If you’re a woman over 50, just entering or even post menopause, I’d like to talk to you about a fun way to fight the symptoms of estrogen loss and boost your heart health at the same time. New research says you can gain relief from menopause symptoms as well as boost your cardiovascular health. And, you can have a lot of fun doing it!
Ladies: Protect Your Heart Playing Team Sports
Menopause means a decrease in estrogen and, for many women, a whole host of uncomfortable symptoms and side effects. One of the most significant side effects of menopause is the increased risk of cardiovascular disease. As a woman, estrogen is your #1 defense system against heart disease. But, with menopause, that protection starts to decrease and puts you at greater risk for heart attack and stroke. But this doesn’t have to be the case.
As I’ve reported to you in this newsletter previously, aerobic exercise can help decrease the symptoms of estrogen loss significantly. That’s why I recommend vigorous aerobic exercise at least 3 times a week to my menopausal patients. Regular exercise helps decrease stress and its harmful hormone – cortisol – which can trigger inflammation and up risk for heart disease.
In addition, studies out of Sweden’s University Hospital have shown that exercise cuts the occurrence of hot flashes in half for most menopausal women. Duke University researchers also found that exercise acted as a great natural antidepressant. Regular exercise releases “feel good” brain chemicals (endorphins) that lift mood as effectively as Rx antidepressants.
Now, a new study out of the University of Copenhagen’s Centre for Team Sport (Biomarkers of vascular function in pre – and recent post-menopausal women of similar age: effect of exercise training, American Journal of Physiology, 2014) has shown that playing an interval-based team sport twice a week can significantly compensate for estrogen loss and boost heart health.
Interval-type sports involve short, intense bursts of activity – like jumping, sprinting, kicking, etc. Interval type exercise has been shown to build cardiovascular health, burn fat, and decrease hemoglobin A1c (a diabetes marker) faster than any other type of exercise.
In addition, the study revealed, playing a team sport helps a woman:
a) Maintain overall conditioning and builds flexibility, agility, balance.
b) Strengthen her bones and muscles that help balance, resist falling and fracturing a bone.
c) Reduce her blood pressure by 4 points which correlates to a 40% reduction in risk for stroke. Their study revealed that blood pressure in newly menopausal women rises by 10% over similarly aged women who were non-menopausal.
d) Gain a 20% decrease in biomarkers that accompany arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
The researchers studied the game of floorball with a group of menopausal women for 12 weeks. Unlike other forms of solo aerobic exercise, playing a team sport allowed the women to more easily maintain a high level of intensity. Playing on a team took the groups’ minds off the fact that they were “exercising”. They viewed it more as having a fun event with a group of women.
The researchers concluded that getting menopausal women to play a team sport was one way to keep them more motivated and interested in high intensity exercise – the kind that benefits their heart health the most.
Grab Your Pals and Play A Team Sport
Playing a team sport with a group of your friends, or family members, twice a week is not only a great way to fight menopause symptoms, but it’s also a great way to just have fun! It allows you to get together with old friends, or even join a group of new people to make new friends. Socializing with friends, or family, at least once a week also helps to fight feelings of loneliness or isolation which can also worsen depression brought on by estrogen loss.
An added benefit is that exercise has a positive effect on clarity of thinking. University of Illinois researchers found that exercise helped clear “brain fog” that many women complain of with menopause. Its symptoms can include inability to concentrate and memory loss.
So, what kind of team sport do you want to play? To fight menopause symptoms and boost heart health, your team sport should include enough high intensity bursts of sprinting, jumping, kicking, quick dodging and blocking moves. Here are some suggestions:
1. Soccer indoor/outdoor. There’s a lot of running, jumping, kicking, lateral moves for balance, stamina and flexibility.
2. Basketball. This sport requires a lot of running, jumping, moving your entire body in high intensity movements. You can play on an indoor court or an outdoor school parking lot or maybe even your own driveway.
3. Racquetball. You can make this normally 2-person sport into a 4 people, high intensity, cardiovascular workout. You could burn up to 400 calories in a half hour running, jumping, and using a lot of upper arm movement.
4. Tennis. Like racquetball, it involves a lot of running, jumping, and upper arm movement and also can burn a lot of calories. It’s more intense and fast moving if you play with 4 people.
5. Flag football. This is a gentler version of regular “tackle” football that involves the same intense type of running, blocking, and even jumping. It burns about 545 calories an hour.
6. Volleyball. This can be played indoors on a gym floor with a net, or on the beach, or lawn with a net. It involves a lot of squatting, jumping, spiking, in intense, short bursts.
7. Frisbee. You can get a lot of non-stop running and jumping in with throwing/catching a Frisbee. It’s a great team sport to do in the park or on a beach and it’s a lot of fun.
8. Hockey. If you’re a winter sports enthusiast, hockey may be the team sport for you. It’s fast moving and requires whole body engagement to balance you on skate blades.
9. Baseball. Remember how much fun you had as a kid on a summer’s day playing baseball in the local field with your friends? You can relive that fun and camaraderie and also get a great intense workout running between bases or chasing a ball into the outfield. It also involves whole body balance and coordination in swinging a bat and catching balls in your mitt.
Menopause can have some very uncomfortable symptoms that can wreak havoc with your everyday life as well as your overall health. Yet, taking some time out to play a team sport twice a week with friends can help offset them greatly. Get a group of your gal pals, or round up family members, or just join an existing group of neighbors at your local Y or Recreational Center to play a fast-moving team sport a couple times a week. It can go a long way in keeping those menopausal symptoms at bay, your heart healthy and add a lot of fun.
Ron Blankstein, M.D.