Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Can Exercise Help Menopausal Symptoms Like Hot Flashes?
Physical activity isn't a proven way to reduce menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and sleep disturbances. However, for some women, regular physical activity during and after menopause seems to relieve stress and improve quality of life.
Whether you've exercised faithfully for years or you haven't been physically active, physical activity during and after menopause offers many benefits. For example, regular physical activity can:
• Prevent weight gain. Women tend to lose muscle mass and gain abdominal fat during and after menopause. Even slight increases in physical activity can help prevent weight gain.
• Reduce the risk of breast cancer. Physical activity during and after menopause that results in weight loss may offer protection from breast cancer.
• Strengthen your bones. Physical activity can slow bone loss after menopause, which lowers the risk of fractures and osteoporosis.
• Reduce the risk of other diseases. During and after menopause, the risk of various chronic conditions — including cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes — increases. Regular physical activity can counter these risks.
• Boost your mood. Physical activity during and after menopause can improve your psychological health.
For most healthy women, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends:
• At least two hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity a week — preferably spread throughout the week
• Strength training exercises at least twice a week
Although frequent, high-intensity physical activity is ideal, it is certainly more important to choose a fitness program that you enjoy. Be sure to set achievable goals and partner with a friend for motivation. Remember even a 15 minute walk after dinner is better than nothing. When setting up your exercise program try to include some stretching, balance, strength training and of course some kind of daily aerobic conditioning. See the benefits and examples of each category below.
• Aerobic activity. Aerobic activity is the cornerstone of most fitness programs. Try walking, jogging, biking, swimming or water aerobics. Any physical activity that uses large muscle groups and increases your heart rate counts. If you're a beginner, start with 10 minutes of light activity and gradually increase the intensity of your activity.
• Strength training. Regular strength training can help you reduce your body fat, strengthen your muscles and more efficiently burn calories. Try weight machines, hand-held weights or resistance tubing. Choose a weight or resistance level heavy enough to tire your muscles after about 12 repetitions. Gradually increase the resistance level as you get stronger.
• Stretching. Stretching increases flexibility, improves range of motion and promotes better circulation. Stretching can even relieve stress. Set aside time to stretch after each workout, when your muscles are warm and receptive to stretching. Activities such as yoga promote flexibility, too.
• Stability and balance. Balance exercises improve stability and can help prevent falls. Try simple exercises, such as standing on one leg. Activities such as tai chi can be helpful, too.
Remember, you don't have to go to the gym to exercise. Daily activities such as dancing and gardening also can improve your health. Whatever physical activities you choose, take time to warm up and cool down safely.