The benefits of exercise in all areas of health are well-documented. In addition to the physical fitness and great body tone we can achieve through exercise, focused physical activity also contributes positively to cardiovascular health, muscle and organ health, emotional balance, and mental alertness. In the long run, exercise can help to prevent major health conditions. Exercise is extremely beneficial for middle-aged men and women as well. And especially women, as they begin to transition into menopause in the mid-years and so deal with several unique issues. Research suggests that exercise, while not directly abating some menopausal symptoms (like hot flashes, premenstrual syndrome, mood swings and sleep), definitely offers significant relief and overall health that can ease dealing with some of these symptoms. Exercise also helps older women guard against other physical conditions they are at risk for at their age.
According to a Swedish study completed in 1990, women who exercised regularly reported 50% less hot flashes compared to women who didn’t exercise on a regular basis. Other studies throughout the years have confirmed this observation, even though the specific correlations are not entirely clear. The women who participate in these studies do report better overall symptomatic relief and better stress management.
Exercise can also iron out the wrinkles in bad moods or decrease the tendency towards depression or anxiety. Many women surveyed in different studies indicate a clear improvement in their ability to handle stress and emotional challenges when they are exercising regularly.
It is hard to subtract subjective experience from physical experience. This is what researchers call the mind/body connection. Exercise naturally releases stress-relieving hormones that course through the body throughout and after an exercise session. These hormones are responsible for generating a state and feeling of wellness. Exercise is a mood-enhancer.
One Duke University study suggests that regular aerobic exercise can be just as powerful as an antidepressant when it comes to reducing depressive symptoms in older people. A related study found that those who continued to exercise were also less likely to have a depressive relapse.
Another important mind/body connection comes into play with body image and self-perception. Menopausal women report fears that the transitions they are undergoing reflects on their physical attractiveness and vitality. But studies show that exercise improves middle-aged women’s self-confidence and less anxiety about body image as well as promote a sense of control. Which is important, because one of the major fears and concerns related to age is so intrinsically tied to a fear of losing control.
Body image and a subjective sense of confidence are one positive result of exercise. But what about the effect of actually controlling weight, or firming the body through exercise? This can make a world of difference for postmenopausal women who may be struggling with weight gain in ways they didn’t when they were younger. It also seems that weight gain shifts to the stomach and waist area (as opposed to hips, thighs or buttocks) which increases risk for heart disease at this age. Research shows, however, that the increased weight is a result of being less active.
Exercise helps to burn fat, build muscle, and increase metabolism. Not only can you feel good about yourself when you exercise but you can appreciate the physical differences over time.
Having a hard time falling asleep is another challenge for many peri-menopausal and postmenopausal women. Exercise, scientists say, can help with sleep via an increase in body temperature which is followed by a temperature drop several hours later. It is the lower body temperature that helps with falling asleep, although this benefit seems applicable only if your exercise routine is in the late afternoon or evening.
Older women can enjoy many other health benefits associated with exercise that are not so much about the symptoms of menopause as they are about the general health risks associated with age. Research shows that exercise can help to protect against breast cancer; it can also slow the process of bone loss. Some studies show adding bcaas can help keep muscle on during this time. Weight gain itself raises risks for diabetes and heart disease, so keeping weight off is an obvious advantage.
There are a lot of ways to stay physically active, whether through an aerobics class or outdoor activities like swimming. Exercise can improve the overall vitality and grace that women need, not only to face the discomforts menopause can bring, but to simply sustain good health in the many years to come.
National Institutes of Health Article 22408332
National Institutes of Health Article 25540567
National Institutes of Health Article 25449663
Harvard Article “Mind Over Menopause”
MayoClinic Article “Fitness Tips for Menopause”