Health for women cyclists - menopause
For women over 40 (or those heading that way) there are some fundamental questions about the menopause. Dr Auriel Forrester provides some answers.
How will the menopause affect your bicycle riding and training? What are the effects of HRT on exercise and sports performance? Will cycling make my symptoms worse or better? These are common questions raised - here are some answers.
The majority of the loss of physical ability as we get older is due to lack of exercise.
Sports performance varies with age - although the affect of ageing depends on individual factors and on the sport or activity involved. The majority of the loss of physical ability as we get older is due to lack of exercise. This particularly applies to stamina and endurance and it is equally true for men and women. However, just as younger women have to cope with the vagaries of the menstrual cycle so the master's woman has to cope with the changes due to the menopause.
As our bodies age so our natural levels of female hormones (such as oestrogen and progesterone) decline. Eventually these levels become so low that the fertility declines and the menstrual cycle ceases. However, there are still low levels of hormones circulating in the blood and these continue to rise and fall each month. The main symptoms of the menopause; hot flushes, anxiety, fatigue, muscle weakness etc, are caused by the drop in hormone levels. Weight gain is often associated with the menopause but this is usually related to a change in physical activity and diet patterns - perhaps brought about by the changes in mental attitude.
Weight gain is often associated with the menopause but this is usually related to a change in physical activity and diet patterns - perhaps brought about by the changes in mental attitude
The good news is that exercise - particularly moderate, endurance type exercises such as cycling - is highly beneficial on several counts, as it:
burns excess calories, tones loose musculature,
Increases levels of endorphins - the 'feel good' hormones, decreases many of the side effects of hormone fluctuations and improves strength and stamina. These benefits are increased if an exercise programme is combined with good healthy nutrition and plenty of rest and recovery.
Many women choose to use hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to aid the transition and help maintain bone mass. Other women prefer to let nature take its course. As with most things in life there are pros and cons of each approach but certainly many women have found HRT has given them a new lease of life and they have then gone onto take up an exercise programme and reap more benefits. If you are unsure about which course to take, chat to your doctor, or speak to a cycling coach or an instructor qualified to work with older people. If you find one brand of 'medication' doesn't suit you, ask to try something else.
The choice is yours and the benefits of cycling long into your 'third age' are yours for the taking.
If you are competing do remember to mention this to your doctor, as one or two brands contain low doses of testosterone - which can be highly beneficial in improving your libido and energy but it may also adversely affect drug test results! There is little research on the effects of HRT on competitive performance but masters competitions are alive and well with world class riders coming from both HRT and non-HRT camps.