The Pros and Cons of Running and Menopause

With side effects such as joint pain, hot flashes and iron deficiency, it may seem like running and menopause seem like they are at odds. The truth is, running can help minimize almost all menopausal symptoms. Here’s how to get over the hormonal hurdles and get started.

older woman running in fall forest
Running can help alleviate menopausal symptoms. Here’s how to get started.

Running and menopause is a subject I’m passionate about as I coach many women in or approaching the perimenopausal transition—and I, personally, am approaching this phase of life, as well. And you hear horror stories of how awful menopause can be, and it fuels fear that your running days will be behind you once these hormonal changes occur.

But education (and self-advocacy) can go a long way. That’s why I believe it’s important to not believe what you hear—and find out what’s really going on so you are armed to live your best, healthiest, happiest life…And what’s really going on is that running and menopause can go together well because exercise like running is a powerful tool to ward off many menopausal symptoms.

Research shows that the benefits of load-bearing exercise like running for perimenopausal and menopausal women such as increased bone mass and strength—two areas that decline as estrogen (oestogen) decrease during menopause. In fact, women can lose up to 20 percent of their bone density in the first five to seven years after menopause. Exercise like running during menopause puts stress on the bones which spurs your body to strengthen them.

Declining estrogen can also trigger increased fat deposition and change its distribution so there is more “visceral fat” aka belly fat which leads to higher risk of cardiovascular disease. It can also reduce lean muscle mass due to reduced protein synthesis from less estrogen, which can make it harder to maintain a healthy weight. But you guessed it—running can combat this.

And the benefits don’t stop there. In this article, I am going to go over the pros and cons of running and menopause so that you can run for as long as you want to.

Let’s go!

Related: Running & Menopause: A Survival Guide

running menopause pin
What are the pros and cons of running during menopause? Pin these tips for how staying active can help you manage symptoms like hot flashes, low iron, and more. 

9 Benefits of running for menopausal women

Even though the symptoms accompanying perimenopause can make being motivated to run difficult, there are many reasons to run. The number one reason is that running can alleviate many of your menopause symptoms and slow the effects of aging.

1. Lowers stress, and boosts mood and self-esteem

Exercise like running has been shown to lower stress levels and boost moods. This is in part due to the increased levels of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, which enhancing the happy hormones knowns as endorphins.

2. Increased muscle mass

The stress on your muscles triggers your body to respond by making them stronger, increasing your skeletal muscle mass and decreasing fat mass. This is at a time when your body is more inclined to make more fat and lose muscle.

3. Increased bone mass

Similarly, osteoporosis, the loss of bone mass, is one of the biggest concerns for women entering perimenopause. Load-bearing exercise like running and lifting weights is the biggest fighter against bone loss.

4. Reduce joint pain

Body aches and joint pain are common during menopause as estrogen is important for the health of our connective tissues. But you lose what you don’t use—and using your joints to do something like run can help keep them healthy and strong.

5. Weight management

As noted, the drop in estrogen and lead to less muscle, a lower metabolic rate, and more fat accumulation around the middle. Exercise can help improve the fat you burn so you can maintain a healthy weight.

6. Improved sleep

Sleep interruptions and issues is a common problem of menopause. But study after study shows that physical activity improves sleep quality and duration.

7. Reduces risk of disease

Because of all these benefits of exercise, you are at a lower risk of developing diseases related to obesity, for example, including type II diabetes, high blood pressure, certain types of cancer, fatty liver, etc. There is also a decrease risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes. You also have healthier cholesterol levels.

8. Lower risk of breast cancer

 Breast cancer is also another concern among perimenopausal and post menopausal women. Research has found that women who are regularly active have a 25-30% LOWER risk of developing postmenopausal breast cancer than inactive women.

9. Fewer hot flashes

 Research shows cardiovascular exercise like running reduces self-reported hot flashes. This is likely because exercises like running and menopause spur “greater thermoregulatory control in response to increases in core temperature and enhanced vascular function in the cutaneous and cerebral circulations,” studies note.

Related: How Running Makes You a Better Mom

running menopause pin 2
Pin how staying active can help you manage symptoms like hot flashes, low iron, and more. 

Challenges of running during menopause

Now that we know all the benefits of exercise such as running—it makes it a no brainer for us to do it for as long as we can. So, what is stopping us? During the menopausal transition there are many symptoms of the hormonal fluctuations that can make doing exercise like running feel impossible.

I will list some common menopause symptoms though this is nowhere near an exhaustive list. These symptoms can make it hard for running and menopause to go together.

But the good news is, with guidance (and grace), you can get over the hump and running can help minimize these miserable side effects.

  1. Joint pain
  2. Hot flashes
  3. Brain fog
  4. Anxiety and mood swings
  5. Sleep difficulty
  6. Weight gain
  7. Loss of muscle and bone mass
  8. Vaginal dryness
  9. Urinary incontinence
  10. Low iron

Yes, that’s right. If you asked, can menopause cause low iron? The answer is yes—and surprising as you aren’t menstruating anymore. But estrogen plays an important role in how the body metabolizes iron. The fluctuating levels of estrogen can impact how iron is “up-regulated” in the body.

Related: Running Tips for Master’s Runners

running during menopause post
Running can make menopause much more manageable!

9 Tips for running safely and effectively, no matter your age

So, wow. Those are a lot of hurdles to overcome to start running. It doesn’t seem fair, does it? Your kids are likely finally grown and you have more flexibility to run, but now you’re exhausted or feel borderline miserable.

