One of my greatest nemeses when I was racing at 30 years of age was a woman in her 50’s. Although I hated losing to her, I was always inspired by her speed at her age. She motivated me to continue training hard, realizing my fastest days could be yet to come. As I now race in the “master’s” category in my 40’s, I still find myself crossing the line behind an older competitor occasionally. Research shows I should take heart and keep in step with females who continue to move their bodies beyond menopause.
Mazurek et al., (2017) studied how organized physical activity among post-menopausal women could reduce cardiovascular risk. The study included 35 sedentary women aged 64.7 ± 7.7 years who had no serious health issues. They all participated in the Active Leisure Time Programme (ALTP) 3 times per day for 40–75 minute sessions for 2 weeks, including 39 physical activities. Exercise intensity stayed within 40–60% of maximal HR, and ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) on the Borg scale stayed between 8 and 15 points. This exercise training was followed by 3 months of the Prevent Falls in the Elderly Programme (PFEP), which is a general fitness exercise program to prevent falls in the elderly. Health status was measured at baseline, 2 weeks into the program, and after 3 months. The results showed significant reductions in central obesity, which increased the exercise and aerobic capacity of the subjects and improved lipid profiles. A significant reduction also occurred in the absolute 10-year risk of death from cardiac complications. The authors concluded these exercise programs could be effective in preventing primary and secondary cardiovascular disease in the >55 years old female population.
Nyberg et al., (2016) took a physiological look at exercise training on the vascular function of pre- and postmenopausal women, studying the prostanoid system. Prostanoids are vasoconstrictors, and prostacyclins are vasodilators. The loss of estrogen in menopause affects the ability of the vasodilators to function properly or even be produced, thus contributing to vascular decline. The authors checked the vasodilator response to an intra-arterial fusion of a prostacyclin analog epoprostenol as well as acetylocholine in 20 premenopausal and 16 early postmenopausal women before and after a 12-week exercise program. Pre-exercise, the postmenopausal women had a reduced vasodilator response. The women also received infusion of ketorolac (an inhibitor of cyclooxygenase) along with acetylcholine, creating a vasoconstriction effect, and the vascular response was reduced in both groups. The infusions and analyses were performed again after 12 weeks of exercise training, and the exercise training increased the vasodilator response to epoprostenol and acetylcholine in the postmenopausal group. The reduced vasodilator response to epoprostenol prior to exercise in early postmenopausal women suggests hormonal changes affect the capacity of prostacyclin signaling; however, the prostanoid balance for pre and postmenopausal women was unchanged. Ultimately, the study showed exercise training can still have a positive effect on the vascularity of newly postmenopausal women.
There are randomized controlled clinical trials and scientific evidence supporting the importance to keep moving as women (and men) age. Menopause should not be a self-proclaimed pause from activity in life. Not everyone has to become a competitive athlete to preserve cardiac and vascular integrity as we age, but we need to engage in some physical activity to keep our systems running for years to come.
Those interested in learning more about menopause rehabilitation considerations should consider attending Menopause Rehabilitation and Symptom Management.
Mazurek, K., Żmijewski, P., Kozdroń, E., Fojt, A., Czajkowska, A., Szczypiorski, P., Tomasz Mazurek, T. (2017). Cardiovascular Risk Reduction in Sedentary Postmenopausal Women During Organised Physical Activity. Kardiologia Polska. 75, 5: 476–485. http://doi:10.5603/KP.a2017.0035
Nyberg, M., Egelund, J., Mandrup, C., Nielsen, M., Mogensen, A., Stallknecht, B., Bangsbo, J., Hellsten, Y. (2016). Early Postmenopausal Phase Is Associated With Reduced Prostacyclin-Induced Vasodilation That Is Reversed by Exercise Training: The Copenhagen Women Study. Hypertension. 68:1011-1020. https://doi.org/10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.116.07866