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Menopause, Weight Gain, and Pelvic Health

The new year is here and with it, lots of motivational posting about exercise and weight loss…but how is this desire for ‘new year, new you’ affecting peri-menopausal women with urinary dysfunction? It has been established that the lower urinary tract is sensitive to the effects of estrogen, sharing a common embryological origin with the female genital tract, the urogenital sinus. Urge urinary incontinence is more prevalent after the menopause, and the peak prevalence of stress incontinence occurs around the time of the menopause (Quinn et al 2009). Zhu et al looked at the risk factors for urinary incontinence in women and found that some of the main contributors include peri/post-menopausal status, constipation and central obesity (women's waist circumference, >/=80 cm) along with vaginal delivery/multiparity.

Could weight loss directly impact urinary incontinence in menopausal women? In a word – yes. ‘Weight reduction is an effective treatment for overweight and obese women with UI. Weight loss of 5% to 10% has an efficacy similar to that of other nonsurgical treatments and should be considered a first line therapy for incontinence’ (Subak et al 2005) But do these benefits last? Again – yes! ‘Weight loss intervention reduced the frequency of stress incontinence episodes through 12 months and improved patient satisfaction with changes in incontinence through 18 months. Improving weight loss maintenance may provide longer term benefits for urinary incontinence.’ (Wing et al 2010)

The other major health issues facing women at midlife include an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, Type 2 Diabetes and Bone Health problems – all of which are responsive to lifestyle interventions, particularly exercise and stress management. In their paper looking at lifestyle weight loss interventions, Franz et al found that ‘…a weight loss of >5% appears necessary for beneficial effects on HbA1c, lipids, and blood pressure. Achieving this level of weight loss requires intense interventions, including energy restriction, regular physical activity, and frequent contact with health professionals’. 5% weight loss is the same amount of weight loss necessary to provide significant benefits for urinary incontinence at midlife.

Successful weight management depends on nutritional intake, exercise and psychosocial considerations such as stress management, but for the menopausal woman, hormonal balance can also have an effect on not only bladder and bowel dysfunction but changing metabolic rates, thyroid issues and altered weight distribution patterns. As pelvic rehab therapists, we are all aware that pelvic health issues can be a barrier to exercise participation but sensitive awareness of the other particular challenges facing midlife women can make the difference in developing a beneficial therapeutic alliance and a journey back to optimal health. If you would like to explore the topics surrounding optimal health at menopause, why not join me in California in February?


Climacteric. 2009 Apr;12(2):106-13. ‘The effects of hormones on urinary incontinence in postmenopausal women.’ Quinn SD, Domoney C. Menopause. 2009 Jul-Aug;16(4):831-6. The epidemiological study of women with urinary incontinence and risk factors for stress urinary incontinence in China’ Zhu L, Lang J, Liu C, Han S, Huang J, Li X. J Urol. 2005 Jul;174(1):190-5. Weight loss: a novel and effective treatment for urinary incontinence’ Subak LL, Whitcomb E, Shen H, Saxton J, Vittinghoff E, Brown JS. J Urol. 2010 Sep;184(3):1005-10. Effect of weight loss on urinary incontinence in overweight and obese women: results at 12 and 18 months Wing RR, West DS, Grady D, Creasman JM, Richter HE, Myers D, Burgio KL, Franklin F, Gorin AA, Vittinghoff E, Macer J, Kusek JW, Subak LL; Program to Reduce Incontinence by Diet and Exercise Group. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2015 Sep;115(9):1447-63. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2015.02.031. Epub 2015 Apr 29. Lifestyle weight-loss intervention outcomes in overweight and obese adults with type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. Franz MJ, Boucher JL, Rutten-Ramos S, VanWormer JJ. Lean, M, & Lara, J & O Hill, J (2007) Strategies for preventing obesity. In: Sattar, N & Lean, M (eds.) ABC of Obesity. Oxford, Blackwell Publishing.

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Cardiovascular Health in Menopause: Move it or Lose It

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

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