Are you in menopause? Then you’re probably familiar with the challenges that many menopausal women experience: hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, irritability and depression. These symptoms—alone or combined—can compromise a woman’s quality of life. Even worse, menopausal symptoms can create a domino effect. For example, night sweats can cause sleep problems that lead to chronic sleep deficits, which in turn may significantly affect mood, anxiety levels, alertness and mental acuity.
The good news is that exercise can help. Maria Luque, PhD, MS, CHES, an ACE-certified personal trainer and health sciences professor at Trident University International, explores how exercise impacts menopausal women.
Benefits of Exercise
It is widely accepted that physical activity yields health benefits and is an effective way to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity, anxiety and depression. Plus, there is compelling evidence that exercise can benefit middle-aged women by improving brain function, increasing functional capacities like muscular strength, and lessening anxiety and depression.
Research specifically done on menopausal women has found that
- moderate cardiovascular exercise decreased hot flashes 24 hours after exercise (Elavsky et al. 2012);
- regular moderate-intensity physical activity (60 minutes/day) had a favorable effect on menopause symptoms and quality of life (Coutinho de Azevedo Guimarães & Baptista 2011);
- resistance and aerobic exercise were found to have a positive impact on menopausal symptoms, psychological health, depression and quality of life (Ağıl et al. 2010); and
- women with healthy body mass index (height-to-weight ratio) scores reported lower levels of vasomotor symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats. Data suggested a positive association among somatic/psychological dimensions, health-related quality of life and regular exercise (Daley et al. 2007).
Moderation Is the Key
Recent research results indicate that moderate—rather than vigorous—physical activity has the most positive effect on menopause symptoms and menopausal quality of life (MENQOL). One study revealed that women who participated in moderate-intensity physical activity reported higher MENQOL and a lower total number of symptoms than women who engaged in either low- or high-intensity physical activity (Luque 2011). Women with low physical activity levels reported the highest frequency of symptoms and the greatest discomfort.
Studies strongly suggest that program duration also plays a key role in the success of physical activity. For example, Coutinho de Azevedo Guimarães and Baptista (2011) concluded that exercise—specifically exercise with a predominantly cardiovascular component that lasted 6 months—was associated with higher quality of life in middle-aged women.
Although short-term exercise programs have been successful in reducing menopausal symptoms and improving overall health, most studies agree that long-term physical activity lasting at least 12 weeks appears to have the greatest effect on quality of life.