Punching Things And Other Great Workouts for Menopause

Mood swings and physical symptoms are real, but so is the relief you can find by sweating through them.

Boxing the Rage Away and Other Workouts to Try During Perimenopause

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I’m standing in the kitchen wondering how there is yet another pile of dirty dishes in the sink. My teenager and I are having a strongly worded discussion about schoolwork, and my husband has been fiddling with something in the basement for the last two hours, probably hiding from me. I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in months and I can feel an intense heat rising from my body. I’m in my forties, and irritability, anxiety, night sweats, and insomnia are only some of the perimenopausal symptoms I’d been unsuccessfully managing. I’m not sure if what I’m currently feeling is rage or another hot flash, probably a combination of both, I just know that right now, I really want to punch something.

Why am I so moody to begin with? 

Alyssa Dweck, a New York-based MD and FACOG says, “Estrogen levels naturally decrease during menopause. This may lead to symptoms of hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, changes in skin and hair, mood volatility, sleep disturbance, bone loss,” and more. 

As estrogen and other hormones including serotonin and oxytocin levels fluctuate, this can trigger mood swings ranging from rage to depression. To help combat stress and improve quality of life The Office on Women’s Health suggests at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week or vigorous aerobic activity for 75 minutes per week. 

With each jab and uppercut, something inside me releases.

When I tell a friend who is also struggling about my symptoms, she suggests boxing lessons. At first, I’m hesitant. It sounds hard and slightly dangerous. But we both agree we need to do something, so we find a private instructor. Within minutes of stepping into the gym, I have  my wrists wrapped and I’m sporting big red gloves that remind me of lobster claws. With each jab and uppercut, something inside me releases. By the end of my first class, I’m calmer, my head is clear, and I walk out of the gym feeling more powerful and in control than I have in years. 

Boxing the Rage Away and Other Workouts to Try During Perimenopause

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Embrace the Power

According to Haley Shapely, a Seattle-based certified fitness instructor and author of Strong Like Her, it’s no surprise my mood has lightened. “Those endorphins are real! There’s such a feeling of accomplishment that can come from exercise, especially when it involves raw power,” she says. After my first class, I immediately scheduled a series of weekly boxing lessons. 

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While exercise has not yet been scientifically proven to directly alleviate symptoms of perimenopause and menopause, in one study, menopausal women who exercised for a year significantly improved both their mental and physical health.

Dr. Dweck explains that, “exercise [in perimenopause] is vital to maintaining good cardiovascular health, optimal weight, and stress reduction.” And while menopause doesn’t cause cardiovascular disease, risk factors significantly increase as women age

Boxing the Rage Away and Other Workouts to Try During Perimenopause

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Protect Those Bones

Not only is aerobic exercise important for women over 40, but so is resistance training. Studies show that one in every two women over 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis, in part because of decreases in estrogen during perimenopause and menopause. Lifting weights not only builds bone and muscle strength, it burns fat and increases your metabolism, all good reasons to pump some iron.  

“Bones start their long, slow decline in density when you’re around 30, but you can counteract that by giving them a reason to stay strong. Exercises to strengthen these areas include squats, leg presses, and lat pulldowns. This helps slow the loss of muscle mass, keep bones strong, and maintain balance,” says Shapely.

Boxing the Rage Away and Other Workouts to Try During Perimenopause

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Make It a Date

With this in mind, I decided to shake up my workouts even more. I scheduled weekly running and walking dates with friends because I knew that having an accountability partner would help me show up to the trail at 7 a.m. no matter how warm and cozy my bed was. It also helped to commiserate about the totally bizarre symptoms of perimenopause, like forgetting words in the middle of a conversation. 

I began lifting weights before boxing class and committed to doing yoga once a week, which helps with balance and joint mobility. I even began practicing meditative breathing, increasing oxygen to my brain and calming my parasympathetic nervous system. This is an especially helpful exercise when I’m facing that pile of dishes in the sink after I’ve just cleaned the kitchen for the third time. 

It only took a few weeks for me to see a shift. My clothes fit better, my arms were toned, and I was sleeping through most of the night, which made me less irritable.

Focus on What Brings You Joy

Beauty and Lifestyle influencer Carla Kemp, aka Fab N Fit by Carla, was experiencing hot flashes, problems sleeping, mood swings and weight gain. “Exercise helped with my mood swings. No one wants to be depressed or be in a bad mood,” she says, explaining that she varies her routine to target different muscles and regulate her mood. “I do a little of everything from weight training, swimming and cardio. Being outdoors also helped with the symptoms. I felt better being in the fresh air, so I started walking and running.”

The key to committing to an exercise routine during menopause when it feels like you are already juggling so much is to start slow and do what makes you happy so you’ll stick with it. “Move your body! Find a fitness class you enjoy or hire a trainer. Talk to other women for support. Seek things that put a smile on your face,” and perhaps most important, “Keep menopause in perspective,” Carla advises.

At a time when symptoms of perimenopause were taking over my life, boxing, running, a weekly yoga practice and a little weight training thrown in for good measure made me feel stronger, confident, and in better shape than I’d ever been. Now, when I’m irritable or anxious, I head to the gym to hit the heavy bag, grab my yoga mat, or text my friends to let them know I’ll meet them on the trail. The best part is, when I want to punch something, I can. I finally have a place to put my rage.

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