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Interval Sprints can Reverse the Effects of Menopause

Doing intervals on the elliptical.
Doing intervals on the elliptical.

Women dealing with health problems from menopause now have a new exercise option. Researchers found that as little as eight hours of interval training can reverse many of the negative health effects menopause has on women. Here's a little background to understand the options.

Typically menopause starts around the age of 51. It can happen sooner, in women as early as 40 or younger, in a condition called premature menopause.

The first signs are often an irregular menstrual cycle. Up to half of women may also experience mood swings, hot flashes, sweating, headaches, a racing heart and trouble sleeping, among other problems. Menopause often happens over three phases.

Perimenopause is when your cycles haven't stopped, but they are more erratic and irregular. A common age for this to occur is 47. You can still get pregnant, but you may start experiencing symptoms like hot flashes.

Menopause is when you've had your final period. It's often not definitive until you've gone a full year without one. All the symptoms of menopause can start kicking in while this is happening.

Postmenopause is at the one year mark after your final period. Even though you may continue to experience the symptoms of menopause, medically you have moved past it. At this point if you experience bleeding, it's not normal. You need to let your doctor know immediately so they can find the cause.

The standard medical treatment for menopausal women in the past, was to receive estrogen and progesterone. Often called combination hormone therapy (HT) or hormone replacement therapy (HRT). However, as more research came out several dangers emerged including an increased risk of heart attack, stroke and in some cases cancer. Hormone therapy is now NOT recommended for any woman who has had breast cancer, endometrial cancer, blood clots, liver disease or a stroke.

For women who don't want to take hormones, there are medications to deal with the symptoms. Antidepressants, antiseizure drugs and blood pressure medications are all prescribed, but they too have potentially deadly side effects. They also only deal with the symptoms, not the cause.

Surprisingly, studies as recently as 2011 suggested that postmenopausal women should engage in "deep breathing, yoga and stretching exercises" and "moderate aerobic activity." While yoga and stretching exercises are certainly beneficial for stress relief, every study for more than a decade has been recommending high-intensity intervals rather than steady-state or moderate aerobics.

The University of New South Wales in Australia decided to put it to the test. They took thirty, overweight postmenopausal women and divided them randomly into two groups. One group engaged in three Sprint Interval Training (SIT) sessions a week for 8 weeks. Each session took 20 minutes of 8-second sprints followed by 12 seconds of light pedaling. The participants also engaged in 8 minutes of light aerobic cycle exercise (as a warm-up before and cool-down after) the SIT program.

The control group went about their business as usual, with no interval training.

The women who engaged in the interval training gained 0.7 kilograms of muscle in their legs and trunk, and they lost 0.4 kilograms of body fat. They increased their aerobic fitness by 12%. With just eight hours of exercise over two months they gained muscle, increased their aerobic fitness levels, lost body fat and decreased their risk of type 2 diabetes.

“Interval sprinting is a very time-efficient form of exercise which we have seen result in a number of health benefits,” says Dr Yati Boutcher, who led the research. In fact, interval sprinting actually started to reverse the effects women were experiencing postmenopause.

One of the more surprising results of the study was the increase in muscle mass. Traditional steady-state cardio or “moderate aerobic activities” can help create small improvements in aerobic capacity. However, only interval training has been shown to also help increase muscle mass.

Almost any exercise is better than none. But if you're looking for the best aerobics, interval training is the cardio that gets results.

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