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Exercise may ease menopause problems

By Associated Pres
Published June 9, 2006

ALBANY, N.Y. - Once at the mercy of hourly hot flashes, Margaret Corino has been keeping them at bay with regular trips to the gym.

When the 58-year-old woman skips exercise, the waves of heat "shoot back up again," she says. Corino, who lives near Albany, says her workouts have reduced hot flashes to just a couple a day.

Though the research is still thin, many health experts say even moderate exercise can help relieve the problems of menopause, including anxiety, insomnia and night sweats.

Menopause, which typically occurs between the ages of 45 and 55, is when a woman stops menstruating. Symptoms can include mood swings, hot flashes, headaches and trouble focusing.

The National Institutes of Health is conducting a wide-ranging study of several issues related to menopause, including depression and cognitive and sexual function. NIH-backed research so far only suggests a link between physical activity and decreased symptoms of menopause - no proof that exercise is a cure.

For example, women who exercise may report fewer hot flashes simply because they are less preoccupied with such symptoms, said Sheryl Sherman, a doctor with the National Institute on Aging, an arm of the NIH.

Dr. Lila Nachtigall, a spokeswoman for the North American Menopause Society, said it is critical for women to get exercise at this time of life despite the lack of conclusive evidence that exercise relieves menopausal symptoms.

As estrogen levels fall, it's easier for women to gain weight, Nachtigall said. Exercise also promotes an overall sense of well-being that helps women handle troublesome symptoms better.

"It certainly can't hurt," she said.

Small studies have also suggested the pluses of exercise. One by the American College of Sports Medicine showed strength training helped reduce hot flashes and headaches by 50 percent. Another in the Journal of Advanced Nursing found exercise boosted overall health-related quality of life measures in menopausal women.

And a third in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found exercise slowed the hardening of the arteries, which is linked to lower levels of estrogen in women during menopause.

At the very least, staying active can temper secondary effects of menopause like insomnia and weight gain, said Cedric Bryant, chief scientist for the American Council on Exercise.

"You may not be able to totally eliminate (the symptoms), but it seems you can certainly alleviate them," Bryant said.

[Last modified June 9, 2006, 06:48:25]

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