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Davina discovered exercise in her late 30s. She wanted a way to look and feel good but mainly wanted to be in shape to look after her expanding family. Back then she’d really push herself with full-on HIIT classes and extreme cardio. Now 54, fitness is still a really important part of her life but she’s found calmer ways to work out, tapping into what works for her body rather than what she thinks she should be doing. Here she reveals the game-changing benefits of exercise in midlife and shares some super-easy strategies that will inspire even the most fitness-phobic.
Exercise is massively important at any time of our lives, but it really does come into its own during perimenopause and menopause. The crashing hormones are leaving us at higher risk of health problems like osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease, our moods are all over the place, and our bodies are primed for putting on weight around the middle.
The general advice is that you should be exercising for half an hour a day, five days a week. I’d say that as a starting point you should aim to exercise a minimum of three times a week, then see how you get on.
Grab one of those weekly planners and at the start of each week, sit down and plan exercise into your diary. Say to yourself, ‘right, this is exercise time’ and book in some slots. Then put that planner somewhere you just can’t ignore it, like a pinboard or on your fridge.
Look at your week as a whole and plot in the best times for you. You could schedule in exercise every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and give yourself the weekend off, for example. Or if you know Mondays are bad because they are full-on workwise and you just won’t commit, go for another day instead.
No excuses! You always have time to exercise. Once you start making time for it, you’ll be amazed how it soon becomes part of your life. If you find yourself thinking, ‘I work so hard that I don’t have time during the day’, or ‘all I want to do at the end of the day is collapse onto the sofa’, then I’ve got the simplest of fixes: just get up earlier.
Set your alarm for half an hour earlier, get your workout out of the way first thing and you’ll still have all that time for everything else you need to fit in during the day.
I used to do a class at 7am every Monday morning and I was so smug for having the first workout of the week crossed off the list by 7.45am. I always used to post a really smug selfie of me with a caption like ‘oooh, exercise – tick’. I mean, I literally hated myself for posting it, but at the same time I felt so good to have it all done and it really set me up for the week ahead.
People often ask me for my best exercise tips, and absolute top of the list is find something you like.
Don’t go and do something just because you feel you should. If it makes you feel uncomfortable or you think it’s boring, you just won’t stick to it. People will say to me ‘I’m trying to run every day but I absolutely hate it’ and I think, well, why are you doing it? It’s the same if you hate spin with a passion. Even though you think you should be doing a 6am class because it’s good cardio, don’t waste your money, because you won’t stick to it in the long run.
If you haven’t exercised for a while or you want to switch things up, try something new. It could be Zumba or swimming, it could be workouts at home, or you could try spin or running and just love it. The trick is to experiment and try lots of different things.
At the risk of sounding like an advert – but this is my book so I reckon I can definitely promote my fitness platform! – there are over 500 different workouts on my fitness platform, which is called www. ownyourgoalsdavina.com. You can just try loads of different workouts and see what you like. The workouts vary from five minutes to fifty minutes, and there’s food on there, and special menopause programmes – there are so many things for you to explore. And there are some really nice wellbeing articles, too.
It massively came into its own during Covid, but I think working out at home is fantastic at any time. The option of being able to just hit play in your bedroom or living room and fit in
a workout in between other tasks without even needing to leave the house is just so handy.
It’s also brilliant if you don’t fancy a group class or going to the gym, or the weather is horrible outside. If you are feeling shy, embarrassed about sweating, your age, your size or you just don’t feel very sociable, it’s a great way to keep up the momentum in a safe space. There are loads of home workouts to choose from: Own Your Goals Davina, there are lots of free videos on YouTube and of course there’s the lovely Joe Wicks, too.
It’s so underrated and overlooked, but I love walking. It’s free, it doesn’t need loads of fancy equipment and it totally clears my head. It’s also so easy to build into your life. Try walking the kids to school, walking to the shops or the train station, instead of jumping into the car.
I’m out walking twice a day with my dog Bo – I wear a running belt over my clothes that my kids laugh at, but it’s brilliant because I pop my dog treats and poo bags in there and get walking.
This leads me straight to another tip: if you love animals and have space for them in your life, get a dog. Trust me, you won’t regret it. Dogs are just so wonderfully unconditional with their love and make the BEST companions!
