Exercise for health for early postmenopausal women: a systematic review of randomised controlled trials

Tuula-Maria Asikainen, Katriina Kukkonen-Harjula, Seppo Miilunpalo
Sports Medicine 2004, 34 (11): 753-78
Women who pass menopause face many changes that may lead to loss of health-related fitness (HRF), especially if sedentary. Many exercise recommendations are also relevant for early postmenopausal women; however, these may not meet their specific needs because the recommendations are based mainly on studies on men. We conducted a systematic review for randomised, controlled exercise trials on postmenopausal women (aged 50 to 65 years) on components of HRF. HRF consists of morphological fitness (body composition and bone strength), musculoskeletal fitness (muscle strength and endurance, flexibility), motor fitness (postural control), cardiorespiratory fitness (maximal aerobic power, blood pressure) and metabolic fitness (lipid and carbohydrate metabolism). The outcome variables chosen were: bodyweight; proportion of body fat of total bodyweight (F%); bone mineral density (BMD); bone mineral content (BMC); various tests on muscle performance, flexibility, balance and coordination; maximal oxygen consumption (V-dotO(2max)); resting blood pressure (BP); total cholesterol (TC); high-density lipoprotein-cholesterol; low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol; triglycerides; blood glucose and insulin. The feasibility of the exercise programme was assessed from drop-out, attendance and injury rates. Twenty-eight randomised controlled trials with 2646 participants were assessed. In total, 18 studies reported on the effects of exercise on bodyweight and F%, 16 on BMD or BMC, 11 on muscular strength or endurance, five on flexibility, six on balance or coordination, 18 on V-dotO(2max), seven on BP, nine on lipids and two studies on glucose an one on insulin. Based on these studies, early postmenopausal women could benefit from 30 minutes of daily moderate walking in one to three bouts combined with a resistance training programme twice a week. For a sedentary person, walking is feasible and can be incorporated into everyday life. A feasible way to start resistance training is to perform eight to ten repetitions of eight to ten exercises for major muscle groups starting with 40% of one repetition maximum. Resistance training initially requires professional instruction, but can thereafter be performed at home with little or no equipment as an alternative for a gym with weight machines. Warm-up and cool-down with stretching should be a part of every exercise session. The training described above is likely to preserve normal bodyweight, or combined with a weight-reducing diet, preserve BMD and increase muscle strength. Based on limited evidence, such exercise might also improve flexibility, balance and coordination, decrease hypertension and improve dyslipidaemia.

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