Today, 18 October, is World Menopause Day. We have drawn together some general guidance on how you can help alleviate some of the symptoms for you and your participants, plus some guidelines to help you as an employee or an employer
Firstly, it is important to remember that the menopause is completely normal! Usually reached between the ages of 40 and 60, symptoms may start years before it happens, as hormone levels start to change.
The menopause causes changes to the body and while everyone experiences the menopause differently, symptoms could include:
How does exercise help?
As a group exercise instructor, you’ll already be physically active and totally on board with the benefits it brings. At this time a good exercise routine could –
Post-menopausal women are more likely to be affected by osteoporosis, which causes bones to become weaker due to lower levels of the hormone oestrogen which is important for bone density. As we know, keeping active can help keep bones healthy and can reduce the chance of them breaking or fracturing during a fall.
An exercise class which includes both muscle-strengthening and weight-bearing exercises will be particularly beneficial for menopausal women. Some people also experience joint aches and pains, so you may be able to include some specific exercises which will give some relief for those women.
There are a number of other problems related to menopause that could contribute to brain fog, such as disturbed sleep, hot flushes and night sweats, and a depressed mood, all of which can contribute to difficulties with thinking and memory. Be mindful that some of your participants may be experiencing brain fog, so allow a little more time or practice if that’s likely to be the case.
But – all is not lost as it is thought that the first year is likely to be the worst, and memory and learning ability generally rebound to normal after the menopause process is complete.
While you are waiting for the menopause to run its course, there are things you and your participants can do as menopause can be a time to reflect on all of your health habits and make adjustments that will take you into healthier middle and older age.
General health check
See your GP to make sure your symptoms relate to menopause and not some other cause. Check your blood pressure as high blood pressure can also cause hot flushes and can increase the risk of cognitive impairment, vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Women with very high blood pressure have been shown to have a 30% increased risk of developing cognitive impairment.
Exercise is essential for the prevention of chronic disease and it is also helpful for managing irritability, helping you sleep as well as maintaining a healthy weight, strong bones and muscles. Aerobic exercise and resistance (or strength) training also helps your brain function as the brain requires good blood flow to maintain optimal function just like the rest of the body.
Exercise your mind
Make lists to help you stay organised. Write down your class routines. Consider one of the booking systems to help keep track of class bookings and payments. Ensure that the class includes the opportunity for social interactions too.
Disturbed sleep or lack of quality sleep impairs normal brain function and contributes to brain fog. Wind down after classes and give yourself time to get to sleep. Don’t keep electronic devices in your bedroom that emit light or make noise.
Compared with people who say they do not consume diet drinks, people who drink at least one per day have been shown to suffer three times more strokes, and to be three times more likely to develop dementia. Make sure you are hydrated before and during your classes, encourage your participants to drink water and allow plenty of hydration breaks.
Nutrition and a healthy weight
Achieve and maintain your ideal weight. Look after your diet by eating plenty of vegetables and fruit and other unprocessed whole foods. Avoid eating animal fats and trans fats.
A 2013 study showed that memory improved in post-menopausal, overweight women after they lost weight. Promote exercise coupled with a healthy eating plan rather than ‘going on a diet’.
Hopefully you and your participants are already focused on a healthy lifestyle. Tobacco smoking affects cerebral blood flow, which has an adverse effect on brain function and may also worsen the hot flushes of menopause.
Relaxation practices such as meditation, tai chi, yoga and breathing techniques can help with anxiety, irritability and sleep problems.
Bowel and bladder
The menopause can also cause your pelvic floor muscles to become weaker. During certain exercises, such as the dreaded star jumps, pelvic floor muscles should tighten, helping to keep control of bladder and bowel. Offer lower intensity alternatives for any exercises that may cause leakage. Make sure participants know where the toilets are too.
As a bonus, pelvic floor muscles are also important during sex and can help increase sensation in the vagina. Try offering some exercises to help strengthen pelvic floor muscles.
Menopause and the workplace
Menopausal women are the fastest-growing demographic in the workforce, so it’s important to be able to speak openly as the menopause can affect a woman’s working life. Sometimes menopausal symptoms or working conditions can impact your ability to concentrate or carry out your role to the best of your ability.
In a survey of 1,000 adults in the UK, the British Menopause Society found that 45% of women felt that menopausal symptoms had a negative impact on their work and 47% who needed to take a day off work due to menopause symptoms say they wouldn’t tell their employer the real reason.
If you have supportive work colleagues talk about your experiences with them and encourage others to do the same. Be aware that some (many) of your class participants may be going through the menopause.
As an employer
There are lots of resources available that can help you understand more about the menopause and the support women experiencing menopausal symptoms may need, including helping them to continue to work more comfortably.
Things you might want to consider offering
- flexible working such as changing working patterns or offering online classes
- change to a cooler uniform if appropriate to help with hot flushes
- counselling through workplace
- option to take more regular breaks
- more time to prepare before classes
It’s not all doom and gloom!
It’s important to remember menopause is a natural stage in life and many women do not experience severe or even mildish symptoms and enjoy the benefits instead –
- No more periods, tampons and pads
- No more side effects of periods
- Less pelvic pain
- A fresh outlook on life –more energy to focus on themselves, taking the opportunity to inventory their lives, relationships, and goals for the future. In fact, one study shows that optimism rises once you reach your 50s.
A number of our member organisations offer classes designed to appeal to older women, seated classes or ones such as MenoHealth specifically designed for menopausal women. You may also find further training available through some of CIMSPA’s training partners.
Finally, we have some advice fr0m Dr Dimple Devadas GP, who is a Certified Lifestyle Medicine Physician, World Obesity Federation Scope Certified GP Obesity Specialist, Psychological Coach (Health, Leadership & Creativity), Graduate member of the British Psychological Society –
“Any transition point in life can bring challenges and huge opportunities to embrace and create changes. An invitation to take some time to create some space to reflect and learn from any resistance and obstacles, past and present. Create some moments to remind yourself of all your core strengths and resilience, celebrate your triumphs, and set your vision, direction and goals for your next chapters and adventures.”