26 Feb Ease perimenopause symptoms by grabbing your sneakers
- Key finding: Study shows that 30 to 45 minutes of brisk walking daily significantly reduces symptoms of perimenopause and menopause (including hot flashes, sleep problems, down moods and joint aches) in sedentary women within 12 weeks.
FEBRARY 26, 2021—Are you bothered by moderate to severe perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes, sleep problems, blue moods and joint pain–and don’t consider yourself someone who is regularly active?
Grab your walking shoes and head out for a brisk 30- to 45-minute jaunt daily and you may be feeling significantly better within 12 weeks, reveals a 2020 study from a research team out of Iran’s Tabriz University of Medical Sciences and the University of Washington School of Nursing in Seattle.1
Walking away perimenopause complaints
In the study, investigators recruited 190 sedentary women ages 40 to 60 who were going through perimenopause (where menstrual cycles and/or periods had gotten irregular) or menopause (where their menstrual cycles had stopped for 12 months).
They then asked half of the women to adopt an easy daily exercise routine: They started with 30 minutes of moderately-paced walking every day, then worked up to 45 minutes of brisk walking within 10 weeks. The study volunteers were also asked to do a five-minute pre-exercise warm-up of walking at a normal pace as well as five minutes of stretching before and after.
What the researchers discovered
Within 12 weeks, walking daily led to a “significant reduction in the frequency and severity of all menopausal symptoms rated severe or very severe”, the researchers state in their study. These improvements include:
- Hot flashes: reduced from 30.1% of the study participants to 11.8%
- Sleep problems: reduced from 28% of the study participants to 6.5%
- Joint pain: reduced from 52.7% of the study participants to 4.4%
- Exhaustion: reduced from 49.5% of the study participants to 8.6%
- Depressed mood: reduced from 26.9% of the study participants to 4.3%
- Irritability: reduced from 30.1% of the study participants to 5.4%
- Anxiety: reduced from 29.1% of the study participants to 6.5%
- Heart discomfort: reduced from 19.4% of the study participants to 5.4%
In the non-intervention group that didn’t exercise, symptoms (such as hot flushes, sleep problems and joint problems) tended to worsen.
The science behind exercise’s symptom-curbing effect
Exercise has a wide range of beneficial effects on the body: It zaps stress, improves circulation, balances out-of-kilter brain chemicals, triggers the release of mood-lifting brain chemicals, enhances sleep quality, preserves muscle mass, improves body image, reduces water retention, increases energy, revs alertness, sharpens concentration and may help to regulate body temperature.
As a result, the positive effects of being active help counter the problematic symptoms caused when your body’s level of estrogen becomes irregular and decreases overall.
Best of all: Improvements in symptoms happen with easy, moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, hiking, biking, tennis, handball, skating, Frisbee and dancing. This means you don’t have to go from no exercise to suddenly becoming a marathon runner. Simply incorporating any kind of moderate-level activity (which makes you breath harder, but not so much that you can’t talk) produces these helpful effects.
Need help getting started?
The scientists who led this study acknowledged that simply getting started–and staying motivated–to exercise is difficult if you’re not used to doing it regularly. So, they added another component to their study that you might find helpful if you’re feeling stalled: They asked the exercisers to team up with neighbors who were also walking every day.
The study authors also reminded the volunteers of the health- and mood-boosting benefits of exercise to further charge their motivation. This way, the women would think of the many ways they were helping themselves with every step they took.
So, if you need help getting started, consider getting support by teaming up with a friend, finding a neighborhood group or joining an online exercise community. And learn about the many benefits of exercise by reading a book, searching online or talking with a healthcare professional or personal trainer.
If you’ve been bothered by perimenopausal or menopausal symptoms and have been skipping a regular workout, grab a friend and go for a walk, bike ride or other fun moderate-intensity activity that gets you moving. Then, stick a 30- to 45-minute workout in your daily schedule.
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(1) Zeinab Javadivala, et al., “An Interventional strategy of physical activity promotion for reduction of menopause symptoms”, Health Promotion Perspectives, 10 (2020): 383-392