In the not-so-distant future, I will be dealing with running and menopause. I am in the lower 40s and already I can feel my segue into perimenopause with my changing cycle. Some of my friends and athletes feel it too, and several of my athletes are firmly in menopause. And the changes that come during this time can make running very difficult.
But there are ways to cope with menopause and running. And that’s a good thing too, because research shows that running eases menopause symptoms.
But what is menopause? According to the National Institutes for Health, menopause is a point in time 12 months after a woman’s last period. It usually happens between the ages of 45 and 55. The years (typically spanning 7-14) leading up to the last period are called the menopausal transition or perimenopause.
Menopause or perimenopause are characterized by symptoms such as changes in the menstrual cycle, hot flashes, weight gain, headaches, and difficulty sleeping, among others, thanks to fluctuations in the body’s production of the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone. Menopausal transition affects women very differently and lifestyle can play a huge role, e.g. exercise can mitigate symptoms. (Anecdotally, my runner friends who have gone through menopause say their symptoms were not as intense or lengthy.)
But you can still have symptoms—and these symptoms can make it just so dang hard to run. After all, who feels like pounding the pavement when you haven’t slept, are burning up, gained weight, and have a splitting headache?
For this article, I spoke with experts, did research, and read women’s health pioneer Stacy Sims’ book Next Level on menopause and athletics.
Related: Should I Run a Race on My Period?
I will cover:
- Is running good for menopause?
- Does menopause make running harder?
- Tips for running and menopause to keep you going, and
- A Menopausal Training Plan
Note, I am not a doctor, but I did consult with a doctor and other experts for this article. If you have health concerns and questions, see your doctor.
So, let’s get moving, shall we?
Is running good for menopause?
Yes, running is good for menopause. Studies show that exercise improved many menopausal symptoms including weight gain, anxiety and depression, hot flashes, headaches, muscle aches, bone density, sexual function issues, and sleep difficulty.
According to exercise physiologist Todd Buckingham and research, here’s how running is good for menopause:
Weight-bearing exercises like running can help make your bones stronger because of the stress placed on them. This is particularly important as women enter menopause because bone density starts to decrease rapidly during this time (up to 10 percent in the first 5 years after menopause) and the risk of osteoporosis increases. The bones (just like muscles) respond to stress and become stronger when placed under pressure. This is why running can be an important aid in slowing that decline.
Running can improve mood and anxiety through the release of hormones called endorphins. These “runner’s high” hormones help blunt the brain’s response to physical and emotional stress, making them perfect for combating the negative emotions that may arise during menopause.
While researchers don’t completely understand why exercise helps us sleep better, it is clear that those who exercise more also sleep better. As little as 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day can improve sleep quality and the benefits don’t take months to years to show up like some benefits from running do.
This can be particularly important during menopause when hot flashes may keep you up and prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep. However, be careful when exercising too close to bedtime because exercise releases hormones that may keep people awake.
Weight gain during menopause because of hormonal changes is common. Regular exercise such as running is an NIH-recommended measure to prevent excess weight gain so menopausal women can maintain a healthy weight. Something dubbed “menopausal belly” is possible during this time due to declining estrogen, age-related muscle loss and lifestyle factors such as diet and lack of exercise. Moving more including running regularly, strength training, eating nutritious food, and menopausal hormone replacement therapy can all combat menopausal belly.
Several research studies show that regular exercise at moderate intensity can relieve the frequency of hot flashes during menopause. Specifically, cardiovascular exercise like running plus resistance training can help keep hot flashes at bay.
Research indicates a relationship between exercise and headaches. If you exercise, less likely you are to have headaches, including hormonal headaches and migraines. Research also finds that exercise like running activates neurotransmitter signals that could be effective in reducing the intensity of headache pain, including migraines.
Joint pain and aches.
