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Exercise reduces depression in postmenopausal women

Most women experience menopausal symptoms during midlife when their regular menstrual cycle steadily declines. Symptoms generally can be classified in three categories: 1) psychological symptoms such as increased irritability, anxiety, depression, stress, and mood swings, 2) vasomotor symptoms such as hot flashes or aches and 3) somatic symptoms such as urine leaks and decreased sex drive. Many women are searching for alternative interventions for preventing or limiting menopausal related symptoms, with recent research focusing on the effect of physical activity. Some studies have reported a higher quality-of-life among women who exercise regularly, but other studies have shown varied results

A 2007 study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise evaluated the effect of physical activity on menopausal symptoms among African-American and Caucasian women. Over the eight year study physically active, postmenopausal women had a four-point lower depression score compared with those who exercised the least. These women also experienced lower anxiety, a reduction in stress, and less depression.

As reported symptoms were only mild in severity the researchers were unable to examine the role of physical activity on severity of symptoms. No relationship was found between somatic, psychological symptoms as a whole, or frequency of hot flashes.

Although menopause is unavoidable, it does not need to be accompanied by unwanted symptoms. This study supports the beneficial effects of physical activity, even in the later years of life. By staying fit and continuing to exercise you will lower the anxiety, stress, and depression that many women experience. Researchers are still investigating ways to reduce other common symptoms such as hot flashes and other somatic symptoms, but there is no doubt that being physically active is a healthy way to live.

Written by Ryan Serrano with Eric Sternlicht, Ph.D. Department of Kinesiology, Occidental College, Los Angeles CA.