How can stretching help menopause?
Practicing mindful stretches can help restore the nervous system and improve the functioning of the endocrine system. One study found that regularly stretching can have a positive effect on menopausal women, it can help to stabilise symptoms such as hot flashes and sleep quality.1 Stretching out the body can help to relieve both physical and mental tension and can even help to balance out the fluctuating hormone levels that occur during the menopause.
Hot flushes are thought to be one of, if not the most common symptom of menopause affecting around 80% of women. Restorative, cooling stretches have been shown to help relieve this symptom; one study found that stretching resulted in a 66% decrease in hot flushes in menopausal women who were prone to 3 or 4 hot flushes a day.2
If you want to reduce hot flushes through exercise I’d recommend avoiding high intensity exercises as these tend to build lots of heat in the body and can easily trigger those pesky hot flushes! Swap heat building exercises that involve core work in favour for more restorative cooling exercise such as walking, swimming and stretching.
The key is to exercise without triggering your sweat glands, strengthening exercises are fine and are actually extremely beneficial for helping to maintain muscle mass and function as we get older – but be sure that you don’t overdo it if you want to avoid those hot flushes!
Try practicing tricep extensions as shown in the video below. The upper arms tend to lose tone and muscle mass as we age making them appear wobbly and the dreaded bingo wings can start to appear. Luckily this stretch helps to strengthen and tone the upper arms to keep bingo wings at bay and prevent us from losing essential muscle. What’s more, this stretch is great for working into the shoulders – perfect for those of us who spend most of our day working at a desk or on a computer!
Anxiety and irritability
Menopause is thought to cause anxiety as a result of fluctuations in hormone levels. Oestrogen is thought to play an important role in managing chemicals in the brain. As oestrogen levels drop during menopause symptoms of low mood and anxiety can occur.
Forward folds can help to relieve anxiety as placing the head below the heart sends fresh oxygenated blood to the head which signals the brain to relax. Deep breathing exercises, particularly ones in which the exhale feels longer than the inhale, can help to counter stress and anxiety.
Forward folds also increase blood flow to the organs in the pelvis. This increase in circulation provides the uterus with fresh, oxygenated blood which can help relieve pain from cramps as well as increase sex drive.
Try out our easy standing roll down shown in the video below. This stretch is a great way to help stretch out the spinal column and relieve pain in the back. It is a good way to warm up the back in the morning or before taking part in further exercise. Go slow and take time to feel the gentle stretch for best results.
As with anxiety and irritability, depression can also arise as a result of hormonal fluctuations. Depression and low mood can also occur during menopause because it signals the end of child bearing years. When we are feeling sad or vulnerable our tendency is to curl in upon ourselves and make ourselves as small as possible. Practicing backbends counteracts this tendency by stimulating the nervous system through opening and stretching heart and entire front of the body.
Try bridge pose Bridge pose shown in the image above. Start by lying on your back on the floor bring your heels in close to your bottom and have the arms lying alongside the body with the palms facing downwards. Make sure your feet are hip width apart. If you need some extra comfort or support place a folded blanket underneath your shoulders to protect your neck.
On an inhale gently tilt the pelvis and push into the arms to lift the torso up off of the ground. Keep the arms and palms active on the floor. Make sure your knees are hip width apart and not knocking inwards, if you find that they are it is sometimes useful to place a block between the thighs. Stay here for several breaths. To come out of the pose gently and slowly lower back down from the top of the spine to the bottom.
Sleeping is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. To function at our best we need around 8-9 hours of sleep every night, anything less than that can have a negative impact our brain function, mood, and diet. Sleep problems and night sweats are common during menopause and can affect and aggravate other associated symptoms like fatigue and irritability.
Stretching before going to bed helps to relax tense muscles and calms the mind. A national survey found that 55% of people who practiced yoga found that it helped them get a better sleep and over 85% said it helped reduce stress.3
Try a gentle seated twist as shown in the video below to help counteract back pain. Twists are also a great way to help along the digestive process as it helps to massage the internal organs.
Fatigue is another common symptom that menopause can cause. As well as the possibility of it being caused by fluctuating hormone levels, it can also be caused by lack of sleep and stress.
When we sit and slump all day at a desk our spine can curl and we can compress our lungs meaning that we won’t be getting enough oxygen into our body. Practicing stretches that stimulate and challenge the body, particularly those that stretch the spine, can help to lengthen the body, improve circulation, and provide us with a boost of energy. Standing stretches and backbends are good options to try to help fight fatigue.
Oestrogen is also an important hormone for supporting our bone health, it is thought to be beneficial for minimising swelling that may occur around the joint. As we already know, during the menopause our oestrogen levels drop which means that sore or stiff joints are more likely to occur. Stretching and general exercise is a great way to help keep the synovial fluid moving around the body helping to ease stiffness and prevent loss of mobility.
Other remedies for menopause symptoms
Stretching and generally keeping active is an excellent way to target menopause symptoms, but eating healthy, and herbal remedies, can also help support you through those more challenging phases. During menopause our levels of magnesium, chromium, and zinc fall which can cause mood swings and fatigue. Increasing your intake of these minerals can help to relieve these symptoms. I’d recommend our Menopause Support tablets which are specially fortified with magnesium and are designed to support you through all stages of the menopause.