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Menopause and Exercise

Health NewsMenopause is sometimes called the "change of life" and there are a lot of changes going on in a woman's body, both as menopause approaches (called perimenopause) and afterwards. (Read about "Menopause")

Basically, menopause is caused by a decrease in estrogen and other hormones produced by a woman's body. This causes a gradual reduction and finally loss of a woman's monthly periods. In addition, as estrogen levels drop, the National Institutes of Health say women become more at risk of a number of health problems, including osteoporosis and heart disease.

Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a thinning of the bones that occurs with age and makes bones more likely to break. (Read about "Osteoporosis") The National Osteoporosis Foundation says women are more at risk of osteoporosis than men, because women's bones, in general, tend to be smaller to begin with. (Read about "Skeletal System") Reduced levels of estrogen increase a woman's risk of osteoporosis.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACE), one of the things that can strengthen your bones and reduce your risk of getting this disease as you get older is weight-bearing exercise. Some examples of this kind of exercise include:

These are the kinds of activities that can stimulate new bone growth. Other exercises, such as swimming or bicycling, are excellent conditioners but do not have the same bone-building effect.

In addition to weight bearing exercise, ACE suggests looking into exercises that can increase balance, such as Tai Chi or yoga (Read about yoga in "CAM Therapies"), as a way to help reduce the risk of falling. This is important since falls are a serious threat, as we get older. (Read about "Accidental Falls" "Hip Fractures")

Starting young

It's also important that women not wait until their middle years to be concerned about osteoporosis. Good lifestyle choices in the twenties make a big impact on this disease. In fact, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) say the time when weight-bearing exercise is most likely to increase bone density is during the teenage years, which is when most of a woman's bone mass is being developed. This is the time when it's essential to get adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D, as well as exercise, according to NIH. (Read about "Calcium" "Vitamins & Minerals")

But the benefits of exercise don't stop when a woman reaches her twenties. According to the American Medical Association, even after menopause, walking 45 minutes a day several days a week can help slow bone loss.

Of course, you should always check with your doctor before starting any physical fitness programs. This is especially important if you think you're at risk of developing, or if you've already been diagnosed with, osteoporosis.

It's also important to remember that in the case of exercise, more isn't necessarily better. In fact, the International Association of Fitness Professionals warns that excessive exercise can actually lead to more bone problems. So once you get the OK from a qualified healthcare professional, make sure your exercise routine is tailored to your needs in terms of frequency and duration of training.

Other benefits of exercise

In addition to helping to strengthen bones, exercise can also promote cardiovascular fitness. Again, this is important, because women past menopause are statistically at a higher risk of developing heart disease. (Read about "Heart Disease and Women")

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says older women can also increase their strength, flexibility and coordination with exercise.

Among ACOG's recommendations:

Although many of the changes that occur as we get older are inevitable, exercise can go a long way towards keeping our bodies in the best shape possible. Just remember moderation and common sense, of course, and always check with your doctor first.

Related Information

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