Great news for women in menopause: it appears that vigorous physical exercise can turn back the clock, at least as far as physical capacity and weight loss ability goes!
Findings from two studies, one published this past July in the Journal of Applied Physiology, and the other this September, in Metabolism – Clinical and Experimental, show for the first time that despite age-related deceases in hormone levels, lean body mass and aerobic capacity, training can achieve the same health benefits that women 16 years younger might experience.
In both studies, researchers looked at the effects of cycling (on a stationary bike) for an hour, five days a week at 65% of maximum lung capacity in 10 sedentary but otherwise healthy postmenopausal women.
(FYI: The term ‘lung capacity’ refers to the maximum amount of air that a person’s lungs can hold after the greatest possible inspiratory effort. When you exhale, the amount of air left in your lungs is known as ‘residual volume.’ This can be affected by age, aerobic capacity and a host of other factors. After the age of 30, the capacity to use and consume oxygen drops by about 1% per year)
In the first, they found that all study participants increased their body’s capacity to consume and use oxygen (known as VO2max) by as much as 16%. At the same time, resting heart rate decreased an average of 4 beats per minute. By the study’s end, blood pressure had also dropped substantially and heart capacity during exercise increased. What’s more, study participants were able to burn fat more efficiently — by about 10%, without relying on carbohydrates. (A primary reason why weight loss can be difficult for women with specific dietary changes is that unlike men, blood sugar (glucose) levels (usually derived from stored carbohydrates) remain stable during exercise and metabolism quickly returns to normal after. So despite vigorous training, weight may remain the same. This is even more true for women going through menopause, as fluctuating hormone levels affect metabolism and the ability to clear glucose from the blood.)
Similar findings were also seen in the second study; not only were women able to consume and use oxygen more significantly, but their ability to metabolize glucose improved by 35%, without any changes in dietary habits.
Overall, these study findings suggest that “older” women can improve and make significant changes in their cardiovascular and metabolic capacities, often to the same extent as women substantially younger, without having to go on extreme diets! The researchers say that these results are also encouraging in terms of increasing overall energy levels and keeping risk for disease in check.
Granted, the training regimens that the study participants undertook were quite strenuous and required a commitment, both in terms of time and exercise frequency. Nevertheless, the researchers believe that even less strenuous exercise could likely produce some degree of benefit.
So, do you need an extreme makeover to realize better health? Not really! Just a bit of inspiration and some kick-ass music to keep you going at the gym. Nice to know that great benefits can be achieved without starving ourselves!
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