Let me start by saying that every woman’s experience of the menopause (and running through it) will be different. Some women are lucky enough to sail through it and hardly notice the changes to their bodies. Others experience severe symptoms which can make daily life a challenge. Sadly, I fell into the latter category and faced it full-on, rather like falling off a cliff.
‘Menopause‘ has become a bit of a buzzword over the last few years with a number of celebrities sharing their experience, presenting documentaries and adding their names and voices to campaigns for all women to have access to trained medical practitioners during this life stage. It’s certainly been a big step forward. However, I know from the number of women who have reached out to me since I’ve shared my experience that there is still some uncertainty. There is confusion, as to when it starts, how long it lasts and what all the terminology actually means.
What are the Three Stages of Menopause?
Peri-menopause is the time leading up to menopause when a woman’s ovaries produce smaller amounts of estrogen and progesterone but still fluctuate and can be erratic. The symptoms of the transition from peri-menopause to menopause can take anything from two to ten years and the term ‘menopausal’ is often used to describe this transition.
Menopause is the term used when a woman has not had a period for one year.
Post-menopause is the time immediately after menopause has occurred.
When Does Menopause Happen?
Menopause normally occurs between the ages of 45 and 55 but as women are all unique individuals, the type and severity of menopausal symptoms that they can suffer will vary. My menopause was brought on by a hysterectomy in June 2012, when I was 48, due to quite severe endometriosis – hence why I faced it full on and ‘went off a cliff’ hormonally speaking.
What are the Symptoms of Menopause?
Women are affected both physiologically and psychologically during menopause.
If you google ‘the symptoms of menopause’ you’ll probably find a list of at least 34!
Menopause symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats are well known but many women also experience bouts of anxiety, depression, brain fog, mood swings and an overall sense of sadness or, as many describe, a ‘sense of doom’. In addition, as hormone levels of estrogen decrease, women become more prone to joint aches or ‘menopausal arthritis’. More importantly, this decline in estrogen can also result in a loss of bone density which in severe cases can lead to osteoporosis which causes the bones to become more fragile and break easily.
Menopausal symptoms can start months or even years before a woman’s periods stop completely. They usually continue for around four years after menopause has occurred although some women’s symptoms continue for much longer.
The Benefits of Excercise – Mood
My running journey started in the summer of 2016 whilst I was still experiencing some pretty horrible menopausal symptoms…anxiety, chronic insomnia, mood swings and a complete sense of sadness being the worst. This was not helped by the fact that I had also gained a few extra kilos through the hormone imbalance that my body was in.
Running, like other forms of physical activity, is a proven mood-booster. When we run our body releases hormones called endorphins and popular culture identifies these as the chemicals behind the ‘runner’s high’ that short-lasting, deeply euphoric state following intense exercise. Running regularly at a moderate or vigorous level can help to improve our mental health, in fact as many of us know, exercise has a dramatic anti-depressive effect.
The Benefits of Excercise – Body Compostition
While exercise that focuses on maintaining bone density and mass is important throughout our lives, this is even more significant when we reach our 40s and beyond. Estrogen is the single biggest influencer of bone health, so when a woman loses it, she loses the protective effect on her bones. This can result in a 20% loss of bone density in the first 5-7 years post-menopause. It is widely considered that weight-bearing exercise such as running actually improves bone density and makes our bones stronger. Adding other weight-bearing activities to our exercise routine, such as resistance training with weights (particularly heavy weights) are also good activities to help minimise loss of bone density throughout the body. Resistance training also preserves and increases muscle mass, which is lost at a faster rate as women go through menopause.
I found that running was an instant ‘mood lifter’ and became essential for my emotional well-being and overall mental fitness. It also helped to shed those extra kilos which definitely had a positive effect too.
Starting to Run
I was 52 when I signed up for a charity place to run the London Marathon in April 2017. I had never undertaken any serious running previously. Despite it being physically tough in the beginning, I loved it from the very start. August 2022 is the sixth year anniversary of when I ran my first 8km in Southern Spain. I can clearly remember where it was and how I felt when I crossed the imaginary finish line.
Back then, my trainers and kit were unbranded and from Carrefour, my local superstore. I didn’t own a watch or even have a running app on my phone. Running with my husband who took care of all of that though…I just had to concentrate on running!
A couple of months later in October 2016 I ran my first 10k which felt like a really big milestone. Then on Sunday 23 April 2017 I crossed an official finish line on The Mall and earned my first marathon medal and my first World Marathon Majors Star. I was 53 years and seven months old and officially a “Post-Menopausal Marathoner”.
The Post Menopausal Marathoner
Marathoning was intended to be a one-off, bucket list adventure but I loved how running made me feel. In particular, I loved that finish line feeling. That’s why I am still running now and have run marathons in New York, Berlin and Paris. I’m even on my own journey to get a World Marathon Majors Six Star Finishers Medal. At 58 years and three days old, I even managed a new marathon PB in Berlin in September 2021. That’s proof that I’m not slowing down. I’ve still got big plans – the odd menopausal hot flush is not going to stop me.
Menopause certainly shouldn’t be a sign to stop running or undertaking any other form of exercise. Many menopausal women are able to continue active lifestyles and achieve great things. If you’re completely new to exercise, don’t let menopause put you off lacing up your trainers for the first time. It has been a total life saver for me – I’m certainly glad that I did.