What You Can Expect from Exercise

Exercise may enhance bone mass and bone density. To see a good example, compare the arms of your favorite tennis player. You will find that the dominant arm is larger; it has developed more bone and muscle from use. Then think of the astronauts traveling through space with little opportunity to exercise against any resistance in the weight­lessness of space. They lose bone.

Moderate exercise is very beneficial; excess exercise may not be. Let’s look at one more extreme example. Take a woman who is following an overly strenuous exercise program. Let’s say she is a marathon runner. She may lose her menstrual period, because through excessive exercise she has altered ovarian activity and re­duced her body fat so much that her body’s production of estrogen is inhibited. She will then lose bone, as well.

Exercise offers emotional benefit as well as physical energy by alter­ing your state of mood. This alteration probably occurs because exer­cise activates the release of certain hormones within the brain that we call the central endorphins or, brain morphines. They produce that special sense of well-being that we experience after exercise.

Recent studies directed specifically toward menopausal women have shown that vigorous exercise reduces muscle tension and de­creases anxiety significantly. The relief of anxiety is often the result of an increase in the levels of epinephrine and norepinephrine circulat­ing in your blood. These substances improve neurotransmission, or nerve messages. Similar studies have proved that the nature of sleep improves for exercisers and the physically fit.

As we said earlier, a problem with exercise is poor compliance. Women start an exercise program, lose interest, and drop out usually sometime during the first three months of a program. Most studies show that the mood-enhancing results of regular exercise only de­velop strongly after three months, coinciding with when you arrive at a state of physical fitness. Other studies also suggest that good physical exercise, continued late into life, will reduce the aging of your brain and offer you more vigor and consistency of performance into very late old age.

Choosing an exercise activity that is fun for you is as important as getting active, because if it’s not fun you won’t stick with it. Also select a variety of activities, so you are less bored while you enhance your flexibility, strength, and endurance. We know that more women have gotten more active since the 1960s, but we also know that not enough women exercise. Exercise benefits every system in your body, which is probably why it makes you feel so good. There is also a special look to the physically fit woman: a look of strength, confidence, and glowing good health. Her step is lighter, her hand­shake firmer, and her gaze clearer. These are not appearances with­out foundation; they are a direct result of the flexibility, strength, and better oxygenation of the body that a regular and well-defined exercise program begets.

Today’s models and movie stars alike aim for healthy bodies that appear strong and sturdy. A woman with well-built shoulders no longer conveys a masculine image, but rather that of a woman who looks like she can take care of herself. With more women than ever before in the rough-and-tumble work force, and with women living longer than ever before, exercise becomes the path to a very impor­tant degree of strength and self-sufficiency.

Note: It is vitally important before you begin an exercise program to have a complete medical checkup to assure that the program you are about to begin is right for you. Let’s review the broad range of benefits that exercise offers women at midlife and how it may offset some of the problems that hormonal changes can cause.

Many physicians suggest exercise as a treatment for depression. Studies show that exercise aids sleep and can overcome a general feeling of nervousness, both complaints of postmenopausal women. Certain kinds of exercises strengthen bone and aid flexibility so that we do not get hurt as often, or as badly, and we heal faster, too. We know that exercise causes the reproductive system to work better, but that it must be pursued wisely, since perimenopausal women who jog or run excessively can lose their periods entirely and, as a result, lose the bone-building benefits of estrogen.