May is National Women’s Health Month! No topic may be more important to woman’s health than menopause. According to the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), 1.5 million American women reach menopause each year. The median age is 52, but some women will reach menopause as early as 40 or as late as 58. Recent research revealed that women who engaged in three hours of exercise per week for one full year reported improved mental and physical health.
Menopause begins when women’s ovaries are depleted of healthy eggs. Typically, women are born with 1-3 million eggs which are lost over the course of a women’s life through ovulation and other natural means. Under normal conditions, a reproductive hormone called follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) stimulates the growth of the eggs during the first half of the menstrual cycle. As a women approaches menopause, the eggs become more resistant to FSH. Additionally, the ovaries produce significantly less estrogen, a hormone that affects the blood vessels, heart, bone, breasts, uterus, skin and brain. Many of the symptoms associated with menopause are due to the loss of estrogen. These symptoms include: hot flashes, irregular or skipped periods, insomnia, mood swings, fatigue, depression, irritability, racing heart, headaches, joint and muscle pain, decrease sex drive, vaginal dryness, and loss of bladder control. While not all women get these symptoms. Most women experience various degrees of some of these symptoms.
As stated above, a recent study in the April 2006 Journal of Advanced Nursing, found that women who engaged in 3 hours of exercise per week for one full year reported improvement in mental and physical health as compared to the control group. The program consisted of cardiovascular, stretching, strengthening, and relaxation exercises.
In another study in the April 2007 Annals of Behavioral Medicine, researchers found that women who walked or performed yoga reported improvements in quality of life with less anxiety and stress related to their menopause symptoms. It is believed that exercise stimulates a release of endorphins in the brain and this is the primary mechanism by which exercise relieves symptoms associated with menopause.
Consult with your family physician before you begin an exercise program, especially if you have health issues. Exercise to control menopause symptoms does not have to be extreme. A simple increase in daily activity for 15 minutes 2 times per day or 30 minutes 1 time per day is adequate to improve your symptoms. This can be simply accomplished by walking, swimming, biking, and playing golf, tennis, or basketball. For those interested in a more traditional exercise regimen, perform aerobic exercise for 30-45 minutes 4-5 days per week with additional sports and activities for the remainder of the time. For those in poor physical condition, begin slowly. Start walking for 5-10 minutes, 2-3 times per day. Then, add 1-2 minutes each week until you attain a 30-45 minute goal.
Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.