Menopause is defined as the cessation of menstruation, or not having had a period in the last twelve months. It usually occurs between 45 and 50 years of age. While hot flashes are perhaps the most well known symptom, menopause will look and feel different in every woman. Some will experience a range of issues, while others report fewer bothersome physical and mental changes. Some of the most common symptoms include changes in sleep, mood, and libido. In addition, many women experience weight gain or discover that their body shape changes."In 13 years, I have worked with only one client who never had any side effects or symptoms from menopause," says Erin Wilson, a Pilates instructor based in Santa Barbara, California. "The most common side effect in the women I work with in this demographic is weight gain in the mid-section of their bodies," she adds.
"Pilates is a great choice for women approaching or experiencing menopause," says Carolyne Sidhu Anthony, the founder of The Center for Women's Fitness. "Menopause is an exciting and sometimes challenging time in a woman's life. It's a time of physical, emotional and spiritual change. As movement specialists, we can care for the menopausal body in ways that may help support these changes and some of the symptoms associated with it," she adds.
To stay active, toned, and functional, Anthony recommends that menopausal women choose a fitness/wellness program that includes the following:
If you're picturing a low-impact, low-effort workout, think again. Anthony notes that in order to continue to function well into their seventies and beyond, women should avoid the conventional thinking that women of a certain age should slow down and take it easy. Instead, she says a smarter and, yes, harder workout may be just the ticket.
"Women today are much more active, informed, and focused on their health and fitness than they were several decades ago," says Anthony. "If they've been exercising for years, they are not about to stop now they are reaching a certain age. Life does not stop at fifty anymore," she adds.
The Pilates method's reputation as a shortcut to "flat abs" does a disservice to its utility as a full-body workout. The method's emphasis on cultivating a toned, strong midsection (known as the core or the "powerhouse"), however, can fight the menopausal tendency towards weight gain in this area. Improved postural awareness combined with a corset-like band of abdominal muscles leads to a more streamlined appearance whether or not there has been a change on the scale. In addition, Pilates is known for strengthening the pelvic floor, which can help prevent bladder leaks and make sex more satisfying, to name two other menopause-related issues.
Pilates is effective for stress relief, too. Like other modalities such as yoga or tai chi, Pilates teaches us how to surf the physical and mental shifts brought on by the change of life, as menopause is sometimes called.
"Pilates is a mind-body experience, just like menopause is," says Anthony. "We can use the philosophy of Pilates to help women through this time. It can be a truly amazing time if women are given the tools necessary to cope with the trials and tribulations of menopause," she explains.
"Instead of recognizing and dwelling on the obvious, like weight gain, I try to encourage acceptance for where they are in the moment," says Wilson. "It's important to focus on their strength and physical abilities, no matter how great or little that may be on a particular day. Our bodies are incredible vessels that are trying their best every second of the day to keep us alive. Don’t get angry with your body, thank it for getting you this far," she says.
Anthony concurs. "Keeping a positive attitude and sense of humor is important too," she adds.
Have you benefited from Pilates as you approach or navigate menopause? We'd love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.