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Women’s Health – Pilates for Menopause

By Jo Jackson

Ahhh….….the joys of menopause!!

In Pt 1 of this blog I am going to highlight the need for pelvic floor training, particularly pre and post menopause, and in Pt 2 we will look more closely at the strength implications of menopause.

Menopause is the point in time when your periods have ceased for the 12 months prior, usually occurring between the ages of 48 and 55.  The years leading up to this time, which can be a decade for some, is called peri-menopause.  Peri-menopause is when hormone production starts to fluctuate widely, and eventually oestrogen and progesterone production from the ovaries declines to very low levels.  This hormone drop leads to profound physical and psychological changes that can impact women for the rest of their life. 

How does menopause effect the pelvic floor?

The onset of peri menopause and consequent decline in hormone production causes our muscles to weaken, including our pelvic floor muscles.  Weight gain is also common during menopause (more on this later), which can also contribute to the increased load on a weakening pelvic floor.  As we age our bladder becomes less elastic and this loss of stretch can irritate the bladder and cause it to be overactive.  Other common changes to our pelvic floor that occur during peri and post menopause, include an increase in urinary frequency and/or urgency.  This can lead to leakage of urine with coughs, sneezes or exercise, getting up multiple times in the night to pass urine or frequent urinary tract infections.  All of these problems rarely go away on their own, most will just get worse with time.  

According to the Continence Foundation of Australia, 80% of people who report urinary incontinence are women, with 1 in 3 mothers having some degree of incontinence following childbirth.  Giving birth is clearly a contributing factor to female incontinence even years later as we age, with menopause then causing additional weakness and issues.  The statistics are surprising – and a little scary! – but it is important to acknowledge that although incontinence is a common problem, it is not normal.  

Pelvic floor muscle exercises have been shown to prevent and treat incontinence at any age.  This is where Pilates can be of such a great benefit to both our new mums and older women, to help retrain and strengthen pelvic floor muscles.  

It is suggested by the Continence Foundation that you should be able to lift and hold your pelvic floor muscles (without holding your breath) for at least 8 seconds.  

Try this:

Lying on your back with your knees bent, arms relaxed by your side.  

Take in some slow deep breaths into the ribcage.  

As you exhale see if you can lift and engage your pelvic floor muscles without any glutes, inner thighs or too much abdominal muscles. 

Try and build your strength up to be able to take a few breaths maintaining your pelvic floor hold for 8 seconds.

Inhale and relax.  

If you are suffering with incontinence or any pelvic floor issues we would highly recommend a visit to Inform Physio in Fairfield or have a chat to your instructor.  We are all trained at Evolved Pilates to help with pelvic floor strengthening and can add specific exercises into your class or home program.

Stay tuned for Pt 2 on how menopause effects our muscular strength and how Pilates can help!

Sources: Continence.org.auDr Stacey Sims, ‘Roar’ 2016.org.au