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Treating menopause symptoms with aerobics

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
menopause, exercise, aerobics, hormone replacement therapy, HRT

Menopause symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable for a woman who begins menopause. Hormonal replacement therapy (HRT) can relieve the night sweats, mood swings, irritability, headache, depression, and vaginal dryness; however, some women are reluctant to take them. A new study has reported that an aerobic exercise program can relieve those symptoms. Finnish researchers published their findings February 13 in the journal Menopause.

The study group was comprised of 176 women with menopausal symptoms whose menopause had occurred from three to 36 months before the trial was begun. Their age ranged from 45 to 63 years. The women were randomly assigned to an aerobic exercise program of a control group for six months. The women assigned to the exercise group engaged in unsupervised aerobics for 50 minutes four times weekly for 24 weeks. They were required to complete least two sessions per week that involved. The other two could include walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, aerobics or other activities. The control group attended health lectures twice a month. The women reported their symptoms twice daily using a mobile phone. Their perceived disturbance of menopausal symptoms (night sweats, mood swings, irritability, depressive mood, headache, vaginal dryness, and urinary symptoms) was evaluated on a scale from 1 (low) to 5 (high). The researchers compiled 17,000 responses during the 24 weeks.

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Of the 176 women, 154 continued with the program until the end of the study (compliance rate: 88%). Baseline prevalence was as follows: night sweats, 50-69%; irritability and depression, 20-25%; mood swings, 25- 30%; headache and urinary problems, 15-20%; and vaginal dryness, 10-15%. In the aerobics group, all symptoms except vaginal dryness decreased. All other symptoms decreased more in the aerobics group than the control group. Of those symptoms, night sweats, mood swings, and irritability decreased the most.

The authors concluded that in sedentary women, aerobic training for six months may decrease typical menopausal symptoms, especially night sweats, mood swings, and irritability.

Take home message:
This is yet another study that reports the benefit of exercise on overall health. Another benefit of exercise is that it releases endorphins, which reduce stress, pain, and improve one’s mood. This effect in itself is likely to reduce menopausal symptoms. An impact of menopause is osteoporosis, which can lead to fractures of the hip, vertebrae, and risks. Exercise can improve bone health and reduce to some extent the risk of osteoporosis. Hormonal replacement therapy (HRT) can negate all the symptoms of menopause. Although it will not stimulate bone growth like bisphosphonates, it will prevent bone loss. It also has some benefits on cardiovascular health if begun at the onset of menopause. It does not have the same benefits when started at some time after the menopause. Currently, the safest form of HRT is a low-dose estrogen patch. If you are entering the menopause, discuss HRT with your physician.

Reference: Menopause