Dr Sarah Berger & Dr Joanna Astill
We are all aware of the positive impact running can have on our wellbeing. We also know that at times, we can have a love-hate relationship with this activity; sometimes feeling motivated and uplifted and other times a sense that putting our trainers on is an effort. The menopause can play a factor in how we feel, but we don’t always recognise the relationship between how this can impact on our running.
It is important to be clear on what is happening in our body’s during the menopause, to be able to work with this, rather than feel like we are fighting against it. Throughout this natural transition, we experience a decline in oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone, whilst cortisol levels – the stress hormone – increases. This can influence our motivation, recovery and our pace and can result in loss of muscle mass and muscle recovery.
The good news is that there are things we can do to get the most out of each run, which can feel more aligned with these life changes.
Tracking/Journaling: We will all have days in the month where running doesn’t feel as easy as on other days. By keeping a journal of menopausal symptoms, we may experience at different times in our cycle, and the impact that this has on our run, we can develop a better understanding of the patterns we experience. This can help us to plan our training so we are working with our body and can get the most out of each run.
Intuitive Training: Once we have recognised that there is a pattern to how we feel and the impact this has on our running, there are ways we can adapt our training to include the following:
Pacing: Our training can be split between easy runs and interval runs. Easy runs are slower and about improving our endurance and reducing stress on our muscles. They help us to feel less fatigued and support recovery. Incorporating these runs into our training can provide a great opportunity to be more mindful, which supports our wellbeing and reduces our levels of stress. Interval runs can help us maintain our muscle mass and also help with that annoying extra weight that can accumulate around our stomach during this phase.
Strength Training: By incorporating things in our training such as lifting weights, using resistant bands and pushing our body against any load (e.g. squats and push-ups), we can reduce the risk of injury. Strength training also helps with muscle mass and bone density, both of which reduce as a result of the decline in hormones.
Flexibility: The decline in oestrogen can result in us experiencing pain in our joints and muscles more frequently. We can include exercises that focus on enhancing our flexibility in a gentle way such as stretches, pilates, tai chi and yoga.
Recovery: As our hormones reduce, we need more time for recovery. Although we may be desperate to hit the pavement, we need to remind ourselves that recovery days are important for reducing our risk of injury, allowing our body to become fitter and our muscles to build back stronger. These are the days when we can focus on intuitive training and mix things up a bit.
Hydration: It is helpful for us to remember that hot flushes and night sweats will impact on hydration, which can impact on our running performance, tiredness, and mood. It is also important to make sure we hydrate properly following a run! A way to recognise that we are dehydrated is to do the urine check; darker urine equals more hydration required!
Balance & Self Compassion: It is important to understand that having high levels of cortisol and stress will worsen our menopausal symptoms, impact our body and ultimately our training. With life being really busy, along with the hormonal changes we are experiencing, it is understandable that there may be times when our inner critic pipes up more, leading to frustration or disappointment in our running performance. By being more compassionate and understanding towards ourselves, and remembering our values related to our runs (e.g. spending time in nature, health, being part of a community, sense of freedom, self-care) we can reconnect with the real benefits that we get from our running regardless of PB’s or distance covered. This will increase motivation for future runs.
Although the menopause is a time of change and can feel challenging to navigate, it can also be a time of growth and self-discovery. As we move through this natural transition, we can see this as an opportunity to become more attuned to our body, our values and what we really desire.
If you would like to know more about psychological strategies that can empower you during midlife and the menopause you can find more information at: https://www.femalesfeelingfabulous.com/home