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Is it safe for postmenopausal women to start running?

Updated: Mar 1

Yes, absolutely! You just have to take things slow and listen to your body. The biggest mistake you can make is to try and follow someone else’s programme or pace. Here are some tips on how to start running safely after the menopause. And remember, if you need more help with an injury, you're welcome to consult one of our physios online via video call.


How to safely start running after the menopause.

In this article:

  1. What are the benefits of running through or after the menopause?

  2. How to start running safely after the menopause

  3. How we can help

We also made a video about this:



What are the benefits of running through or after the menopause?


We’ve previously discussed in detail how the drop in oestrogen during and after the menopause can negatively impact your bones, tendons, muscles, and joints. It also affects other aspects of your life, like mood and sleep.


The research shows that exercise can help to reduce these negative effects. Running is a smart choice of exercise as it is weight bearing (so it helps to maintain your bone strength), builds strength in your tendons and muscles, and also has a positive effect on mood and sleep.


How to start running safely after the menopause


All new runners (regardless of their menopause status) are prone to injury if they overdo things. And when you’ve gone through the menopause, your body usually requires a bit of extra time to repair itself after exercise. You can manage this situation by using the following tips.


1. First, build your walking endurance

This has two benefits. Firstly, it will allow you to observe your body’s response to exercise and to gauge how many recovery days you need between sessions. Secondly, it will build the base strength you need to transition safely to running.


Top tip: You have to be able to walk comfortably for 30 minutes at a brisk pace two to three times a week before introducing some running into your exercise programme.


2. Then, start a run-walk programme

Running requires a lot more energy and places your body under a lot more strain than walking does. So, it makes sense to mix up running with walking at first.


An example would be to progress from walking briskly for 30 minutes to walking briskly for four minutes and then running for a minute, repeating this until you’ve done a total of 30 minutes.


These short running intervals will work your body hard, but then you allow it a bit of rest and recovery through walking. It’s also much easier to focus on having good running form when you’re not too fatigued, which will help you to avoid injuries.


As your fitness improves, you then gradually increase the amount of running and decrease the amount of walking until you can run continuously for 30 minutes.


Top tip: A run-walk programme is the safest way to ease into full-on running.



3. Speed is relative

I often hear new runners complain that they are so slow. But speed is relative to what you’ve done in the past. To increase your speed from just walking to a slow jog actually requires a big effort from your body.


Fast running creates much stronger forces in your bones, muscles, tendons, and joints. And if you’re new to running, they simply won’t have the strength yet to produce or cope with strong forces. It will take several months and sometimes a few years of regular running for your body to build the capacity for running fast.


Top tip: Allow your speed to naturally develop as your body grows stronger and fitter. Run at a pace that feels comfortable and allows you to breathe easily without having to stop.


4. Take your time

The drop in oestrogen levels during the menopause means that your body can’t repair and rebuild itself as quickly between exercise sessions as before. This is why even experienced runners are more prone to injury after the menopause if they don’t adapt their training habits.


There are plenty of run-walk programmes available. Make sure that you don’t slavishly follow the one you’ve chosen, because whoever created it can’t know how quickly your body will adapt and recover.


Top tip: Have bigger gaps between your training sessions if your legs don’t feel as if they’ve fully recovered yet. Only increase the amount of running in your run-walk programme when you feel that you’re 100% used to the current mix of running and walking. If you’ve found your last session hard work, repeat it until it feels easy and only then move on.


5. Strength train (I don’t mean pumping iron in the gym)

Strength training has been proven to help runners prevent injury. We also know that the menopause makes you lose muscle strength and control but that these losses can be delayed or prevented through strength training.


The words “strength training” can often discourage women because it sounds aggressive, and not all of us want to go lift weights in a gym. Strength training comes in many forms. If you’re new to it, then you can get really good results just by doing simple exercises at home, using your bodyweight. This article has examples of simple strength training exercises you can do at home.


You also don’t have to allocate massive amounts of time to it. Two sessions per week can be enough. If you find a clever physio, they should be able to give you 3 or 4 exercises that target all the main areas.


Top tip: If you feel a bit overwhelmed when you think about strength training, speak to a physio who can guide you.


How we can help


Our team of physios are experts in injury prevention and treatment, and we can help you understand your body, help you understand what training intervals may be best for you, and advise on what strength training exercises you can do. You’re welcome to consult one of the team at SIP online via video call.

The Sports Injury Physio team

We're all UK Chartered Physiotherapists with Master’s Degrees related to Sports & Exercise Medicine. But at Sports Injury Physio we don't just value qualifications; all of us also have a wealth of experience working with athletes across a broad variety of sports, ranging from recreationally active people to professional athletes. You can meet the team here.

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About the Author

Maryke Louw is a chartered physiotherapist with more than 15 years' experience and a Master’s Degree in Sports Injury Management. Follow her on LinkedIn and ResearchGate.




References:

1. Shimojo, G. L., et al. (2018). Combined aerobic and resistance exercise training improve hypertension associated with menopause Frontiers in Physiology 9: 1471.

2. El Mohtadi, M., et al. (2021). Estrogen deficiency - a central paradigm in age-related impaired healing? EXCLI Journal 20: 99-116.

3. Leblanc D, Schneider M, Angele P, et al. “The effect of estrogen on tendon and ligament metabolism and function” The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology 2017;172:106-16.

4. Nedergaard A, Henriksen K, Karsdal MA, et al. “Menopause, estrogens and frailty” Gynecological Endocrinology 2013;29(5):418-23.

5. Oliva F, Piccirilli E, Berardi AC, et al. Hormones and tendinopathies: the current evidence British medical bulletin 2016;117(1):39-58.

6. Xiao Y-P, Tian F-M, Dai M-W, et al. “Are estrogen-related drugs new alternatives for the management of osteoarthritis?” Arthritis Research & Therapy 2016;18(1):151.