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Menopause: How Pilates Can Help

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Pilates Exercise for Menopausal Women By Carolyne Anthony

As Pilates instructors, we are seeing many more middle-aged women in our classes, and they are an energetic, dynamic group to say the least. Women today are much more active, informed and focused on their health and fitness than they were several decades ago. Many have been exercising for years and are not about to stop now that they are reaching their menopausal years.

The onset of menopause does, however, bring several changes to women’s lives, and from what I’ve found, they appreciate all the help they can get with navigating through it. It is interesting to look at some of the symptoms of menopause and how exercise can help alleviate some of them. It is even more interesting to look at the ways in which Pilates can help many of these symptoms.

So just what is menopause?
A three-ring circus at best.

Perimenopause describes the time when a woman’s menstrual cycles begin to stop; menopause is reached when there has not been a cycle for 12 consecutive months. It’s a time of upheaval in the body. Hormones are running rampant, your body is changing, and life seems strange. Sounds like adolescence, doesn’t it? If you are already teaching this group, you know that they are some of the liveliest and funniest people around. A sense of humor is a requirement during this time.

Pilates is a mind-body experience just like menopause is, and we can use the philosophy of Pilates to help women through it. Menopause can be a truly amazing time if they are given the tools necessary to cope with its trials and tribulations. Pilates is a wonderful aid in accomplishing these goals. Keeping a positive attitude and sense of humor is important too. Feeling good about yourself and your body is essential.

Menopause and the Mind
Women tend to experience mood swings, depression, irritability and sleep disturbances, among several other symptoms, during menopause. Moderate-intensity exercise is known to help manage these symptoms, and simple exercises like breathing and stretching are also great stress blasters. Deep abdominal breathing not only calms and focuses the mind, it helps tone and strengthen abdominal muscles. Sometimes fatigue can be a problem for this group; if so, a session of breathing and stretching along with some simple exercises may help calm and relax them enough to help promote better sleep. This sort of exercise may be done a few hours before bedtime as it will not boost the metabolism or stimulate the central nervous system as more intense exercise will.

Menopause and the Body

Collagen is the main protein of connective tissue and is also responsible for skin strength and elasticity. As we age, the ability to rebuild collagen decreases, which leads to wrinkles and sagging skin, as well as decreased muscle tone. Exercise has been proven to have the ability to stimulate collagen regeneration in the muscles and bones—a double benefit for menopausal women with the beginnings of osteoporosis.

Along with muscle and skin tonicity loss there comes weight gain, which usually appears around the middle with a simultaneous loss of fat around the hips and thighs. This is caused by hormonal fluctuations and the slowing down of the metabolism. There are plenty of ways to treat these hormonal changes and slowing of the metabolism. Exercise, again, is one of them.

We need to look closely at the type of exercise these women need. If weight gain is a problem, there has to be a concerted effort to reduce the number of calories consumed and increase cardiovascular activity. There is no way around this formula. No amount of abdominal work is going to actually shift the weight in this area without the help of cardio activity and a decrease in caloric input.

While most of us are into creating a stress-free environment with gentle exercises and stretching, the truth is that these women need to be worked out hard. Getting the heart rate up and sustaining it for at least 20 minutes will release endorphins—the feel good hormones—into the bloodstream. It will also rev up the metabolism and keep it turned up for a while after the end of exercising. We need to get them off their backs and moving more, using more resistance and having a whole lot more FUN.

Menopause and the Spirit
Menopause can feel like a time of loss for many women. They are dealing with the loss of youth, vitality, the ability to bear children and the empty-nest syndrome. They have to deal with a changing body, a befuddled mind and mood swings. This is a lot to handle. Exercise will serve to make these women feel better, and in doing so they are better able to cope with the madness of menopause. This is also a time of self-reflection, a reemergence of the self. Most of these women report an opening of the mind and an insatiable desire to learn new things. These women are strong and confident and are willing to do what it takes to achieve balance in their lives. Pilates seems to fit the bill for this very special population.

Menopause and Pilates: 11 Ways to Help Your Clients

1. Focus on breathing. Start the class with a series of deep breaths to focus and calm the mind and end with more of the same to bring the body back into the center.

2. Pick up the pace of your mat classes. Keep your classes or session moving. Maintain a rhythm and flow and it will be possible to work up a sweat!

