It’ll come as no surprise that I’m a big advocate of strength training for women. No matter your age, strength training has some serious benefits – from making your everyday movement easier to feeling more confident and in control of your body.
You might not have thought it, but the demographic that can benefit the most from strength training is actually women approaching or post-menopause.
Not convinced? Don’t worry, I brought in an expert to help explain. Many women who are going through, or have gone through menopause, may hesitate to start lifting weights.
But strength training has so many benefits, including loading your bones (aka improving your bone density) and increasing your core strength (thus helping all your pelvic organs).
And now, over to our guest blogger, Tamara Woods from The Physiotherapy Clinic.
Can you please introduce yourself to our readers and let them know what you do?
My name is Tamara Woods, and I’m a pelvic health/women’s health and musculoskeletal physiotherapist.
This means I see only women of all ages. Usually, the people I see have pelvic floor-related problems. However, these problems are typically linked to the rest of their body as well.
For example, my clients might initially come to see me because their urine is leaking when they cough or sneeze, but we soon discover it’s related to a foot or rib problem they have (and didn’t realise). This of course keeps things interesting around the clinic!
How long have you worked as a women’s health physiotherapist? What led you to work in the industry and what’s your favourite thing about what you do?
I have been working as a women’s health physiotherapist for 10 years now. And before that, I worked as a musculoskeletal physiotherapist for 16 years.
It was the birth of my first child that made me interested in the world of pelvic health and the pelvic floor (which is a very common story among us physiotherapists).
My favourite thing about what I do is being able to piece together a patient’s story. This means I can help them understand why they’re feeling the way they are right now.
For example, a patient with dyspareunia (pain with intercourse) may have that pain because their pelvic floor is tight. But that tightness may be due to their heavy/painful periods and even the way they hold their neck.
Understanding all the contributing factors really helps women understand their story and take back control.
What are some of the most common symptoms you treat menopausal women for in your clinic?
The most common symptoms we treat in menopausal women are symptoms of:
- Overactive bladder (the feeling or urgency like you may leak, and/or an increased frequency of needing to use the bathroom)
- Stress urinary incontinence (leaking with coughing/sneezing/moving)
- Pelvic organ prolapse (heavy/dragging feeling in the vagina)
- Dyspareunia (pain with intercourse)
- And tight, sore hips
For all of these, we do an internal examination to see what is going on with the pelvic floor and pelvic organs. But we also look at their body globally, too.
Like I said above, sometimes their leaking can be because of a tight rib cage as well as their pelvic floor not moving optimally.
Their tight sore hip can be the reason they then developed dyspareunia (due to the hip linking directly with the pelvic floor). Each person is like a little puzzle that we figure out in order to help them the best we can.
In your experience, do you see women shy away from exercise when they have some of these menopausal symptoms? And what is your advice to them about what style of exercise is safe to return to during this time?
Yes, absolutely! Feeling like you may leak (or ARE leaking) or feeling a sense of heaviness, or even hip pain can absolutely limit a woman’s participation in post-menopause exercise.
In fact, there has even been some recent research suggesting that 1 in 3 women report pelvic floor symptoms as a substantial barrier to exercise.
In terms of advice, what the symptom is and what we find on the internal examination will usually dictate what we recommend in terms of exercising safely.
Luckily, these days, we can pull from research and put women on a risk scale for what is safe for them.
We also have ultrasounds that allow us to see what is happening internally (to a woman’s pelvic organs and pelvic floor) when they’re standing or loading their body (lifting a weight).
This is so helpful because we can automatically tell whether a particular strength training exercise, like lifting a 4KG dumbbell, is safe for them or not.
Overall though, we always find a way for our patients to move. Because movement is everything!
Clients of mine will already know that strength training has many benefits, but what key benefits does strength training have for menopausal women in particular?
I feel like you could answer this question better than I, Tam!
But strength training for post-menopausal women, in particular, increases their bone mineral density. When you go low in oestrogen – which is what happens once you are post-menopausal – your bone density reduces.
The way to offset this is to load the bones – which is why strength training is so awesome. It, of course, as a post-menopause exercise, also loads the muscles and makes them stronger, too.
If you’re interested in strength training and need the ongoing support of a personal trainer, you can check out our online program, Find Your Confidence.
For women approaching menopause, do you have any advice on what they can do to look after themselves and their bodies now?
Move. Make it a daily habit. You’ll feel better. Your bones will be stronger. Your muscles will be stronger.
If there are any pelvic floor symptoms that are bothering you, then see a women’s health physio. They’ll figure out a way that allows you to keep training and moving.
Is there any educational material you would suggest women approaching menopause should be reading, watching or listening to?
Oh gosh, I wish I had more to offer here! One podcast I would recommend, although it isn’t specifically for menopausal women, is The Pelvic Health Podcast.
It has a couple of great episodes on the topic, but if you don’t know much about your pelvic health, or want to expand your knowledge, it’s packed full of super helpful information.