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Running through menopause

woman running on beach

Your body will be experiencing plenty of changes as you reach perimenopause and menopause, so it is understandable that your body may be responding differently to your usual training. Adapted from Breakthrough Women’s Running we explore some ways you can offset the negative effects of menopause.

Now you’re starting to see how shifting hormones can change how you feel, sleep, and respond to training within the month during your cycle. Around the time you become a masters runner—age 40 and older—you might notice even wider swings.

As your reproductive years draw to a close, your estrogen and progesterone levels decline more precipitously (Kuzma 2020). Your periods will start to become more irregular, and symptoms, such as hot flashes and sleep problems, begin to set in. Congratulations! You’re in perimenopause, the official transition time before your cycle stops altogether.

If you’re in the middle of this transition, you’re not alone—and once again, though women in this phase were previously ignored in exercise science labs, researchers and athletes are now stepping up to help us all better understand and navigate it.

Most women have their final periods between 40 and 58 years old, and perimenopause can begin about four to eight years earlier (North American Menopause Society n.d.). So you might notice wonky periods and other signs as early as your 30s (Mayo Clinic 2021b). Hormonal shifts during perimenopause and menopause can affect your running in several ways, but fortunately, there are ways to offset the negative effects.

Cool down

 Lower estrogen levels affect your body’s thermostat, which is in the brain region called the hypothalamus. Not only does this cause hot flashes and night sweats, but you might also find that you have more difficulty training in hot weather. The good news is that exercising regularly may reduce the number of hot flashes you have in the first place (Stojanovska et al. 2014). You cantime your runs for cooler parts of the day, decrease your core temperature by sipping ice-cold water or a slushie, remove extra layers, or add an ice vest or chilled bandana.

Sleep soundly

You’ll also produce less of the hormone melatonin, which promotes sleep in part by lowering your core temperature (Society for Endocrinology 2018). To get a better and more rejuvenating night’s rest, boost your levels by drinking tart cherry juice before bed, and soak up night sweats with moisture-wicking sleepwear and sheets.

Power up

Hormonal shifts mean it’s harder to build and maintain muscle and your percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibers declines. Dr. Sims says adding in more strength training; plyometrics; hills; and short, fast intervals can strengthen muscles and bones while improving your neuromuscular connections—the communication between brain and body that enables you to recruit muscle fibers quickly and efficiently. Just make sure you listen to your body and add in more rest days, too, to recover from all that hard work; it might take you a little longer to bounce back than it used to.

Fuel wisely

Alterations in metabolism and nutrient absorption mean you could benefit from tweaks to your nutrition. Lower estrogen decreases your body’s ability to use insulin to process glucose (Yan et al. 2019), so simple sugars don’t always work as well to fuel your runs. Experiment with products that include some protein and fat, such as Spring or Hüma brand gels. Throughout the day, aim to cut added sugar and instead focus on getting more complex carbohydrate, high-quality protein (including that from yogurt and meat, which includes the amino acid leucine), healthy omega-3 fat from foods such as fish and walnuts, and foods rich in calcium and vitamin D to protect bone and heart health.

Many of the challenges linked to perimenopause and menopause are relatively short term, and once your period stops completely, you’ll likely find yourself settling into a new normal. If you trained hard in your younger years, you might notice a more permanent slowdown from your previous best times. That said, if you started running later in life, there’s no reason you can’t continue to improve long into your masters career. And regardless of age and phase, you can always set big goals and work to be the best version of yourself.

Breakthrough Women's Running book cover

Adapted from:

Breakthrough Women’s Running

Neely Spence Gracey and Cindy Kuzma


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