5 Key Ways Exercise Can Future-Proof Your Body

Women’s perimenopausal years are arguably one of the most important periods to stay in shape. The change in our hormones start to play a key role in rendering us more vulnerable to dementia, osteoporosis, sarcopenia, diabetes, heart disease, depression and breast cancer later in life.

So while exercise is helpful to alleviate any perimenopausal symptoms you might be experiencing now, it’s also important to look at the impact exercise will have on your future.

How do you want to feel in your 60s, 70s and 80s? Women are living up to a third of our lives after menopause but we don’t just want to live longer, we want to live healthier, with vitality and strength. 

You can be an active participant in your healthcare and take a more vigilant approach to valuing yourself and your body as a whole. Lifestyle modifications can be tailored to the repair, rejuvenation and longevity of your body and brain.

Here are 5 key ways exercise helps protect your future-self.

1. Bone Health

Oestrogen is important for keeping bone density stable and maintaining bone strength. The decrease of oestrogen during perimenopause means bone density starts to go down too, leading to an increased risk of osteoporosis. With this loss of bone density comes reduced bone strength and a greater risk of breaking bones. The good news is that working out can help build and maintain bone density through into menopause.

How does exercise help?

Weight-bearing and resistance exercises are the best for your bones. Weight-bearing exercise is physical activity we perform while on our feet that works the muscles and bones against gravity. During weight-bearing activity, the muscles and tendons apply tension to the bones, which stimulates the bones to produce more bone tissue. As a result, bones become stronger and more dense and the risk of osteopenia, osteoporosis, and fractures decreases. Resistance training – such as lifting weights – can also strengthen bones but alone is not enough to build bone density.

What type of exercise?

Weight bearing exercise can be high impact, or low impact. It is the high impact weight bearing exercise that stimulates your bones and makes them stronger. The extra stimulus of pushing off against gravity and landing back down is great for your muscles and bones. It is those impacts – big or small – that generate important physiological changes. 
Examples of high-impact weight-bearing exercises are: dancing, doing high-impact aerobics, hiking, jogging/running, skipping, stair climbing, tennis, lunges, and jump squats. Other exercises such as swimming and cycling can help build and maintain strong muscles and have excellent cardiovascular benefits, but they are not the best way to exercise your bones.

2. Brain Health

Today, lack of exercise is currently listed as one of the top risk factors for Alzheimers. Two-thirds of Alzheimers sufferers are women. It is thought that women’s hormones play a key role in rendering us more vulnerable to the disease. For a woman over 60 the risk of developing Alzheimers is twice that of developing breast cancer.

How does exercise help?

Exercise stimulates the production of growth hormones like brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which promotes our neurons’ abilities to build new connections and acts as a first aid kit for any brain cells in need of repair. This means our brain experiences increased plasticity and connectivity, improving our ability to both make and retain memories. 

What type of exercise?

It’s not about the intensity of our exercise for our brain health as much as frequency and consistency. Find something you enjoy and do it! Studies show that engaging in regular physical activity (taking the stairs, a walk, bike ride, dancing around the kitchen) for roughly four hours per week lowers your risk of dementia later in life by 35%. Engaging in more strenuous exercise (a run, brisk walk, weight bearing exercise, tennis, dancing) reduced the risk by 45%. Dance in particular is beneficial for our brain because it includes balance and motor skills – the added challenge of co-ordination seems to be particularly protective against cognitive decline.

3. Weight Management

In our perimenopausal years we are more prone to putting on weight around our mid-section and belly fat has been linked to diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, dementia and certain cancers. Weight loss is also one of the most cited reasons for women wanting to exercise in the first place, so that they can once again feel confident and comfortable in their clothes.

How does exercise help?

When losing weight, more physical activity increases the number of calories your body uses for energy or “burns off.” The burning of calories through physical activity, combined with reducing the number of calories you eat, creates a “calorie deficit” that results in weight loss.

