Exercise Volume and Early Menopause: Is There a Link?

Douglas Perry

Technology, Cycling, Swimming


Mature woman exercising


When it comes to menopause, there have been conflicting reports, some saying women who are very active, workout a lot or other physical endeavors, may be less likely to experience menopause before the age of 45, while some have found evidence to the contrary.



Thankfully, this study, published in the Journal of Human Reproduction1, analyzed data from over a 107,000 women and found that just because you exercise a lot at any age it doesn't mean you're susceptible to early natural menopause.


Dr Elizabeth Bertone-Johnson, Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Massachusetts, USA, who directed the research, said: "Our study provides considerable information in helping us understand the relationship between activity and timing of menopause; this is because of its size, its focus on early menopause specifically, and because of its prospective design, which limited the likelihood of bias and allowed us to look at physical activity at different time periods.


"Several previous well-designed studies have found suggestions that more physical activity is associated with older age at menopause, but even in those studies the size of the effect was very small. Our results, in conjunction with other studies, provides substantial evidence that physical activity is not importantly associated with early menopause."


The study used US-registered nurses between the ages of 25 and 42 who began their participation as part of the Nurses' Health Study II started in 1989. They were asked about the time they spent in activities such as walking, running, cycling, racquet sports, swimming laps, aerobics, yoga, weight training and things like mowing the lawn.


The researchers accounted for other factors such as race, ethnicity, age, education, height, the age when the women had their first periods, whether or not they had been pregnant and how often, use of oral contraceptives and hormone therapy, whether or not they smoked, weight and body mass index (BMI), diet and use of dietary supplements.



In order to assess the frequency, duration, and intensity of the activities, the researchers multiplied the hours per week of each activity by its metabolic equivalent (MET) score to create total MET hours per week. One MET equals one kilogram calorie per kilogram per hour (kcal/kg/h), which is the amount of energy expended by sitting quietly for an hour.


During the 20 years of follow-up, 2786 women experienced natural menopause before the age of 45. The researchers found no significant difference in the risk of early menopause between, for instance, women reporting less than three MET hours a week of physical activity and women reporting 42 or more hours a week (the equivalent to four or more hours of running or eight or more hours of brisk walking per week).


The amount of physical activity that the women reported in their teenage years was also unrelated to the risk of early menopause. Granted, all this data is self-reported but, still, quite a substantial dataset.


Environmental Factors Are Associated With Early Menopause

Dr Bertone-Johnson said: "Our work has suggested that environmental factors are associated with early menopause. We found a higher intake of calcium and vitamin D from dairy foods to be associated with lower risk.


Higher intake of vegetable protein was associated with lower risk as well, though animal protein was not. Cigarette smoking is associated with higher risk, as is being underweight."


Coach Amanda Thebe stresses the importance of exercise in pre and postmenopausal woman here on Breaking Muscle, especially strength training, because of the changes in hormonal activity that naturally occur as everyone ages.


Unfortunately, there are some factors that are out of your control, such as genetics, but in general, there are so many upsides to being active and exercising before, during and after menopause that it has to be viewed as an evergreen palliative measure.


You may not be able to withstand the ravages time, none of us can, but you can certainly give yourself more opportunities to ease the deleterious impact of those changes. Exercising now is like banking ease of burden coins for the future.



1. Mingfei Zhao, Brian W Whitcomb, Alexandra C Purdue-Smithe, JoAnn E Manson, Susan E Hankinson, Bernard A Rosner, Elizabeth R Bertone-Johnson. Physical activity is not related to risk of early menopause in a large prospective study. Human Reproduction, 2018.

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