A dog really doesn’t care if you’re feeling menopausal, they just need to get a bloody walk. It’s like having your own canine Mr Motivator, minus the spandex – I’m out with Bo twice a day, come rain or shine.
Walking is a brilliant weight-bearing exercise that helps to build bone strength. Basically, a weight-bearing exercise is where you work against gravity, so if walking isn’t your bag, dancing or even climbing the stairs also count.
One last thing about walking. Walk with purpose: kick it up a gear and walk faster. Putting a little spring in your step will mean you get to where you want to go quicker, you’ll burn more calories, get your heart rate up and those endorphins going.
I’ll often put my AirPods in and get my power-walk on with Bo keeping up alongside me. I might look a bit mad and give other walkers a giggle, but who cares? I love it.
So next time you are out for a walk, remember: head up, shoulders back, tummy tight, swing those arms and get walking.
Wild swimming – that’s swimming in lakes, ponds, outdoor pools and the sea – is having something of a moment right now. And with good reason: studies show a cold dip can boost your immune system and metabolism, improve sleep and mood, which is why cold water therapy is so good for you.
A while ago I saw a clip on the news about a group of women who go cold-water swimming together in Swansea, South Wales, to help with their menopause symptoms.
Wearing swimming cozzies, wetsuits and beanies, they ran into the sea and took the plunge, freezing their bits off, shrieking at the cold, but letting out these huge belly laughs. The chat, the camaraderie and the exercise, it looked brilliant.
Exercise doesn’t always have to be cross-country running in all weathers or lifting weights down the gym. Fitting in twenty minutes here or half an hour of exercise there can and does make all the difference.
That can be any activity that gets you moving, too – going for a walk, playing with the kids or grandkids in the park, and then, my personal favourite, dancing to some bangers in the kitchen.
All activity counts; whatever you choose to do, you’ll still be lapping everyone who’s lolling on the sofa watching Netflix and eating crisps.
If willpower is an issue, get yourself an ‘excuse buddy’. Whether a friend, partner or workmate at lunchtime, having someone else to be accountable to is a big kick up the backside, motivation-wise. You’ll be less likely to cry off if you just don’t fancy it and it’ll be loads more fun.
I go running with my mate Anna. She’s a bit younger than me, and she’s a much better runner. She’s very motivating and she’s extremely kind – if I’ve got a bit un-running-fit for a while, she will always do a run-walk with me, even though she could run a half marathon at any given moment.
She’s also a great motivator for me because she calls me up and goes, ‘I’m going to go for a run, do you want to come?’ And I’ll be thinking, ‘Dammit, I thought I’d got away with it…’. But especially in the holidays when I’m around a bit more – in the term-time it’s quite difficult – she’s fantastic at getting me out and doing something with her. I find her so inspiring.
And look, sometimes she might be going for a run and she inspires me to go for a run at home if I can’t go all the way over to her house. I might think, well she’s done a run, I’m going to, too. So you don’t have to do it face-to-face if that isn’t feasible; you could do an online workout together; you don’t even have to be in the same time zone.
Another good thing to do is set up a weekly catch-up to review your goals with your workout buddy and plan ahead for the next week.
Interpretive dance to the strains of Enya isn’t going to cut it if all you want to do is pogo around and listen to Rage Against the Machine very, very loudly.
If I’m in a bad mood then I’ll choose a workout to really push those feelings out, like a boxing class. I whack the drum and bass on and really get it out of my system. Try it – I can guarantee you’ll feel tons better afterwards.
On the flip side, if you are feeling sad or fragile, then do something that’s gentle or loving, like Pilates or some nice yoga stretches.
It is also brilliant to be involved in charity challenges, which will increase your motivation – try the Couch to 5k, or just sign up to a charity walk with a group.
This is an extract from Davina’s latest book Menopausing, published by HQ, priced £22.
Photo: Mark Hayman
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NHS.uk (2021), ‘Physical activity guidelines for adults aged 19 to 64’, https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/exercise-guidelines/physical-activity-guidelines-for-adults-aged-19-to-64/
B. Knechtle et al. (2020) ‘Cold water swimming-benefits and risks: a narrative review’, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17238984