Menopause, Running & Bone Health

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The big drop in oestrogen production is the primary cause of many of the symptoms that accompany menopause – all the usual suspects, hot flushes, insomnia, weight gain, urinary incontinence to headaches and anxiety.

The good news is that exercise can help to alleviate some of the symptoms of menopause, so staying active is beneficial.  Runners can reap a lot of those rewards associated with greater activity, including avoiding some weight gain (although as you’ll see in a previous post, sometimes long distance steady state exercise isn’t always the best way to dodge the chub).

BUT running isn’t enough.  Yes, it satisfies the cardiovascular side of things, but resistance or strength training, flexibility and neuromuscular training are all just as important, particularly in relation to bone health.

Most people know that impact is good for increasing bone mineral density, however, bones are quite crafty things.  They get wise to the loads that you’re putting on them.  In other words, you can pound the pavement for hours and hours, but if you’re always pounding the pavement for hours and hours your bones essentially get bored and they don’t adapt.  Bones like novelty.  They’re like the weird little brother you never had who liked to poke an ant’s nest to see what would happen.  Bones adapt to novelty.  If you start jumping up and down when you’re running, climbing over stuff, hopping over a puddle etc. then your bones are more likely to perk up and take notice and, as a result make the decision to grow stronger – increase in density.  If you’re doing the same old same old with them, they just really can’t be arsed.  It’s not so much that they’re lazy, but it’s hard work for the body to create new bone – it needs a really good reason – like you putting extra demands on it and insisting that it creates more.

One of the major issues with oestrogen loss at menopause is the corresponding dip in bone health.  A peri, menopausal and post menopausal runner (and any other female) then, needs to put some serious effort into strengthening them there bones.  I think we’ve all heard the term stress fracture as a female runner – or even experienced it!  Not pleasant.

What to do?

If you’ve read any other posts on this site, you’ll know I’m a big fan of strength training.  Why? Because the muscles that you’re strengthening pull on the bones and this in turn helps to create greater bone density.  Adding it into your training regime a couple of times a week isn’t difficult, it just takes a bit of time to learn the correct form and manage it safely so you’re not overloading your tissues to start with.  It will also help offset the loss of lean muscle mass that occurs during menopause.  Get in touch for strength training and other programmes designed for the menopausal runner to help offset the very real but also very dealable with symptoms of this unique time in a woman’s life.

Just as a p.s. here because I haven’t really touched on it in other posts, Vitamin D is also vital to bone health and it might be a good idea to get your levels checked.  Spend some time outside; without sunscreen, a hat and dark glasses – no, you don’t need to burn yourself to a crisp, but you do need the sunshine for vitamin D and therefore calcium absorption which in turn helps with bone density.