The best exercise for the menopause? Pilates

Pilates could help take some of the pain out of the menopause.  The yoga-like stretching exercises help strengthen the bones and muscles and boost quality of life, Spanish doctors and scientists said. For those who would prefer to do something a bit more active, weightlifting and trendy interval training are also recommended.

It is thought that exercise makes it easier for the body to deal with the lapses in heat control that occur around the menopause due to hormonal changes. Researcher Dr Helen Jones said the results were so impressive that exercise could be a natural alternative to HRT.  

The yoga-like stretching exercises involved in Pilates help strengthen the bones and muscles and boost quality of life, Spanish researchers found.  Exercise also brings other benefits from healthier hearts to weight loss, the European Menopause Society’s journal reports.

The typical British woman goes through the menopause at 51.  Symptoms, which range from hot flushes to sleepless nights, headaches and depression, can last for 14 years.

Hormone-replacement therapy is the main treatment, but is not suitable for all and many who could take it are put off by fears that it may trigger breast cancer.  Those who do start on it can suffer unpleasant side-effects, from headaches to heartburn, leading many women to try things like acupuncture and herbal supplements.

To find out of exercise could be a suitable treatment, the study’s authors, from the Spanish Menopause Society, the Spanish Cardiology Society and the Spanish Federation of Sports Medicine, reviewed published studies on the topic.

The benefits were so pronounces, the exercise could be a natural alternative to hormone replacement therapy, researchers said.  They said that while swimming, dancing and other forms of activity all have benefits, Pilates, weight lifting and high intensity interval training are likely to be the most beneficial.

Writing in the journal Maturitas, the researchers said that these three forms of exercise are especially good because they improve balance, which helps prevent falls.

They concluded: ‘Physical inactivity not only places women’s health at risk but also increases menopausal problems.

‘Abundant evidence links habitual physical exercise to a better status on numerous health indicators and a better quality of life and to the prevention and treatment of ailments that typically occur from mid-life onwards.

‘We can infer that physical activity is something more than a lifestyle; it constitutes a form of therapy in itself.’  The recommendations come a few months after a British study endorsed the benefits of an active middle age.

Research from Liverpool John Moores University found that women who worked up a sweat in the gym suffered fewer hot flushes than those with a more sedentary lifestyle. And the flushes they did experience were less severe.  This is important because hot flushes are the most common and distressing symptom of the menopause and can disturb sleep, drain energy and cause embarrassment. A single flush can last from a few seconds to as long as an hour.

It is thought that exercise makes it easier for the body to deal with the lapses in heat control that occur around the menopause due to hormonal changes.