Exercise at Menopause: A Critical Difference

Margaret Burghardt, MD


Medscape General Medicine. 1999;1(3) 

In This Article

Exercisers Increase Metabolism, Lose Weight

Obesity is a common problem associated with aging and inactivity in males and females of all ages. Body weight in women tends to increase around the time of menopause.

In a study by Wing and colleagues,[7] 485 middle-aged women (aged 42 to 50 years and premenopausal at study entry) were followed over a period of 3 years. The women gained an average of 2.25kg ± 4.19kg after a 3-year period, and there were no significant differences in weight gain between females who remained premenopausal and those who underwent menopause. The women who experienced the greatest weight gain had the lowest exercise levels at baseline. Women who increased activity (by at least +1260 kilojoules per week, equivalent to burning about 300 extra calories) gained less weight than the average. For a 60 to 70kg adult, 300 calories equates to approximately 60 minutes of moderate (3 to 3.5 mph) walking or 40 minutes of moderate cycling, swimming, or tennis.

Exercise has been shown to result in total body weight loss through energy expenditure, a change in the muscle-to-fat ratio, and increased metabolic rate. The main determinant of energy expenditure is fat-free mass. Preservation of muscle mass through endurance and/or resistance training exercise can help to prevent the observed age-related decreases in metabolic rate and overall increase in body fat. Cowan and Gregory[8] suggested that menopausal status does not appear to lower a woman's ability to favorably alter her body composition and cardiorespiratory endurance through aerobic conditioning. (The latter study involved a progressive walking program 4 days per week for 9 weeks at 80% of maximum heart rate.) The postmenopausal women in their study decreased total body weight and percentage of body fat while improving cardiorespiratory endurance (ie, submaximal exercise capacity).

Schaberg-Lorei and associates[9] also found that there were no significant differences in training effect between pre- and postmenopausal subjects and that women of various ages who exercised were able to lose body fat. Subjects participated in a combined program of aerobic and light-resistive muscular endurance exercises (such as bench and military presses and lateral pulldowns with resistive equipment). Subjects lifted 40% to 60% of 1 repetition maximum (RM). The program was progressive by increasing the number of repetitions or the amount of weight as a subject's strength improved. The active subjects showed positive trends toward reversing the body composition changes associated with inactivity and usually attributed to aging.