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What exercises are best for menopausal women?

We ask the experts to settle common questions we've all wondered about.

Question: What exercises and fitness programs are most beneficial for menopausal women? Are there any activities they should avoid?

Answer: Maintaining an active lifestyle at any age is beneficial to overall health, but women aged 45 to 60 face a unique set of factors when it comes to their fitness program. For this age group, osteoarthritis and osteoporosis are common health risks, so not every fitness program is ideal.

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High-impact exercise is not usually recommended for anyone in this age range because of the amount of stress placed on the joints. In women diagnosed with osteoarthritis - which involves wear and tear of the joints - stop-start activities such as high-impact aerobics or sports such as squash can be particularly problematic and can aggravate arthritic joints. For those with osteoporosis - characterized by low bone mass and brittleness of bones - spinal twisting or forward bending required in yoga and some aerobic exercises can actually cause fractures.

The good news is that there is still a vast array of fitness choices, and being active during menopause can add a host of benefits, including weight management and a reduction in the symptoms of osteoarthritis.

An ideal fitness program can be as simple as walking around your neighbourhood or as involved as enrolling in scheduled classes. Health Canada recommends 60 minutes of light activity, or 30 minutes if the workout is more intense, four to seven days a week.

How you choose to exercise, though, is up to you. The important thing is to determine what activities you enjoy. If you love to dance, maybe you should try a belly-dancing class, or if you like to swim, aquafit could be ideal. Exercise doesn't have to be boring and strenuous. In fact, the most beneficial fitness programs are filled with activities you enjoy doing - because having fun will motivate you to continue.

If you feel that the fitness industry is geared to a younger demographic, you are not alone. There are many women going through menopause who want to exercise, but can't find a program that suits their needs or interests. The fitness industry needs to catch up to this growing group of women who want to be active, but until that happens, the best thing might be to develop an exercise program outside the gym, or join a program with friends or other women with common fitness goals.

When it's the right program, it will easily fit into your life and can become a regular part of your routine. The most important things to remember is that it's never too late to start being active and that if you stop, you can always start again.

Heather Robinson is a certified athletic therapist in the department of Sport CARE at Women's College Hospital in Toronto.

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