3. Use more springs on the Reformers and Cadillacs.

4. Use more standing exercises.

5. Invest in cardio machines—bikes, ellipticals, treadmills—and get your clients on them for at least 20 minutes before class.

6. Use a bell curve to plan your classes. Start off slow (with breathing and pre-Pilates exercise), increase the level to include some cardio work, sustain this level, and then begin to cool down. This aerobic fitness formula seems to work very well for the menopausal woman.

7. Incorporate the jumpboard on the Reformer. It’s lower impact for those clients who really can’t cope with higher-impact exercise.

8. Use more resistance for arm work, and preferably stand to do this. Standing and exercising is a good way to train your body to be more functional and stable in your everyday life. Arm work off the end of the Cadillac is good for this. If someone has issues standing, have them sit on a stability ball for a challenge without the strain.

9. Use stretches between the exercises for rest periods and as a way to stretch the muscles that are now working harder than before. Stretching increases flexibility, which in turn helps with achieving balance and control over the body.

10. Challenge balance. Menopause can be a time of disorientation, not just of the mind, but of the body as well. Try adding balance exercises along with the stretches as a way to help focus the mind.

11. Work on pelvis stabilization. The areas of concern for menopausal women are the hips, buttocks and thighs. While it is distressing to begin to lose the shape in this area, it is more than just an esthetic problem. There is an increased instability in this area from the loss of the muscle and this in turn is responsible for the many falls and fractures that this population begins to see. The gluteal muscles help stabilize the pelvis as do the abdominals and pelvic floor. When the pelvis is stable the rest of the body follows suit. Since stabilization of the pelvis is a prime principle of Pilates, this form of exercise becomes important for menopausal women.



Side-Lying Footwork Pilates ExerciseSide-Lying Footwork
Side-lying exercises are excellent as they really target the gluteal muscle group. Side-lying footwork on the Reformer with different hip positions is a good one. Perform these exercises in parallel, lateral rotation and medial rotation to target the whole hip area.

Supine Footwork Pilates ExerciseSupine Footwork
Supine footwork has added benefits when performed in a bridging position. This position will make the gluteal muscle group work harder at stabilizing the pelvis.

All Fours Resistive Gluts Obliques Pilates ExerciseAll-Fours Resistive Gluts/Obliques

Working the gluteal muscles from a quadruped position on the Reformer can become a difficult abdominal muscle exercise when one arm is raised in front of the body. This activates the obliques very well.

Double Leg Lifts Pilates ExerciseDouble Leg Lifts
Double leg lifts on the ladder barrel will work the hip abductors and adductors, important areas for menopausal women to concentrate on.

Arm Exercises for PilatesArm Work

Women start out with relatively weak arms, but during this time they see a dramatic loss of the skin tone in the triceps area. Arm work is an essential part of the Pilates session. Concentrate more on the triceps by doing various different triceps work on the Chair, Reformer, Cadillac and even the mat. Add light weights or weighted balls to your mat class.


Carolyne Anthony has been teaching movement for over 25 years and is founder and director of The Center for Women’s Fitness, which provides Pilates training programs for populations such as pre/postnatal, athletes and dancers. She is certified by both Polestar and Physicalmind as a Pilates instructor as well as Yamuna Body Rolling. Carolyne is currently on the faculty of Balanced Body University and is the author of several books and DVDs.


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Posted on Friday, November 21, 2008 at 06:08PM by Registered CommenterAmy Leibrock in , | Comments4 Comments | References6 References

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Reader Comments (4)

I have been teaching a workshop called "The Pilates Pause" for a numbe of years now. It addresses all of what Carolyne Anthony talks about as well as what it is like as a teacher to go through perimenopause and menopause. I will be teaching this work shop Saturday December 6 at Power Pilates in NYC. If anyone is interested in other dates, please contact me.

December 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterElin Benson

Using an exercise band, dumbbells, the wall and the floor, this workout stretches, tones and conditions the body and helps expand your range of motion. Good for all ages and fitness abilities.



December 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBack Fit With Pilates

AS a woman fast approaching menopause I found your article very interesting. Thanks for the great read.

March 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLorrienne

Thanks for the article, Carolyne; I thought that it was really interesting how you talked about the connections between menopause, the body, the mind, and the spirit. I'll have to show your article to my sister. She's begun to look for treatment for her menopause, since she's experiencing the symptoms. Hopefully she finds a solution that works for her!

March 17, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterCourtney Galler

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