The Experts Weigh in on Exercise, Menopause and Hair Loss




The onset of menopause brings a host of changes, including hair loss in some women. Late author John R. Lee, M.D. (“What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause”), a Harvard trained physician specializing in menopause, said that this is largely due to thyroid gland dysfunction, although he believed many other environmental factors are at work as well.

Before his death in 2003, Lee advocated the use of natural progesterone over hormone replacement therapy (HRT), ideas that were subsequently validated and continue to find adherents and support in the medical community. Other therapies he recommended are sound nutrition and weight management, exercise and smoking cessation. Each of these behaviors can positively minimize the effects of menopause.

But what about women in pre-menopause, sometimes referred to as perimenopause? Best-selling fitness author Kathy Smith, now 49-years-old, writes about the importance of exercise during her own first symptoms of “the change” in her book, “Kathy Smith’s Moving Through Menopause.” She writes, “I assumed I already knew a lot of the answers. While it’s true that the basic rules of healthy living are as important now as ever, there are new reasons for following them. Regular exercise and healthy eating now take aim at symptoms and problems I’d never encountered before.”

Healthier going in means healthier coming out

Smith specifically addresses thyroid and parathyroid glands through a yoga-like shoulder stand. But preparing for the onset of menopause takes various forms. Strength exercises are abundant in her book, such that bone strength is bolstered against osteoporosis. She also advocates vigorous cardiovascular exercise as a means to manage and improve sleep.

“They call ‘anxiety’ pulling your hair out for a reason. But exercise overall increases a sense of self-worth, self-confidence and reduces symptoms of depression because it is a matter of taking control of one’s body and life circumstances.”

The key point is the healthier you are going in to menopause, the seemingly easier it is to encounter the changes.

Maggie Greenwood Robinson, Ph.D. and author of “Hair Savers for Women: A Complete Guide to Preventing and Treating Hair Loss,” encourages performing the upside down head and shoulder stand that Smith prescribes several times per week. But she also writes extensively about the effects of stress on female alopecia at any age and stage in life, including how stress depletes the body of zinc (a mineral vital to hair health, in proper balance with copper).

So how is that stress reduced? Exercise, of course – and it goes far beyond shoulder stands.
An article by Mayo Clinic staff on the famed health center’s website provides reasons why exercise reduces stress and improves health – which is safe to say improves one’s ability to hold onto their hair under a variety of circumstances. There truly is a mind-body connection here:

Stoke your neurotransmitters – Endogenous opioid polypeptide compounds, otherwise known as endorphins, are increased during exertion of all kinds. Problems in life can melt away after a long run or vigorous swim when endorphins are bathing your brain.

Change your focus, change your outlook – It’s possible to restore energy and optimism and bring a fresh perspective to your day when you instead focus your brain on the physical movements of sport or exercise. Quite like meditation, exercise allows stressful thoughts to leave your head. When you return from exercise, your mind will be better suited for the task.

Nix depression and anxiety – They call it “pulling your hair out” for a reason. But exercise overall increases a sense of self-worth, self-confidence and reduces symptoms of depression because it is a matter of taking control of one’s body and life circumstances.

And those fabled hot flashes, which occur in the stage preceding menopause, can be mitigated if anxiety is reduced as well. A study at the University of Pennsylvania found that the more anxious a woman is, the more she had hot flashes. Not too surprisingly, women who smoked or were overweight had twice as many hot flashes as normal weight women who didn’t smoke.
As if you needed another reason to head to the gym or bike paths.