Why we need menopause-inclusive steps to support women’s health and wellbeing

1st May 2023

There is an urgent need for greater inclusivity in sport and wider society to support women experiencing the menopause to remain physically active and care for their health and wellbeing, finds new research released today by SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health). 

Moving Through Menopause, commissioned by SAMH and produced by The University of Edinburgh, shines new light on the links between our physical and mental health and wellbeing, and how menopausal symptoms impact women during this time.  

The research found menopause was a barrier to being active, with 57% of women who participated reporting a decrease in activity levels, and that it negatively impacted women’s mental wellbeing. 94% of women reported a change in mood, such as low mood, anxiety, mood swings or low self-esteem. 

Women who met the physical activity guidelines, as set out by UK Chief Medical Officers, had greater mental wellbeing than those who did not. 

Participants were generally aware of the benefits of being physically active to make them feel better but, for some, motivation and confidence to be active dropped during the menopause. Although a combination of factors influenced the participants’ behaviour, support from others was clearly a strong facilitator to staying active, and a lack of support hindered.  

The research highlights the urgent need for improved awareness and education across healthcare and sport settings about the menopause and its impact on mental health and physical activity, so they can support ‘menopause friendly’ and ‘menopause specific’ exercise spaces.     

Catherine Rutter, a jogscotland jog leader who participated in the research, said: “I’m a passionate exerciser, it really is my happiness. My own menopause symptoms were so awful, there were times when I was only able to exercise a little bit – but mentally it was a lifeline. Movement – any movement –is so important. One of the key things is that people feel comfortable turning up to an exercise group and doing what they can, whether that’s modifying exercises or adjusting their activity level. If that’s too much, a 10-minute walk and a chat can make all the difference.” 

The research also found a need to signpost women, including from primary care, to trusted tools and resources that support mental wellbeing challenges and intentionally highlight the mental health benefits of being physically active during the menopause. 

By ‘normalising’ menopause, we can all help break down barriers to engaging in regular physical activity and support women’s health and wellbeing during this crucial life stage. 

SAMH, which this year celebrates 100 years of supporting Scotland’s mental health, launched Moving Through Menopause this morning at an event at Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh, a space used as ladies’ baths in Victorian times. Speakers included Jenni Minto, Minister for Public Health & Women’s Health, alongside research participants, researchers from The University of Edinburgh and representatives from jogscotland, whose Menopause Friendly campaign supports running groups to be more inclusive. 

Minister for Public Health & Women’s Health, Jenni Minto said: “I'm very pleased to see this new research from SAMH and the University of Edinburgh, highlighting the positive impact of physical activity on both physical and mental wellbeing as women experience menopause.   

“The themes that have emerged from this research align with the aims of the Women's Health Plan in which menopause is a top priority. Our plan sets out actions to raise awareness around women’s health, improve access to health care for women across their lives, and improve health outcomes for women and girls.” 

Jo Anderson, Director of Influence and Change at SAMH, said: “We are grateful to all the women who took part in Moving Through Menopause, for being open in sharing their experiences and ideas for positive change, and to the team at the University of Edinburgh for facilitating this research. The recommendations set out in this report can make a real and positive difference to women’s lives, empowering them to become or stay active, while at the same time supporting their mental health and wellbeing.  

“The need for change is clear and SAMH stands ready to play our part. This research is a solid foundation from which to expand our work relating to the menopause, and support women to be healthy and well in this critical life stage.”