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Workout pre-menopause to boost health in later life

New research shows exercise pre-menopause optimise
Photo: Exercise pre-menopause optimises health later
Women who want to enjoy peak health in their later years should establish an exercise routine before they hit menopause according to recent research published in the Journal of Physiology.

The research demonstrates that the small blood vessels in muscles of women after menopause are less able to grow compared to young women. So, exercising before menopause is vital for women to develop blood vessels in muscles to build muscle strength.

The study shows that there are substantial differences in the way the blood vessels, which influences susceptibility to conditions like heart disease and stroke, are affected by aging and physical activity between women and men. This difference is due primarily to the female sex hormone, estrogen.

Estrogen is protective of the heart and blood vessels in women until menopause when there is an abrupt permanent loss of this hormone, which leads to a decline in the health of blood vessels.
The University of Copenhagen researchers are the first to isolate and examine cells from skeletal muscle samples of young and older women. They examined capillaries, which are the smallest blood vessels in muscles. Skeletal muscle tissue can be developed (unlike hearth muscle tissue) and is mainly affected by movement, such as during exercise.

Capillaries in skeletal muscle are essential for skeletal muscle function, physical capacity and health as it is here that oxygen and nutrients are taken up into muscle when needed. A loss of capillaries in the muscle can also affect insulin sensitivity and the development of Type II diabetes.

The study found that when the older women completed a period of aerobic exercise training by cycling, they did not achieve an increase in the number of capillaries in muscle, in contrast to what has been repeatedly shown in young and older men.

This new study suggests that women do not attain capillary growth as readily as younger women and men and that an underlying cause may be a flaw in the cells that make up capillaries.

The authors stress that exercise is important throughout a lifetime, including after menopause. However, capillary health is optimised when women commit to an exercise routine before menopause.

The researchers had women over 60, and younger women in their twenties complete a series of physical tests followed by muscle biopsies to isolate blood vessel cells and muscle cells for study in the lab.

The older women also conducted eight weeks of cycling training, where they trained three times per week at moderate to high intensity.

The women were tested for fitness and several other parameters before and after the training. After the training period, muscle biopsies were analysed for capillary number and specific proteins.

The first author of the study Nørregaard Olsen says the research also shows that the common perception of how hard older women can train should be revised.

"Another aspect that is worth highlighting is that many people doubted that the older women could handle such intensive training.

"However, the women, who conducted the cycle exercise training three times per week for eight weeks, with heart rates over 80 per cent of maximal heart rate for more than 60 per cent of the time, were excited and handled the training without problems," says Mr Olsen.

Physiotherapist Verona Chadwick says the research is interesting in that it demonstrates the slowing of new capillaries post-menopause. Still, building muscle is also related to the body's ability to metabolise protein.

"Factors they did not take into consideration are the reduced ability to digest and metabolise protein for muscle building due to a decline in stomach acid production over the age of 40 for both sexes.

"Diets lacking zinc and vitamin B6 required for protein synthesis and therefore maintenance of muscle and bone will lead to a gradual loss of muscle over time," explains Ms Chadwick.

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Haley Williams

Haley Williams has a Bachelor of Communication in Journalism and over a decade of experience in the media, marketing and communications industries.

She is a widely published journalist with a particular interest in writing magazine features on parenting, health, fitness, nutrition and education.

Before becoming a freelance journalist, Haley worked as a writer for NeoLife (a worldwide nutrition company), News Limited and APN News & Media.

Haley also has extensive experience as an SEO Content Writer and Digital Marketing Strategist.