Exercise Linked With Early Menopause

Here's some confusing news: exercising a lot could make you hit menopause earlier. Which is good for your risk of breast cancer, but possibly bad for your heart and bones.

Reuters reports on a Japanese study which found that women who exercise for 8 to 10 hours a week were 17% more likely to reach menopause during a ten-year period than women who didn't exercise at all. And those who ate a lot of healthy fats from fish and vegetable oil were 15% more likely to experience menopause, compared with those who ate very little of these fats. Early menopause means less exposure to estrogen, and is linked with a lower risk of breast cancer. However, it's also associated with a higher risk of heart disease and osteoporosis. So could exercise actually be bad for your heart and bones? Dr. JoAnn E. Manson, president of the North American Menopause Society, says no: "I wouldn't want women to be concerned that they would be at higher risk of cardiovascular disease or osteoporosis if they make lifestyle modifications. The benefits far outweigh any risks." She adds,

The take home message from this study is regular physical activity and regular heart-healthy patterns are advisable for reducing the risk for several hormone-related cancers and osteoporosis. It's a modest effect, but it matters.

What she doesn't mention, though, is that menopause has effects beyond a woman's risk of disease. Most obvious of these is its effect on fertility — women who go through menopause early have less time to have kids. Menopause can also affect sexual desire and functioning. The effect of exercise on menopause timing appears to be very small, if it even exists. So women seeking to extend their fertile years probably don't need to avoid the gym. Still, any discussion of early menopause is incomplete without a discussion of what that means for women's sexual and reproductive lives.

Women Who Exercise A Lot Hit Menopause Earlier [Reuters, via MSNBC]

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