If you’re in the middle of menopause, you
may be experiencing challenges such as
weight gain, hot flashes or fatigue. Ugh!
The good news is that exercise can make
a positive difference.
Although there is much more to learn
about exercise research and menopause,
what we do know supports physical activity
as a means to help manage menopausal
consequences and protect against heart disease
and osteoporosis, says Jan Schroeder,
PhD, an associate professor of kinesiology
at California State University, Long Beach.
Below, Schroeder explains what research
says and offers tips for designing a fitness
program for this time of life.
Most cardiorespiratory research involving
menopausal and postmenopausal
women has focused on how aerobic activity
affects body composition and abdominal
fat distribution. Many studies
have used walking as the primary mode
of aerobic activity. In one such study,
postmenopausal women (55-66 years)
wore pedometers for 14 days to determine
whether body composition variables
differed across activity levels.
Research determined that women who
accumulated more steps per day (> 7,500)
had more favorable body composition-
including lower body fat percentage,
trunk fat, body mass index (BMI), waist
and hip circumferences and waist-hip
ratio-than women who took fewer steps
(Krumm et al. 2006).
Resistance Training Research
Numerous researchers have reported on the
effects of resistance training for menopausal
women. Positive outcomes have included
improvements in strength, body composition
and bone density. For example,
strength improvements of approximately
30% in the lower body and 25% in the
upper body occurred in postmenopausal
women following a 6-month resistance
training protocol consisting of 8 repetitions
of 12 exercises at 80% of one-repetition
maximum (Bemben et al. 2000).
Flexibility Training Research
Flexibility research targeting menopausal
women is severely lacking. Much more
research is needed in this area to determine
the appropriate exercise design for
menopausal women. For now, follow the
American College of Sports Medicine’s
(ACSM) flexibility guidelines for clients
(ACSM 2006). See “Practical Advice” for
When devising an exercise program for
use during menopause, include car-
diovascular, strength and flexibility
segments that challenge and motivate
you. For assistance in developing a
program, use the suggestions below
and contact a certified personal trainer.
Cardiorespiratory Fitness. The
goal of a cardiorespiratory fitness pro-
gram is to improve your aerobic condi-
tioning and body composition. Choose
a weight-bearing activity, such as
walking, to help protect bone density.
Resistance Training. Improvement
in bone mineral density (BMD) is site-
specific. Only those bones attached to
the exercising muscles are affected,
owing to specificity of stimulation.
Therefore, choose exercises to
strengthen the small and large muscle
groups of the spine and hip, the most
common sites of osteoporotic frac-
tures. In addition, pick exercises that
help with posture and realign the spine
and pelvic girdle (e.g., upper-back and
Flexibility Training. Until there is
a clearer understanding of the most
appropriate flexibility design, follow
ACSM’s flexibility guidelines. The or-
ganization recommends performing a
static stretching routine that exercises
all major muscle groups at least 2-3
(preferably 5-7) days per week, hold-
ing each stretch for 15-30 seconds to
mild discomfort, with 2-4 repetitions
per stretch (ACSM 2006).
American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). 2006.
ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing & Prescription (7th ed.). Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
Bemben, D.A., et al. 2000. Musculosketal responses to
high- and low-intensity resistance training in early
postmenopausal women. Medicine & Science in Sports
& Exercise, 32 (11), 1949-57.
Krumm, E.M., et al. 2006. The relationship between daily
steps and body composition in postmenopausal
women. Journal of Women’s Health, 15 (2), 202-10.