The secret to avoiding the weight gain, mood swings, and fatigue that many menopausal women endure may be lacing up your sneakers.

The average age for women to hit menopause—defined as going a full year without a period—is 52. Most women spend their forties in perimenopause, when hormone levels become erratic, periods and spotting come and go, sleep becomes disrupted and emotions fluctuate like a roller coaster. Fatigue factors in with many women juggling careers, growing children, and aging parents.

It doesn't seem to get much better. After menopause, many women complain of weight gain, especially around their middle, hips, and thighs. There is good news: All of these pre- and post-menopausal symptoms are manageable with exercise. Just don't count on your 20-something fitness plan.

Here, we map out a menopause strategy so you know where to focus your fitness efforts to keep your weight stable, your mood even and your energy soaring:

In Your 40s

If you haven't already gotten into the exercise habit, quit dawdling and get moving. In addition to helping to prevent weight gain, studies show that people who work out regularly in their forties live longer and healthier with benefits delivering all the way into their eighties. 

Focus on the three components of fitness: cardio, strength, and flexibility training
Aim for at least 30 minutes of cardio exercise five days per week plus 30 minutes of strength training, two to three times per week. Follow every workout with stretching.

In Your 50s

You'll need to ramp up your routine now that you're approaching or dealing with menopause. To beat boredom, vary your cardio routine by adding in new activities, machines, and classes. Muscles get bored, too. Mix up your routine to challenge your muscles.

Focus on strength training
Add circuit training or weight lifting classes. If possible, work with a personal trainer. Not only will strength training tone up your muscles and boost your metabolism, it will also help keep your bones strong. After menopause, women are at risk for losing bone density and developing osteoporosis, but engaging in weight-bearing exercise helps counteract those risks.

Along with increasing exercise, you'll have to consume fewer calories if you want to maintain the same weight. If you want to lose weight, you have to exercise more and consume less than you did when you were younger. Talk to your doctor or a nutritionist about how many calories you should aim for.

In Your 60s and Beyond

Keep up the good exercise habits you established in your forties and fifties. Continuing to exercise will help keep your post-menopausal tummy toned and bones strong. It will improve your health, sleep, appearance and sense of wellbeing for life.

Focus on flexibility and balance exercises
Yoga, Pilates, and Tai Chi are perfect activities to keep your muscles and ligaments limber, your muscles strong and your balance stable.

Mike Ceja reviewed this article.



Archives of Internal Medicine

Original Investigation | Sep 24, 2012. Midlife Fitness and the Development of Chronic Conditions in Later Life. Benjamin L. Willis, MD, MPH; Ang Gao, MS; David Leonard, PhD; Laura F. DeFina, MD; Jarett D. Berry, MD, MS. Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(17):1333-1340. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2012.3400