What type of exercise?

Anything that gets your heart rate up and makes you sweat lightly rather than profusely. Long periods of high intensity exercise (like running for long distances) can be counter-productive because it increases cortisol, the stress hormone. Cortisol is good for a surge of energy, but you don’t want those stress-hormone levels to stay elevated longer than necessary to get the job done, especially in menopause when cortisol can already be elevated. This can cause the body to actually hold onto fat and also exacerbate hot flushes, anxiety and even depression. 

The best type of exercise is high-intensity interval training (HIIT). It can be super short with intervals lasting up to 60 seconds. It is also the intensity women often find easiest to maintain and actually enjoy, because psychologically you know you can do anything for 30-40 seconds and it’s over shortly after you start. Add this into your routine twice a week and you will soon see the difference (combined with a healthy eating programme that prioritises dietary protein).

4. Hearth Health

Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the UK. In fact, coronary heart disease kills more than twice as many women as breast cancer. When we hit menopause the risk increases. A dip in oestrogen levels is common at the onset of menopause. This dip increases the risk of the coronary arteries narrowing, whereas our oestrogen previously protected the lining of the artery walls, reducing the build-up of plaque.

How does exercise help?

Regular aerobic exercise can strengthen your heart and blood vessels, reduce inflammation, help maintain a healthy weight and can stop, or slow the development of diabetes. Cardio exercise improves the flow of oxygen throughout your body, lowers your blood pressure and also your cholesterol. 

What type of exercise?

Cardio is anything which raises your heart rate – running, cycling, swimming, HIIT etc. Not many women are fans of cardio, but it really is important (particularly as some of this exercise can be high impact and so protects bone health too). It is recommended that we do 150 minutes of cardio exercise a week to reap the benefits. As we have seen above, HIIT training is particularly good for perimenopausal/menopausal women.

5. Muscle Health

From our 30s we start to lose muscle mass and most of the loss occurs in our core muscles, which support our abdomen. This is due in part to natural age-related muscle loss (sarcopenia) and in part due to our decreasing oestrogen levels. 

How does exercise help?

Gaining muscle through exercise won’t just help you slim down but it can change your metabolism, reversing insulin resistance and other risk factors for chronic disease such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. And it’s equally important for reducing sarcopenia, protecting our skeleton, improving mobility and balance, and reducing fall risk with age.

What type of exercise?

Increasing your muscle mass through resistance, or bodyweight training helps increase your metabolism and your strength (which in turn supports bone health). Lifting weights is a great way to increase your muscle mass but ensure you are completing compound movements (full body) rather than isolated exercises (like bicep curls etc). Bodyweight training (where you use your own weight to provide resistance against gravity) is another great way to build muscle. Some examples of bodyweight exercises are push-ups, planks, squats, mountain climbers, wall-sits, lunge jumps etc. Ballet-inspired movement is also a weight-bearing form of exercise which helps you move your muscles more effectively, giving you better balance than those who don’t dance.

Oh and eat more protein! You absolutely need it to maintain muscle. Active women should aim for at least 1.8 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight a day, which is about 30 grams at each meal, and 15 to 20 grams with snacks.  


Exercise keeps our DNA young! Higher levels of exercise is linked to fewer years of aging at the cellular level.


For women over 40:

  • Incorporate cardio/HIIT training twice per week to stimulate the skeletal muscle, strengthen your bones, manage your weight and promote a healthy heart.
  • Complete resistance / bodyweight workouts 3-4 times per week to build muscle mass and strength and burn calories.

Breaking Ballet’s unique ballet-inspired workouts are tailored for perimenopausal and menopausal women to help them future proof their bodies at the same time as looking after the here and now.

Sarah is the founder of Breaking Ballet, a unique online ballet fitness programme for busy women.

Join the 21 Day Body Reboot programme here to hit the re-set button and venture into a whole new world of balance, grace, confidence and powerful elegance

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