I’m not a doctor, so I cannot speak to you about treatments such as Hormone Replacement Therapy. But I am a running coach and can talk to you about how to approach running in a way that is doable for you and this stage of life.

Whitney Heins running in a sports bra and smiling
I am going after fresh, untouched running goals while in my 40s to avoid the comparison trap.

1. Have the right mindset.

Just as when you learned it was wise to ease back into running after having a baby or recovering from an injury, the same approach is needed. Ditch trying to be someone you once were, or skipping steps to be where you want to be.

Start your running journey fresh and excited about the process. Think about all the benefits listed above that are coming your way once you start putting one foot in front of the other.

2. Set goals.

Set mini-goals around the process and new goals that are fresh so you can ditch comparison. A mini goal or process goal can be to run 3 times a week for a month, or work up to 3 miles of continuous running. A new goal can be going after a new distance you’ve never run or raced before. (Personally, I am going after my fastest mile time at 43 as it’s an untouched goal for me, so no comparison).

Be gentle with yourself and give yourself grace (and kudos!). What you’re doing isn’t easy, but it’s definitely worth it.

3. Optimize the little things.

Paying attention to the little things can really help your recovery. These little things include a complete rest day once a week, proper nutrition, enough sleep (this will come as your run), and strength training (more on that below). You’ll get so much more out of your training if you optimize these things the best you can.

4. Take care of your joints.

One of the biggest hurdles for runners in menopause is that they battle joint pain from the declining estrogen. We’ve covered that running can make your joints stronger, but how do you make it less painful to start? Performing mobility exercises that take your joints through a full range of motion will help keep your joints lubricated and limber. Check out my mobility routine here.

A joint health supplement like Previnex’s Joint Health+ (proven effective in one week! Save 15% with code TMR15) can also help keep your connective tissues healthy and strong.

5. Warm-up.

Now that we got the mindset and your goals covered, it’s time to run! Begin every run with a gentle warm-up. Do some mobility and dynamic stretching. Walk for about 5 minutes before easing into an easy jog.

6. Walk as needed.

Take walk breaks as needed. Ideally, you can talk while running (maybe with a friend who is on a similar hormonal journey as you!). If you can’t, ease off the pace and walk for a bit. Don’t try to pick up the pace until you have at least 3 months of solid running under your belt. Take walk breaks as needed during this time.

I promise you will start to feel fitter—but the fitness must come to you. You can’t force it. Consistency is key.

7. Cool-down.

When you’re doing running, always do a cool-down. This involves slowing to a walk for about 5-10 minutes to let your heart rate return to a normal range. When you come in the door, do about five to ten minutes of light static stretching.

This can help improve range of motion and make your muscles feel less stiff and sore after running. Here are some great yoga moves for runners. I also like to do Peloton’s post-run stretches or focus flow for runners.

8. Increase volume and pace gradually.

The most common reason runners get injured is they do too much too soon. This is especially true for those of us over 40, so don’t jump right back into running. Let your body be your guide, not data.

Typically, you don’t want to increase running volume more than 10 percent week to week—and that may be too much for you.

9. Hire a running coach.

If all this sounds daunting, working with a running coach such as myself can progress you in a way that will keep you healthy, minimize aches and pains, while increasing your fitness.

Related: How to Start Running

The best workouts for perimenopause

So, what are the best workouts for perimenopause? Good news! You aren’t limited to doing Tai Chai. Here are three of the best workouts for perimenopause to add to your routine.

1. Cardiovascular activities like running

Any cardiovascular activity including swimming, cycling, walking, rowing, and, yes, running, will improve your heart function which can lessen symptoms such as hot flashes, sleep disruptions, and mood swings while also decreasing risks for disease.

Running and menopause go together perfectly because in addition to working your heart, running strengthens your bones and muscles—and releases feel-good endorphins. These are things we all need in menopause!

Aim for 150 minutes of cardio per week to see benefits. If you want a bonus, studies show that HIIT training (High Intensity Interval Training) once a week where you go hard for just 10 to 30 seconds can boost fat-burning metabolism, improving body composition. This can be done in heavy lifting or sprint training. (It is best to work with a fitness trainer or running coach so you don’t get injured!)

2. Strength training

We are at a great risk for losing our strength (muscle mass and bone density) during menopause. Lifting heavy weights (along with running) can ward off and even reverse these changes.

Ease into strength training with bodyweight exercises, then progress to dumbells and kettlebells before you get to anything heavy like using a bar. Be sure you are using proper form. (Working with a fitness trainer to start is a great way to ensure you don’t injure yourself while lifting).

You’ll want to work to lifting a weight in which you can do 6-8 reps with energy to do about 3 more (and do 3 sets of this). Perform basic moves like squats and lunges—three times a week.

3. Yoga

Doing an activity such as yoga or mobility can help maintain your joint range of motion, improve how you feel after lifting or running, and keep you healthy and active. Yoga is a great way to restore your body—and your mind—as your body undergoes these changes.

I’ve come to love my slow flow yoga class I do on my rest days. If you don’t have time to go to a yoga studio, Peloton and Yoga with Adriene offer great at-home options!

Related: How to Become Faster as a Masters Runner

Just keep running

My hope is that these tips for menopause and running can help keep you running through your hormonal changes. The ideal course of action is that we keep running and never stop (before, during, and after menopause)—which will help assuage any miserable menopausal symptoms and allow us to live full, healthy lives.

Of course, there may be some trial and error and some days when running feels impossible. That’s ok! Honestly, that’s life in almost all stages as a mom. Give yourself grace. Do the best you can on that day. And remember, running will be waiting for you when you’re ready.

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