Can a little exercise control weight after menopause?

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Minimal exercise may be all it takes for postmenopausal women to better regulate insulin, maintain metabolic function, and help prevent significant weight gain, a new study suggests.

The findings, from research with rats, indicate that women can take a proactive approach and may not need to increase their physical activity dramatically to see significant benefits from exercise.

“Diseases and weight gain associated with metabolic dysfunction skyrocket after menopause,” says Vicki Vieira-Potter, assistant professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at the University of Missouri. “The intent of this research was to determine what role exercise plays in protecting women, specifically less-active women, metabolically as they go through menopause.”

For the study, published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, researchers compared how exercise training maintained metabolic function in sedentary rats versus highly active rats.

Menopause may rob women of exercise ‘high’

The rats had access to a running wheel, which they could use as much or as little as they wanted. The sedentary rats only ran 1/5th of the distance as the highly active rats did; yet, the limited physical activity still maintained their metabolic function and normalized insulin levels. Moreover, the previously sedentary rats saw a 50-percent reduction in their fat tissue as a result of that small amount of exercise.

“These findings suggest that any physical activity, even just a small amount, can do wonders in terms of maintaining metabolic function,” Vieira-Potter says. “This is significant for postmenopausal women as they deal with weight gain associated with menopause as well as the increased risk for disease.”

Sedentary women can be proactive as they enter menopause by doing a variety of simple things:

  • Go on regular walks with friends
  • Take the stairs rather than the elevator
  • Join beginners’ fitness programs
  • Monitor physical activity through use of fitness trackers

Additional researchers from the University of Missouri, the University of Michigan, and the University of Kansas are coauthors of the work.

Source: University of Missouri