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Exercise Regularly to Maintain Physical Function in Menopause

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

We all dread menopause. We can lie about our age as much as we want to friends and family, but menopause will rear its ugly head about the time we’re 55 whether or not we’re still “39.” There is obviously a wide range of side effects from menopause. Hot flashes, irritability and frequent urination are some of the most common. Unfortunately, many women also experience a decrease in their physical function when they enter menopause. This is one of the worst symptoms, because as we try to stay positive and feel young, our bodies simply can’t perform like they used to.


Researchers aren’t entirely sure why our physical abilities decrease so rapidly when we start menopause. Some studies suggest it might be because the increase in estrogen causes bone mass to decline. Others show that women in menopause tend to gain weight and lose muscle, which makes simple chores such as bringing in the groceries or picking up a baby feel strenuous. A recent study showed that three-quarters of menopausal women now have some type of physical limitation that they had never experienced before.


Luckily, we can prevent the onset of this limitation by staying physically active as menopause bears down on us. If you’re over the age of forty, it’s time to start preparing for menopause by starting an exercise routine. You don’t necessarily have to pump iron with the meatheads at the gym, but even regular walks or a class at the YMCA will help you build muscle mass in preparation for your menopausal decline. Even taking the dog out for a walk around the neighborhood on most days of the week will help. By building muscle and increasing cardiovascular function early on, it will take longer for your body to decline. Therefore, you’ll only start feeling limited when it’s a result of your old age—not your menopause.


Don’t let menopause stop you from getting a workout. Always check in with your doctor before starting a routine, but keeping your muscles as strong as possible will help you offset some of the inevitable limitations brought on by menopause. The longer you keep up your physical function, the longer you’ll be able to fool your friends about your age.


– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.

Dance Your Way to Fitness?

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

I read a press release the other day from the University of Illinois at Chicago where researcher David Marquez is conducting a study. He plans to get older Latinos out on the dance floor to determine whether doing the mambo, merengue and cha-cha-cha will help them stay fit, and perhaps avoid obesity, diabetes and other ills of a sedentary lifestyle.

While the results won’t yet be in for a while, I whole-heartedly endorse the premise. A number of years ago, I had gained a lot of weight, was overworked and was getting little exercise. Then I signed up for ballroom dancing classes. Not only did I have a blast (winning a dance contest along the way), but I whittled down my waistline while doing it.  Other studies have shown that ballroom dancing can also benefit your mental fitness and decrease your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

So, if you’re bored with exercise machines, and if jogging just isn’t your thing, put on your dancing shoes and go. Unless your doctor advises against physically challenging activity, I can’t think of a better, more fun-filled fitness routine.

See you on the dance floor.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH