Exercise at Menopause: A Critical Difference

Margaret Burghardt, MD


Medscape General Medicine. 1999;1(3) 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Even at menopause, fitness can reduce the risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, and diabetes, yet only 38% of women over age 19 exercise regularly. A sports medicine expert recommends that exercise be encouraged and prescribed, even for women with a variety of comorbidities.


Only about 38% of women over age 19 exercise regularly. But fitness and exercise are critical in the menopausal years, when a woman is at a dramatically increased risk for osteoporosis and fracture, heart disease, and chronic diseases such as diabetes. From age 35 onwards, women lose bone mass at a rate of about 0.75% to 1% per year, and the loss increases to 2% to 3% per year at menopause, most markedly from the lumbar spine. One study of menopausal women showed an increase in lumbar spine bone mineral density (BMD) of 3.5% in women who exercised, whereas BMD in the controls decreased 2.7%, suggesting that exercise can inhibit or reverse the osteoporosis associated with aging. Even in the elderly woman, exercise can attenuate certain effects of aging and sedentary lifestyles. Regular exercise may decrease the incidence and severity of hot flashes, which occur in 75% of menopausal women. In one study, aerobic training reduced the severity of hot flashes in 55% of postmenopausal women. Menopausal women typically benefit most from exercise in combination with estrogen replacement therapy. Weight-bearing exercise, resistance training, and high-intensity fitness regimens can reduce a woman's risk of fractures. Cardiovascular effects of exercise are also dramatic, as studies have shown that perimenopausal women who are more physically active and gain less weight have lower elevations of LDL, total cholesterol, and triglycerides than their heavier, less active counterparts.