For any postmenopausal women who might have feared it was too late to start regular exercise, new research has brought encouraging news.
A study recently published in Menopause, the North American Menopause Society's journal, has proven that exercise is highly beneficial for women at this stage of life.
A research team from the University of Granada in Spain explored the effects of exercise on a group of postmenopausal women; in particular, assessing the women's health-related quality of life (HRQoL), fitness and cardiometabolic health.
HRQoL is a term used by health professionals and clinicians to describe a person's wellbeing in context of health and disease. It also covers many aspects of life such as physical, mental and emotional status, and the level of satisfaction a person feels.
There is growing evidence that postmenopausal women who adopt an active lifestyle benefit from increased fitness levels, a better ability to cope with menopausal symptoms and better protection from a range of illnesses that can occur at midlife.
The Spanish study involved 234 women aged between 45 and 65 years, all of whom were postmenopausal. None of the women were doing any exercise, apart from daily activities (such as housework or walking to bus stops) for the 12 months before they enrolled in the study.
One group of women were enrolled in an exercise program which involved 20 weeks of one-hour sessions three times per week, on alternate days, training in cardio-respiratory fitness, muscle resistance and other types of fitness. A control group of women did not participate in the exercise program.
Those in the exercise program also received health education and psychological support which, among other skills, taught them about achieving and maintaining behaviour change and motivation.
The researchers followed the women for a year, including after they finished the 20-week program of exercise. They found that, compared to the women who did not participate in the exercise program, those who did had improved HRQoL including improved wellbeing, body mass index (BMI), weight, blood pressure, resting heart rate and flexibility.
Jean Hailes endocrinologist Dr Sonia Davison believes the results are encouraging for women of all ages, but especially those who are in postmenopause.
"The importance of this finding is that any woman can benefit from increasing her exercise levels, even women who state that they do little or no exercise," Dr Davison says.
It wasn't just fitness levels that improved; as an endocrinologist, Dr Davison spends most days in her clinic listening to women talk about the often debilitating symptoms of menopause.
"The women who exercised in the study also had higher wellbeing with the introduction of exercise, and could manage menopausal symptoms better, adding to the benefits of exercise in postmenopausal women," Dr Davison says.
Dr Davison is keen to see women take control of their health by building up their fitness levels gradually. The women in the study not only felt better in themselves emotionally, they were also helping to protect themselves physically.
"Cardiovascular disease (including heart attack and stroke) is the main killer of women, responsible for almost a third of deaths in women in Australia," says Dr Davison.
"Hence, addressing risk factors that can add to this risk, such as low exercise levels – but also high blood pressure, weight excess, high cholesterol or blood sugar, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption – can benefit overall health and reduce cardiovascular disease risk."
Read more about the benefits of physical activity or learn about health after menopause.