A guest blog by Julie Robinson, CEO of Move it or Lose it, an EMD UK member organisation

As group exercise instructors, we all know that we need to adapt exercises to suit people who are de-conditioned, overweight, have osteoporosis, arthritis or any number of conditions or issues. Yet we’d never really consider adapting exercise for menopause and why should we?

Of course, menopause isn’t an illness; it’s a stage of life that happens to every woman and it affects everyone differently.  Many women have symptoms which impact on their quality of life, ability to work, or which affect their physical and mental health, so it’s little wonder that one third of women drop off from physical activity at this time.

Although the average age of menopause in the UK is 51 (which is calculated as being 12 months from the day of your last menstrual period), age alone is not a reliable indicator.  One of the biggest issues is that many women don’t recognise that their symptoms are related to the fluctuations of hormones that occur during perimenopause (which typically occurs in our 40s) and often think that menopause just means having hot flushes.

There are at least 34 symptoms, which include fatigue, joint pain, insomnia, low mood, heavy periods, pelvic floor problems, hot flushes, achy joints and brain fog.  Changes in body shape, thickening waists and weight gain can also cause a loss of confidence.

Many women simply lose their motivation or feel too tired to exercise as the menopause  often coincides with other changes in life such as increased career responsibilities, ageing parents, young grandchildren, teenage tantrums or empty nest syndrome. It’s easy to see why the barriers to exercise multiply during this time.

So what can we do to encourage women to join, or stay with us, at this stage of life?

Firstly I’d suggest you familiarise yourself with research by Women in Sport – Menopause, Me and Physical Activity. https://www.womeninsport.org/research-and-advice/our-publications/menopause/

Key findings highlighted how menopausal symptoms, low exercise self-efficacy and physical activity knowledge, social stigma and lack of social support are significant barriers to participation. The things women fear are feeling embarrassed, that they may be the only one who can’t do it, that they might look silly, have an overwhelming hot flush or accidentally leak when they leap about.

So here are some things you can do to reduce the fear and offer practical encouragement:

  • Offer options so your client can take control depending how they feel on the day. Of course it’s our job to motivate and encourage, but ensure they have the option to reduce intensity without feeling embarrassed or a failure.
  • Talking of embarrassment, make sure everyone knows they can disappear off to the loo whenever they need and without anyone noticing. This is especially important if you do any high impact exercise that includes jumping.
  • Don’t avoid talking about pelvic floor exercises. For some disciplines such as Pilates, it’s part and parcel of every workout, but if you teach group exercise don’t shy away from it and encourage your ladies to do their PF exercises daily and seek help from their doctor if they are suffering with bladder incontinence.
  • Create a welcoming atmosphere that encourages social support. The benefits that go along with feeling part of a cohesive, friendly group go way beyond the obvious advantages to keeping fit. This is usually what drives high attendance and adherence – we remember how we ‘feel’ after a great class far more than what our heart rate was.
  • It’s good to use humour as long as you laugh at yourself first and with, not at, others. Brain fog is a very common symptom of menopause and is sometimes so bad that women think they have early onset dementia. Have an easy option if you’re doing any complex choreography so everyone can keep moving and enjoy the routines. Fear of being judged is a huge barrier to participation.
  • Find out what the motivating factors for coming to your class are then explain why the exercises can help by relating them to a specific purpose. Most women are concerned about weight gain and many are worried about getting osteoporosis like their mums. So you could add extra motivational comments like, “These resistance exercises will not only tone up your muscles but help burn more calories even when you’re sleeping.” “These hopping exercises are vital for strong bones and can reduce our risk of osteoporosis as we age.”

Knowing what women need at this time was the driving force for creating MenoClass – a one-stop shop for busy women to get the right combination of support and exercise in a class that’s fun and welcoming. Each session includes 15 minutes discussion on topics such as weight gain, HRT, libido, osteoporosis or anxiety with the aim of busting those menopause myths. Talking, sharing and supporting each other helps everyone to realise they are not going through menopause alone.

This is followed by 45 minutes of tailored exercise which can be done at one of three levels. There’s no complex choreography, just a fun workout for heart health, impact for boosting bones, mat work for core strength and muscle tone, balances, stretches, much-needed pelvic floor exercises and a relaxing, mindful cool down.

I’d encourage every woman to learn about menopause, to know what to expect and what solutions are available. What we do in our 40s and 50s will impact on the rest of our lives. With the right approach, you can ensure that you, and your clients, feel empowered to take control and enjoy a healthier, happier future life.

For more information on training to become a MenoLeader, contact Menohealth.