There is also evidence that regular exercise reduces the duration of joint pain and aches. Indeed, joint mobility wanes as we get older, so exercise to maintain range of motion will decrease the prevalence of joint pain and aches.
Does menopause make running harder?
Yes, running is harder with menopause. The levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone all fall during menopause with many ups and downs along the way. These fluctuations make menopausal symptoms erratic and varied.
These symptoms such as hot flashes, headaches, and fatigue can make it hard to get motivated to run even if you know running with make your menopause symptoms better.
But running and menopause can go together. Below are suggestions for how to mitigate your menopausal and perimenopausal symptoms. Before I get to them, I want to say that I know these aren’t magic bullets and trying to overcome symptoms can be frustrating.
These are jumping-off points that I hope are helpful. If they aren’t, please talk to your doctor about options such as hormone replacement therapy. According to Dr. Catherine Multari, a naturopathic doctor, HRT can be extremely helpful in combatting menopausal symptoms. Talking with a specialist with help you assess what is best for you.
To maintain weight, energy, and muscle mass, menopausal runners should consider altering their diet to include more nutrients.
- Research indicates that creatine supplementation increases aging muscle mass and strength, possibly by influencing high-energy phosphate metabolism, muscle protein kinetics and growth factors, and bone mineral enhancement, according to Megan Robinson, registered sports dietitian, who works with masters runners.
- Protein, collagen & calcium. Eating more protein, taking in collagen, and getting more vitamin D and calcium are critical for building muscle, and supporting our soft tissue, joints, and bones which degenerate more as we age.
Related: Should I Be Taking Collagen?
- Joint supplement. Taking supplements such as Previnex’s Joint Health PLUS, which is grounded in science, can also help protect joints and relieve pain. Its blend is clinically proven to protect joint cartilage from breakdown during exercise and help with mobility in 7-10 days. Save 15 percent off your first order with code TMR 15.
Fight fatigue by practicing good sleep hygiene which includes no screens at least an hour before bed, a cool and dark room, and wear cool pajamas like Soma brand to ward off night sweats and hot flashes, says sleep expert Nicole Shallow. If you can, take a nap of an hour or less before 2 p.m. to recharge your batteries.
Also, get a good mattress and pillow. I am OBSESSED with Lagoon Sleep. I promise you I have never slept better as an adult since getting this pillow. Save 15 percent with code MOTHERRUNNERS.
Related: Should You Run on No Sleep?
Battle hot flashes.
My runners in menopause swear by using cooling blankets and towels, cooling pillows at home for hot flashes, and cooling hat for runs when hot flashes hit. It doesn’t get rid of them (running can help decrease them) but can help make them more bearable. This thermal regulation wristband can also help you battle night sweats and hot flashes.
I used to get terrible migraines (from hormones) that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemies. There are many medical options now for headaches and for me, I have found the right concoction of OTC headache meds that I take as soon as a migraine is coming up that helps. It’s trial and error but regular exercise can lessen headaches. And a cooling hat like this one can help alleviate as well as a daily magnesium supplement. I highly recommend talking to your doctor about treatment options which can include preventative medication or injections.
Related: Is Running Harder During PMS?
Go with the flow.
Heavier periods, called menorrhagia, are common during perimenopause. One study of more than 1,300 middle-aged women reported that 91 percent of them experienced at least one occurrence of heavy flow lasting three or more days during a three-year timeframe.
You can mitigate the effects of heavier flows by drinking more fluids, upping your iron intake, and wearing something like a menstrual cup. Anti-inflammatories like Advil can help with cramps. Medication such as a low-dose birth control can also ease heavier periods, though they come with drawbacks for endurance athletes. I suggest talking to your OB!
Related: Is Birth Control Safe for Runners?
When you feel very low in energy and mood, running may feel like the hardest thing to do. I understand this. These are times when all you want to do is crawl into bed and sleep until you feel better. But truly, movement such as running is the best way to boost mood. It releases chemicals in your body that have been proven time and again to boost moods. Indeed, exercise is often part of treatment plans for things like depression and anxiety.
