Can Exercise Help Alleviate Menopausal Symptoms?

Toni Hurst Health Guide
  • Before you groan, "Oh no, not another person telling me I need to exercise!" hold on a minute. A recent study showed that two types of what-I-consider gentle exercise can help you through menopause. Of course you know exercise has other benefits as well, but you've been told that over and over so I won't beat you over the head about it. 


    The exercises in the study were walking and yoga. In my book, you can't get easier exercise than that! I'm not a great walker - I get bored - but I LOVE yoga. In fact, I think yoga got me through the first few years of menopause in a major way. And the study hadn't even been started back then.

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    As with just about all studies of this type, there is controversy. The researcher, Steriani Elavsky, PhD, says that women who stuck to a prescribed regimen of either walking or yoga reported fewer symptoms that those who did nothing.


    The study was conducted on 164 sedentary or low-active menopausal women. See if this sounds familiar: Low-active women were defined as those who exercised less than two times a week for 30 minutes or more at moderate intensity.


    The ones who exercised regularly, according to the study's parameters, reported having a "better quality of life," which I guess means fewer symptoms. In fact, other researchers say that the "better quality of life" was only a "perceived" better quality of life. In other words, they doubt that the exercise did anything physiologically to help with the symptoms.


    I don't know about you, but when it comes to things like hot flashes, perception IS reality. If I THINK I am sailing through the day without a lot of hot flashes, then that's fine by me.


    In fact, the women who walked regularly or took yoga classes reported reduced anxiety and stress related to menopause. Only half of them actually said it helped, while half said it didn't make a difference. The study participants' average age was 50 and the study lasted four months and concluded just a few months ago.


    So the evidence isn't overwhelming. But I can tell you that it works for me. I also have seen a lot of research that shows that exercise is proven to help reduce stress and improve your mood and that some research has found that exercise increases estrogen levels, which can decrease the severity of hot flashes.


    So how about this: There are lots and lots of free or cheap yoga classes these days. Lots of community centers and hospitals and YMCAs etc. have them. You really should check it out. Thing is, you might have the same excuses I had:


    Excuse #1: "I don't know HOW, and I'll look like a fool."


    These instructors are usually fabulous at making you feel at home. Yoga is all about not judging, just BEING.  You won't look or feel like a fool, trust me.


    Excuse # 2: "I don't know which kind of yoga to try-the names are all hard to pronounce."


    It doesn't matter much which one you try at first. I do Iyengar (pronounced EYE-yen-gar) yoga because that's the class that fits my schedule. But I've done others and they all have similar poses and philosophies. Yoga purists would argue with me on that but I am not a yoga purist. The main thing is-try one and see if you like it.


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    Excuse #3: "I'm not flexible-I can't get my body into those funny shapes."


    You are more flexible than you think, and you won't be in those funny shapes at first. Plus, the poses feel so good. If they don't, stop doing them. 


    Excuse #4: "I don't know anything about Eastern religions or philosophy."


    You don't need to. You won't be recruited to a different way of thinking or believing. You will leave feeling wonderful, relaxed and invigorated all at the same time.


    Excuse #5: "I don't have time."


    Then walk. The point is, DO SOMETHING.

Published On: June 30, 2008