Forget pilates, yoga or even taking a brisk walk in the park. Women over the age of 50 should try lifting weights and doing other strength training exercises if they want to kick menopause symptoms.
Our study found that older women who did weight lifting for two months built up strength in both their upper and lower bodies. And although the women did not lose any weight, they were more confident, happier - and even received compliments from their partners.
In practical terms the women found it easier to climb a flight of stairs, had less knee and hip pain, and could easily get onto the floor and back up again when playing with their grandchildren.
On top of this, unpublished findings from this study found that after three months on the programme the women also lost significant centimetres around their waists.
Menopause, mood swings and wobbly bits
Menopause usually occurs in women between the ages of 47 and 55 years. There are both physical and psychological symptoms linked to menopause. The physical changes are driven by a loss of estrogen hormones. One of these changes is increased belly fat, which is a risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The other is the loss of muscle. Muscle loss means that women become weaker and stand more of a chance of developing problems such as osteoporosis.
Previous studies have found menopause symptoms such as aching joints and back pain are psychologically motivated and are more prevalent among white women. For African-American women, symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats are more prevalent. Data does not exist for South African black women yet.
We wanted to find a way to mitigate these symptoms, improve the health of women and decrease the risk of them being injured because of their bodies becoming more fragile.
Lifting the weight off
Our study looked at how 30 minutes of strength training, five times a week, could benefit a group of women aged 55 to 65.
The women exercised in small groups with a personal trainer doing exercises that targeted their upper bodies, torsos and legs. The programme got progressively harder as the two months went by. It, however, did not exceed 80% of the maximum effort they could exert. The intensity was tested once a month so that it could be adjusted.
Our results show that the study’s design was not only successful, but that women preferred the daily routine.
This means that older women have a feasible and affordable way to improving their health and body strength.
Converting the theory into practise
On average, the retirement age for women is 65 years. This means that for 10 to 15 years after menopause women are still economically active.
The findings show that their health, risk of injury and ultimate productivity can be improved.
Most importantly, however, women over the age of 50 are more than capable of high intensity resistance training and may benefit from this type of physical activity.
The good news is that strength training can have tangible outcomes. Many women give up on less intense exercise programmes, like walking, because they feel there is no benefit. Now they know they have an alternative.
Candice Christie, lead investigator, received funding from the Medical Research Council of South Africa for this research. Research team members, Tegan Crymble and Janet Viljoen, were beneficiaries of this funding allocation. Janet Viljoen received a scholarship from the Deutsche Akademiese Austausch Dienst (DAAD) during the course of this research project.
Authors: The Conversation