Should you exercise differently in menopause? Joe Wicks sparks debate

Joe Wicks has inadvertently sparked a debate about menopause exercise. (Getty Images)
Joe Wicks has inadvertently sparked a debate about menopause exercise. (Getty Images)

Joe Wicks has inadvertently sparked a debate on social media about exercise in menopause after posting a preview of two "menopause workouts" launching on his YouTube channel.

The fitness expert, 38, known as The Body Coach, shared a post to Instagram with images of the workouts detailing one as a full-body low-impact session, and the other a no-jumping dumbbell workout.

But while some were thankful of the acknowledgement that menopause may require a different approach to exercising others were of the opinion that period in a woman's life shouldn't need a focus on certain types of fitness.

Anna Jenkins, founder We Are Fit Attitude, a health and fitness club for women over 45, says the confusion about menopause exercise stems from the abundance of opinions and so-called "golden solutions" being marketed.

"Many women in peri/post menopause, including myself, grew up with the belief that we needed to do lots of cardio to burn calories, venturing only to the treadmill section in the gyms or following the likes of Jane Fonda (who we love by the way)," she explains.

"We avoided the weights area for fear of doing strength training which would make us bulky with too much muscle, spoiling our attempts at wanting to be skinny or thin (which in the Kate Moss/Jodie Kidd days was the trend)."

Jenkins says if we focus on the facts about the menopausal body, such as the reduction in muscle mass and bone density, the solution becomes clearer: we need to increase muscle mass and bone density.

"This is achieved through strength training, which involves making the body work against a weight or force," she adds.

"Our generation has had to unlearn these misconceptions," Jenkins continues. "We now understand that while cardio is important for heart health, strength training won't make us bulky. Instead, it will help our bodies remain strong during this life stage, supporting longevity and the ageing process, which we cannot avoid."

Mature woman exercising. (Getty Images)
Does menopause require different forms of exercise? (Getty Images)

When it comes to menopause and perimenopause, Lauren Chiren, personal trainer, and CEO of Women of a Certain Stage says your exercise regime should be adjusted to accommodate the physiological and hormonal changes that occur during this time.

"During perimenopause and menopause, levels of estrogen and progesterone decline, and hormonal changes can affect muscle mass, bone density, and the distribution of body fat," she explains.

Weight training and resistance exercises can help manage these issues.

"Metabolism during menopause can slow down, so regular exercise can help maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle."

Jenkins says this stage in life doesn't necessarily mean stopping all the exercise activities you love due to physical changes.

"However, if a woman notices that she's finding it harder to recover, experiencing more aching joints, stiffness, and frequent injuries, it could indicate that her current fitness regime needs a change," she explains.

For instance, if a woman has always been a runner and rarely does anything else for fitness, incorporating strength and resistance training should be considered.

"This is due to the muscle weakening and lower bone density that can occur during this period," Jenkins continues. "Pounding the streets can take its toll, so putting the muscles under controlled pressure through body or weight training will keep them and the bones strong to cope with the demands of running."

This doesn't necessarily mean lifting heavy barbells, however, body weight exercises and a set of dumbbells, with the right guidance, will be enough.

Group of mature women exercising. (Getty Images)
Experts say menopause may require the changing up of a fitness routine. (Getty Images)

During peri/post menopause, weight gain, and a reduction in muscle mass and strength can occur.

"Bones lose density, which can lead to conditions like osteoporosis where bones become weak and brittle," Jenkins explains.

However whether you should change your exercise regime is subjective and depends on the individual, as not all women need to make drastic changes to their regime.

"If their current fitness routine isn't keeping their body strong and energised, and they find themselves constantly lacking energy and experiencing body aches post training, an assessment of their activities is recommended," advises Jenkins.

If the routine is cardio-based, such as running, spinning, or high-intensity training with a lot of high-impact movements, scaling back and focusing on strength training in a controlled environment might be necessary.

"Strength training helps put the body under pressure at a level that is right for the individual, enhancing muscle and bone strength," Jenkins continues.

Many women, due to life commitments, are more sedentary despite being busy.

"This group needs the most attention as a sedentary lifestyle can exacerbate menopausal symptoms," Jenkins explains.

"A menopausal body needs physical movement, so it is suggested that these women incorporate strength training into their schedules. Aiming for at least three 45-minute full-body strength workouts a week is beneficial."

Two women sitting together after working out. (Getty Images)
Should you change your workout as you age? (Getty Images)

Some common symptoms of menopause include sleeplessness, brain fog, memory loss and anxiety.

But Chiren says exercising regularly especially when you include different types of cardio, weight training, resistance training and flexibility (yoga, stretching and pilates) can help to alleviate these problems, or reduce the effect that they have on how you feel.

"I would highly recommend incorporating pelvic floor exercises too," she adds.

While exercise during perimenopause and menopause is vital, in order to fully reap the benefits, and offset your symptoms, Chiren says any regime needs to be paired with plenty of rest, good nutrition with high quality fats and proteins, and regular hydration.

"During menopause the needs of your body change, and the need for certain nutrients like magnesium, calcium and vitamin D change," she adds. "These support bone health and prevent issues such as osteopenia and osteoporosis."

Protein also needs to be increased to maintain muscle mass, and omega 3 fatty acids can also boost your mood.

"A balanced diet also helps manage weight, and reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes," Chiren continues.

"It's important to keep your body in optimum health during menopause, and a balanced diet, rest and hydration will do this, as well as keep up your energy levels."