plenty of home exercises you can do whenever you have time. You can do them while watching TV, you can do them right after you wake up; in fact you can do them in pretty much any spare time you have!
Fitness isn’t really useful if you train full on for a week and then take a 3 or 4 months hiatus.
If you can get past these initial barriers, then the main challenge becomes keeping a consistent workout schedule. Fitness isn’t really useful if you train full on for a week and then take a 3 or 4 months hiatus. You’ve got to keep at it to see health results! So, here are a few quick tips to keep you on track:
- Bring a friend
Having a workout buddy is a fun and helpful way to make sure you’re sticking to your fitness plan. You can motivate each other and hold each other accountable for your exercise. Just be sure to pick a friend who you know won’t convince you to skip every week!
- Change your routine
Working out does NOT have to be boring! There’s no right workout for anyone, and there are a ton of options. Figure out what you prefer best. Dancing? Running? Swimming? Yoga? Pilates? Take a good browse at different classes available and get creative. Once you find something you actually enjoy doing, exercising will be a lot less daunting!
- Listen to your body!
Maybe there was a time when you could go for a 60-minute workout and still feel energetic enough to keep going. But that might change. With fatigue and sleeplessness (among other symptoms), those super long daily exercises might not be possible anymore, and that’s okay. If that’s the case, focus on shorter (but slightly more intense) exercises, like strength training or even HIIT. Alternatively, you can keep the length, but lower the intensity. Intense and long-lasting cardio workouts might be too much now. If you need to slow it down, that’s normal. Yoga and pilates are great exercises to strengthen your body without overworking your heart.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: exercise and fitness are SO important when it comes to the menopause. You might have to adjust your previous exercise patterns and try something new. Be open minded when it comes to fitness and eventually you’ll find a system that works for you.