An elderly woman poses for a photo and smiles.The belly gets bigger, clothes fit tighter, metabolism drops, moods seem unpredictable, and a good night’s sleep is nothing but a fond memory.

Oh the joys of menopause, that midlife transition that seems to come from nowhere, and take over our body (and our mind) in one big swoop.

Undoubtedly, hormonal changes are driving a lot of the changes a woman’s body is experiencing during this period of life. But is there more to it? Is it just about losing estrogen or does all of this have something to do with getting older?

Consider this:

  • 30 is the new 50: At least when it comes to certain body changes. Starting at age 30, muscle is lost, fat is gained, and our bones have reached their peak strength. The average age of menopause is 50. Since muscle loss and fat gain can be gradual, we are not always aware how our body has changed over time. By the time menopause rolls around, we have already laid ground work for our future health and menopause puts the “flashing lights” on it.
  • Activity levels drop: We sit more, move less, and for the most part seem to become okay with it. Unfortunately, the less we move the less we burn and fat metabolism bottoms out.
  • Stress levels: Life is stressful on many different fronts for a lot of reasons. Stress does not end when menopause hits, in fact dealing with changes like the empty nest, changing health, financial concerns, and relationship issues can take its toll. Without a positive way to deal with the inevitable life changes, we can become overwhelmed and even depressed.

What can exercise do for me during menopause?

The good news is our bodies can be forgiving in many ways. If your physical activity has been nothing more than walking from your car to the office or getting up to grab a bite to eat during a commercial break, it may be time to rethink the benefits of physical activity:

  • Take the edge off:  Physical activity utilizes stress hormones and reduces their effect on your body. This may even help with reducing hot flashes, though not conclusive.
  • “I’m happy…” Even a 10 minute walk can boost endorphins and give you a feeling of peace and a much needed distraction from the issue at hand.
  • Boost metabolism: By building muscle and reducing fat, regular physical activity can rev up metabolism.
  • Weight control: It’s no secret that exercise burns calories. The key is to not overestimate what you really burned off. A two mile walk is worth about 200 calories.   Remember when you are trying to lose weight the key is to create a calorie deficit not refill the calorie burn created from exercise. So if you think you are earning “food credits” because you exercised you are creating a vicious cycle.
  • Got sleep? According to the National Sleep Foundation Sleep Survey, people that exercise report better sleep quality. Not only that but the harder you exercise, the better you sleep.
  • Stay mentally sharp: Lost estrogen can wreak havoc on memory and concentration. Exercise, on the other hand, has the opposite effect and can even grow brain cells in certain areas of the brain. Plus, exercise is tied to a decreased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.