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Does Exercise Really Make a Difference for Women in Menopause or Post Menopause?

PD*27366597Okay ladies, some of this is not fun to hear, but I promise there’s a happy ending.  We hate talking about our hormones don’t we?  With rising hormones, people will swear that we are crazy and we fly off on the smallest of things, while a low level of hormones causes lovely symptoms like hot flashes, sleep disturbances, mood swings, urinary incontinence, and weight gain.  Furthermore, when you hear statistics like “a third of a woman’s life is post menopause” (average age of menopause is 51, with life expectancy in the early-mid 80’s), it really puts a damper on thoughts of those golden years. 

So with all that fun stuff on our plate, let’s tackle the weight gain issue.  While we, and others, often like to blame the hormones for weight issues during menopause, it is clear that a woman’s experience during this phase can also largely be affected by her expectations, emotional state, social support, and the lifestyle interventions that she chooses to incorporate during this transition.  For example, if a woman moves into this stage and retires around the same time, she can choose to have a couple glasses of wine and throw dinner parties every night, or she can choose to focus on her walking program… each has their own results. 

 In addition to the overall weight gain associated with menopause, there is also data that shows abdominal fat increases as women enter postmenopause – even with no change in total body weight.  Visceral abdominal fat in particular is risky because it increases the probability of cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure. 

 So what’s the verdict – can exercise really make a difference?  Evidence shows that regular aerobic activity in fact, can prevent fat gains, but can also promote visceral fat loss even in the absence of overall weight loss.  From a health standpoint this is huge because it reduces the risk of heart disease.  Please note, its aerobic activity that provides this benefit – spot reduction through abdominal exercises is a myth – crunches do not reduce visceral fat. 

 With the help of further study, including the Women’s Health Initiative, women around the stage of menopause (peri, post, and in between) respond to exercise similarly as younger women… it’s the determination to get that workout in and the other lifestyle choices we make that’s important. 

 Source:  “Exercise Prescription for the Menopausal Years”.  ACSM’s Health and Fitness Journal.  Volume 15: Number 3, May/June 2003.

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