Exercise may ease menopause symptoms
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A regular brisk walk may help women going through menopause improve their mental well-being, a new study suggests.
Researchers found that middle-aged women who exercised regularly had lower levels of stress, anxiety and depression around the time of menopause than those who did not exercise regularly.
The findings, published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Medicine, add to evidence that physical activity can benefit mental, as well as physical, health.
"With the aging population, physical activity represents one way for women to stay mentally healthy," Dr. Deborah B. Nelson, the lead researcher on the study, said in a statement. "Physical activity can help throughout the menopausal transition and afterwards," added Nelson, a public health researcher at Temple University in Philadelphia.
The findings are based on data from 380 Philadelphia women who were 42 years old, on average, and premenopausal at the beginning of the study. Eight years later, 20 percent were menopausal and another 18 percent were in the late transitional phase.
The researchers found that women who got moderate to high levels of exercise reported lower stress levels than inactive women did. Among postmenopausal women, those who exercised regularly had lower stress levels and were less likely to have anxiety and depression symptoms.
Exercise did not, however, seem to protect women from the physical symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes.
"Physical symptoms like hot flashes will go away when you reach menopause," Nelson said, "but mental health is something women still need to think about postmenopause."
Importantly, Nelson pointed out, women need not work out intensely to get a mental and emotional lift.
"In the urban setting, these women walked outside on city blocks or in shopping malls," she said. "Groups could organize to take walks after dinner. It didn't require going to the gym."
SOURCE: Medicine and Science in Sports and Medicine, January 2008.