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Exercise and Menopause
There was a time when the word was never spoken, even between a mother and
daughter. Menopause, still referred to as "the change" in some circles, has
now come out in to the open. It's about time. After all, a woman can expect to
live one-third to one-half of her life past menopause, and these can be among
the most satisfying years of her life. Part of the reason for its emergence as a
hot health topic is likely due to the increasing body of information on how to manage
it. Exercise plays a key role in making the transition through menopause
easier and in enhancing health, happiness and productivity during the second half
What Is Menopause?
The medical definition of menopause is cessation of menses for 12 months,
when the ovaries stop making the hormones estrogen, progesterone and testosterone.
For most women, menopause simply marks the end of their reproductive years. While
the average age of menopause is about 51, some women may experience it as early as
their thirties or as late as their sixties. Symptoms of menopause include:
hot flashes, night sweats, bladder and reproductive tract changes, insomnia,
headache, lethargy/fatigue, irritability, anxiety, depression, heart palpitations
and joint pain.
How Does Exercise Help?
The good news is that a regular program of physical activity can help manage
many of the uncomfortable symptoms of menopause as well as the related health
concerns, such as heart disease and osteoporosis.
The mood-elevating, tension-relieving effects of aerobic exercise help reduce the
depression and anxiety that often accompanies menopause. Aerobic exercise also
promotes the loss of abdominal fat-the place most women more readily gain weight
during menopause. In addition, some research studies have shown that the increased
estrogen levels that follow a woman's exercise session coincide with an overall
decrease in the severity of hot flashes. Strength training also helps. It stimulates
bones to retain the minerals that keep them dense and strong, thus preventing the
onset and progression of osteoporosis. These effects of exercise, along with improved
cholesterol levels and physical fitness, work together to help prevent heart
Keep in mind, though, that good nutrition works hand in hand with a physically
active lifestyle. A low-fat, high-fiber diet and adequate calcium intake are vital
to realize the full benefits of exercise.
The Good News
If you have been a consistent exerciser during the years leading to menopause,
you already have an advantage. Aerobic activity during childbearing years reduces
the risk of breast cancer, a disease that becomes more prevalent after menopause.
You also will have a jump on your bone health since your strength-training
exercises may have increased the density and strength of your bones.
To reap the benefits of exercise, a balanced program of weight-bearing
aerobic activity (walking is great), strength training (with weights,
resistance bands, yoga or even gardening), and flexibility is essential.
Consistency is key so strive for some moderate activity daily, or at least most
days of the week, every week.
Menopause And Beyond:
Reduce and prevent symptoms:
- Hot flashes
- Vaginal and bladder atrophy
- Joint pain
- Anxiety, irritability, depression
- Sleep disturbances, insomnia
Reduce risk of:
- Heart disease
- Weight gain
Improve and increase:
- Strength, stamina, flexibility, energy
- Function of vital organs
- Condition of heart, lungs and muscles
Source: ACE - American Council On Exercise, Fit Facts
Adapted by Editorial Staff, July 2007
Last update, July 2008