Helen, who took part in our Moving Through Menopause research, shares experiences from her own menopause journey, and her hopes for a more menopause-friendly future.
“I’ve worked for many years promoting the benefits of being active, across all key stages of life. But in over 25 years I never once promoted the importance of being active during the menopause, and I never heard anyone else talking about it either. Until now!
“Taking part in SAMH’s Moving Through Menopause research was a really positive experience – there were a number of key takeaways. The first was how amazing women really are. We are dealing with a major change to our bodies and minds at a time when many of us are also looking after, or being responsible for, children and parents. And however we are affected – because we are all affected differently – it is so good just to talk to other women about what is going on. All of us in the research came from different backgrounds, but we all had more in common through this experience than we had differences and we can all learn from each other.”
A keen runner and cyclist, Helen has always led a very active life and has continued to be active throughout her menopause journey, but she would say that “the motivation to race and compete has gone - and it has become more about fun, socialising with friends, and maintaining a certain amount of capacity to keep eating cake!”
In particular, Helen knows that being active helps her stay mentally as well as physically healthy. She said: “Without exercise I wouldn’t be able to cope as well with the usual stressors of daily life. It isn’t always easy though. I experience many injuries and don’t recover as well from them as I did in my 40s, and I experience more joint and muscle pain than when I ran marathons. But regardless, I know that it is vital for me to keep being active in whatever way I can to maintain my energy levels and positive mental health.”
More frequent injuries, tiredness, and symptoms such as heavy periods mean it isn’t always easy for Helen to exercise in the way that she used to, but having a routine helps her stay active, so she builds exercise into her daily life. “If I am working from home, I start each day with a walk. If I’m working in the office, I cycle there. I’m also lucky in that most of my friends and family enjoy being active too – so doing exercise with others not only helps keep you on track but is also a great way to have fun and socialise. Finally, starting on HRT (hormone replacement therapy) has helped me enormously, although I know for some women this isn’t an option.”
Helen would like to see more employers, fitness groups and the NHS promote menopause-friendly practices. She said: “Policies in the workplace that support women to be flexible, comfortable and active are still to become commonplace. And I would like to hear more medics educated about the menopause and support women with their decisions to take action, for example to take HRT if that is the woman’s wish.
“Finally, I would love it if professionals working in the health and fitness industry were better informed and educated about the menopause – and are able to adapt their style so each woman can be the best she can be. I love how jogscotland are already doing this by educating their jog leaders – others could definitely follow their lead.
Helen’s advice to other women experiencing menopause is to talk to each other and their social support networks, and be supportive. “All our experiences are different and a bit of empathy from other women could go a long way in helping others to cope. But also talk to others in your life. Talk to your partner, your children, your colleagues, your friends. Menopause affects us all either directly or indirectly so the more we all become educated the better it is for us all.
She also encourage all of us to move a little bit more, and a little bit more often: “Being active may be the last thing you want to do when you feel tired, sore, hot and a bit low in mood, but I have never heard anyone say they feel worse after having a walk in the fresh air or a dance to some music from our teenage years. So try something fun and see how you feel. And embrace your new body!”