Women typically begin menopause between age 45 and 55, and the changes women notice are mostly due to a drop in estrogen levels. In the media, much of the menopause discussion is about hot flashes and possible weight gain. But the more serious issue—a gradual thinning of the bones— is not so obvious. Fortunately, running is one of the best ways for a woman to combat this bone loss.
Our bones might seem inactive but they are really very active tissues. Old bone cells are constantly being removed by the body, and new bone cells made. The problem is that beginning in menopause, the removal of bone cells becomes greater than the making of new cells, and the bones become more fragile. This predisposes the woman to fracture of bones that support lots of weight, such as the hips and spine.
It might sound strange, but the best way for women to keep their bones strong as they approach menopause and beyond is to put stress on the bones. You might compare this process to muscles. When we put more stress on the muscles through weightlifting, the muscles grow larger and stronger.
The same thing happens to bones, and the best type of stress is that which stresses the entire length of the bones. That happens when we do exercises standing, and especially when we run. The bones of the legs, hips, and spine grow larger in response to the stress, and become more resistant to fractures. In general, the greater the stress, the more the bone-building response.
Best to start in 20s and 30s
While it’s never too late to take up running, the best time to start is in your 20s and 30s. In this way, you build a base of strong bone, so when your bone starts to thin in later years, you can lose some bone but you are starting with a better bone “reserve”.
But better late than never
If you didn’t start running when you were younger, as long as you are otherwise in good physical condition (check with your doctor for clearance), you can start running at any age. You can start slow running short distances, interspersed with walking. Then build up to 1 then 2 km. and maybe you can reach 5 or 10K comfortably, and enter some race events, which will motivate you even more.
Running helps other symptoms of menopause
As an added bonus, beyond strengthening your bones, running (and other aerobic activities) can reduce hot flashes, help you sleep better, diminish potential weight gain, and even help your thinking and mood. Many people with depression find running helps them significantly.
Alternatives to running
If you can’t or don’t like running, you can do other things that help your bones such as: fast walking, stair climbing, elliptical trainer, dancing, hiking, aerobic classes, yoga, and of course, weight training. (Note swimming is great exercise but doesn’t help your bones). Even better if you can combine running with one or more of these other activities!
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