For my article on how to use running to overcome postpartum depression, most women said they started with small goals. They put on their shoes and committed to walk for 10 minutes or a mile, etc. They were surprised how much better they felt and how, in time, that goal grew in size and momentum.
Your Menopausal Training Plan
So, how do you run with menopause? Training will look different as your body goes through this transition also known as “the change” according to Golden Girl Blanche Deveraux (couldn’t resist working that in there).
Below is your menopausal and perimenopausal training plan with insights from Buckingham.
1. Proceed slowly.
If you’ve taken a break or are dealing with severe menopausal symptoms, meet yourself where you are. Start by doing most of your runs at an easy and controlled pace. Working with a running coach can help you progress so that you can safely start working in speed when ready. I suggest not looking too far back or forward. Set small goals and new ones that are fresh territory to escape the urge to compare.
2. Then add speed.
If you don’t use your speed, you lose it. Women in menopause benefit greatly from sprint interval training, according to Sims. The best type of high-intensity interval training for menopausal women is super short, sharp sprint-style intervals lasting about 30 seconds or less. If your running goals call for longer intense intervals, monitor your cortisol levels which can rise with intervals over 60 seconds. Consider taking an adrenal support supplement to manage cortisol levels which rise during menopause.
3. Focus on recovery.
The length of recovery time will grow during this time. Instead of having two easy days between harder workouts, consider three or dropping to one hard day a week. Consider elongating a “training week” to ten days instead of seven. Build in more cross-training days to limit pounding but strengthen the cardiovascular system. Carefully monitor how you are feeling and adjust your training knowing that quality over quantity is key. Likewise, your training cycle for a goal race may need to be longer to allow more time for recovery and training adaptations.
4. Lift heavy.
While you may be running harder less frequently during menopause, you can ramp up your strength sessions to counteract bone and muscle loss, and increase power.
According to Sims, HIIT workouts, plyometrics, and heavy rep schemes are beneficial for women in menopause. Shoot to do 2-3 strength training sessions a week on your harder run days. If you struggle with incontinence during menopause, an app such as Strong Like Mom can help strengthen your pelvic floor which weakens as estrogen drops.
Here are some strength resources to get you started:
- Strength Training for Marathon: A Periodization
- Strength Training Guide for Runners
- Kettlebell Workout for Runners
- Hamstring Exercises for Runners
- Plyometric Workout for Runners
- 10 Best Strength Training Apps for Runners
5. Stay mobile.
The extra bodywork such as warm-ups, cool-downs, mobility, and post-run stretching and rolling will help keep your joints mobile during a time when range of motion is shrinking.
Here are some routines to help:
- 5-minute Mobility Routine for Runners
- 5-minute Warm-up Routine for Runners
- 6 Best Yoga Moves for Runners
- How to Foam Roll for Runners
6. Pay attention.
It’s important to pay attention to how your body is feeling. I suggest even starting a journal. You may notice triggers (e.g. red wine may hurt recovery or trigger headaches or two run days are too tiring). Note these triggers and avoid them. Using a watch such as a WHOOP can also help monitor how your body is responding to training, so you don’t push yourself over the redline.
7. Recruit a friend.
Training with a partner can help keep you motivated and give you space to vent if you are feeling frustrated by your menopausal symptoms (or anything else in life). I don’t think I can adequately express how strong and meaningful bonds built while on the run can be. Running friends are the best to lift you up when you are down and keep you moving forward. They are also wonderful to celebrate victories big and small with.
If you want guidance with your running goals, including during perimenopause or menopause, check out my run coaching services. Also, be sure to check out my free training plans:
- Postpartum Training Plan
- After a Break Training Plan
- 5k Training Plans
- 10k Training Plans
- Half Marathon Training Plans
- Marathon Training Plans
- Strength Training Plan