Stay Active to Beat Menopause Blues
March 6, 2008—Concerns over the safety of hormone replacement therapy have menopausal women looking elsewhere for relief. Many doctors recommend staying physically active to relieve menopausal symptoms, and results of the ongoing Penn Study of Ovarian Aging support this advice.
The new study, published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, looked at 401 women, all of whom were premenopausal at the beginning of the trial, over a period of eight years. The women reported the average amount of time spent exercising each week and any symptoms related to menopause.
Menopausal symptoms tracked in the study included anxiety, sadness, mood swings, depression, stress, irritability, poor concentration/memory, trouble sleeping, headaches, hot flashes, body aches, urine leaks, vaginal dryness, or decreased interest in sex. Based on hormone levels and menstrual cycle length, the women were grouped by menopausal stage, ranging from premenopausal (still having regular periods) to postmenopausal (not having had a period for at least 12 months).
As a whole, women who exercised more (equivalent to walking at a moderate pace for about 40 to 90 minutes per day, five days per week) reported significantly less stress than women who exercised less than the equivalent of walking for 16 minutes per day. Among postmenopausal women, higher levels of physical activity also translated to lower levels of anxiety and depression; this effect wasn’t seen in women in other stages of menopause. Exercise didn’t seem to have an effect on hot flashes, urine leaks, vaginal dryness, or interest in sex in women at any menopausal stage.
Tori Hudson, a naturopathic doctor based in Portland, Oregon, who specializes in women’s health, recommends an exercise program that includes strength, cardio, and flexibility training to help ease menopause symptoms and to protect against heart disease and osteoporosis. Hudson suggests that women who have been inactive should begin slowly and progress gradually, and practice strength exercises under supervision of a qualified exercise consultant.
The researchers concluded that, among menopausal women, “high levels of physical activity are related to lower levels of stress.”
Tips for incorporating exercise into your life
• Make exercise a priority: Just as you make time to eat and brush your teeth every day, make exercise a routine part of life.
• Start small: Some exercise is better than none, so do what you can. Take a walk around the block after lunch, take the stairs when you have a choice, and park farther from your destination to add extra steps to your day.
• Buddy up: Taking a class, making dates to walk or work out with a friend will help motivate you to stick with it.
(Med Sci Sports Exerc 2008;40:50–8)
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.
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