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How Yoga Can Benefit Women in Menopause

Yoga and menopause

If you are a woman whose menopause symptoms are difficult to manage, yoga may help you with some of those issues. A new study appearing in Menopause as well as previous research indicates that women who practice yoga can get some relief.

Which menopause symptoms can yoga help?

Menopause is associated with a long list of symptoms, but the most common ones include hot flashes, night sweats, sleep problems, depression, weight gain (especially belly fat), fatigue, low sex drive, fuzzy thinking and memory problems, and mood swings. If any of these sound familiar and you don’t want to take medications or hormone therapy--or you want to complement your efforts--then you might consider yoga.

The results of MsFLASH (Menopause Strategies: Finding Lasting Answers for Symptoms and Health), a randomized controlled trial, were that women who practiced yoga for a 12-week period experienced better sleep than did women who did not participate in the practice. Yoga was one of three treatment options (fish oil and exercise were the other two) explored in the trial.

Here’s how the study worked: healthy, previously nonactive women were assigned to take yoga (12 weekly 90-minute session plus daily practice at home), participate in an aerobic exercise program, or the status quo (usual activity). At the same time, the women were randomly assigned to take fish oil or a placebo. A total of 237 women completed the 12-week study.

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The investigators discovered that:

  • There was no significant difference between women who took yoga and those who exercised when it came to hot flashes and night sweats—both groups of women continued to experience these symptoms at about the same frequency both before and after the interventions
  • Among the women who took yoga, there was an improvement in insomnia symptoms after 12 weeks but not in the exercise group
  • Use of the fish oil (omega-3 supplement) was not associated with any improvement in sleep, mood, hot flashes, or night sweats

According to Katherine Newton, PhD, the lead author and a senior investigator at Group Health Research Institute, insomnia is common during menopause, “and it’s good to know that yoga may help.”

Can yoga help even more?
Although the latest study did not find yoga to be helpful in relieving hot flashes and night sweats, previous research came up with something different. In a 2012 meta-analysis and systematic review conducted in Germany, researchers reported on their findings concerning nine randomized controlled trials that looked at the impact of yoga on menopausal symptoms in more than 1,100 women.

The reviewers noted there was “moderate evidence for short-term effects on psychological symptoms” (e.g., depression, sleep disorders) among women who participated in yoga. However, they did not see any benefits of yoga regarding pain, fatigue, hot flashes, night sweats, sexual dysfunction, or bladder problems.

The bottom line
When it comes to women and menopause symptoms, yoga appears to offer some benefits, although it appears not to have an effect on hot flashes and night sweats. Therefore, women in menopause may need to take advantage of several types of therapy to manage their symptoms, and yoga may be one of them.

Cramer H et al. Effectiveness of yoga for menopausal symptoms: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2012; 2012:863905
Newton KM et al. Efficacy of yoga for vasomotor symptoms: a randomized controlled trial. Menopause 2013 Sept.