New research finds postmenopausal women benefit from exercise more so than premenopausal women when it comes to improving body composition.
Investigators from the University of Massachusetts Amherst presented their findings earlier this month at the 2015 annual meeting of the North American Menopause Society (NAMS).
Body composition is the relative proportion of fat, bone, water, and muscle in the human body. As muscle takes up less space in the body than fat, body composition determines leanness.
Although postmenopausal women respond better to exercise, unfortunately, they begin in a more difficult place. That is, researchers found postmenopausal women, on average, have a significantly higher body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, and percentage of body fat.
For many, this is not great news since it is generally accepted that women tend to gain weight as they go through menopause. The encouraging part of the study, however, is that postmenopausal women may have more control over their body composition than their premenopausal counterparts.
In fact, postmenopausal women can improve their body composition by light physical activity, such as casual walking or yard work.
A total of 630 premenopausal and 274 postmenopausal women participated in the study. Accelerometers were used to estimate the amount of time spent in various forms of physical activity and sedentary periods.
Older postmenopausal women were found to not be as active and moved less than premenopausal women. Accordingly, they experienced more sedentary time than premenopausal women.
Also, as expected, higher total movement and physical activity, along with lower sedentary behavior, were associated with a lower BMI, waist circumference, and percentage of body fat — but not to the same extent in both groups.
“Across the board, for each measure of body composition, we found that light physical activity had a greater impact in postmenopausal compared with premenopausal women,” says Dr. Lisa Troy, lead author from the University of Massachusetts.
“We additionally found that sedentary behavior was more strongly associated with waist circumference in postmenopausal women. This is an important public health message because, as women go through menopause, physiological changes may decrease a woman’s motivation to exercise. What we’ve found in our study suggests that doing even a little bit of exercise may make a big difference in body composition.”
Dr. Wulf Utian, executive director of NAMS, points out that this study provides valuable insights for physicians counseling their middle-aged female patients on weight management.
“Regular exercise has so many benefits for women of all ages, from providing more energy and greater mobility to helping to build bone density,” Utian said.
“This study suggests, though, for postmenopausal women, weight management may be improved with a variety of physical activities.”