Swimming & Menopause

How menopause could be affecting your swimming training


By Jesse Lambert-Harden

After being a taboo subject for so long, the menopause conversation has finally gained traction, and rightly so.  50 percent of the population are women, and you probably swim alongside menopausal women every day.


Perimenopause is the period of time before a woman reaches menopause and typically begins around age 45 but can begin in your thirties. 


Over time the ovaries produce fewer eggs and during perimenopause the hormones that regulate your menstrual cycle, oestrogen and progesterone, fluctuate significantly, decreasing then flat lining.


The menopause itself (average age 51) is a point in time whereby a woman has had no menstrual cycle (no periods) for 12 months.  Beyond that date, she is considered to be post menopause.


Much like puberty,  perimenopause is not a disease, rather a transition that EVERY woman will go through.  Post menopause in today’s life expectancy is around a third of a woman’s life, similar to her reproductive years.  30 years or more to thrive, so let’s not see it as a taboo subject. 


Will menopause impact my swim training?


Firstly, your swimming is not doomed because you are menopausal.  Many women are able to carry on as usual, whereas others may struggle with symptoms that affect their training by manifesting as barriers.  These symptoms range from the physical such as fatigue, hot flashes, joint pain and weight gain, to cognitive such as brain fog, mood swings, anxiety and depression.


Motivation to train


It is not uncommon for women to experience low levels of motivation and lack of self esteem at this time in their lives.


Try to remember that swimming helps to improve these and reduce stress through the release of endorphins resulting in an improved sense of wellbeing and happiness.  Try and plan in time for you, remembering that swimming is a form of self care and if you’re reading this, it’s probably because you enjoy swimming - all the more reason to do it!



Prioritise sleep and recovery


Sleep can be rather elusive for some, but just do the best you can by ensuring good sleep hygiene and making sure getting to bed at a reasonable time is a priority. 


Building in more recovery is more important than ever, so try to plan in rest days, and eat to fuel your training. Include protein, carbohydrates and plenty of fruit and vegetables at each meal. Avoid crash dieting because it will impact your energy levels further and compromise your muscles (see below).


If you’re affected by bouts of fatigue, you might wish to adjust the intensity of your training depending on how you feel each day.  For example, you could add in more rest between 100m distance, take a slower pace than usual, or switch a critical swim speed (CSS) session for a slow and steady endurance one.  Do what works for you on that day and most importantly, that you enjoy it.

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Build some muscle


Menopause may contribute to age related muscle loss (sarcopenia), which in turn could impact your swimming performance.  Physically, now is a great time to begin to bring in some strength training into your training plan.  Two 30 minute sessions working the whole body is a great addition to help strengthen both your muscle and protect your bone health.  Include a palm sized portion of protein at each meal to support this process.


Both swimming and strength training will have positive effects on health, weight management, stress levels, body confidence, strengthening the joints and also ease off hot flashes.



Some top tips to help make swimming less daunting



1. Join a swimming community.  Open water swimming is having its day and is now extremely popular amongst women of all ages, shapes and sizes.


2. Do not compare yourself to others or your previous self.  Embrace and accept that this is a new phase in your life and see the positives and opportunities to thrive.  Perimenoapuse and many of its symptoms do pass.


3. Remember that swimming is your choice of self care, not a chore.  Why did you love it to begin with?


4. Begin slowly.  Set some realistic goals and take small steps so that it is less overwhelming. Make your sessions fun so that you look forward to going. 



5. Eat well for energy and mood - eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, carbohydrates, protein and don’t restrict yourself.


6. Treat yourself to a swimming costume that screams “me” to give yourself a confidence boost.  Talk to yourself kindly and remember that most other people are too busy thinking about themselves to notice you (sorry!)


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