WASHINGTON - Pushing yourself is harder if you are a woman older than 50. Just ask Meschelle Sevier.
“I would rather sit on the couch at home and watch re-runs,” Sevier says.
Annie Green also has noticed that it’s harder for her to exercise than it used to be.
“I would probably run on the treadmill two to three minutes and then walk. Now it’s down to one or two minutes.”
Staying active is harder
As women age, it seems to become more challenging to stay active, and this inactivity could lead to weight gain and a host of health problems, such as cardiovascular disease and Type-2 diabetes. The rate of some chronic diseases increases around the time a woman goes through menopause.
Scientists, including Victoria Vieira-Potter at the University of Missouri, are trying to figure out why women become less active as they age and what can be done to promote physical activity.
Vieira-Potter noticed a link between weight gain and the loss of estrogen in lab rats after their ovaries were removed.
However, she also noted that the female rats that exercised and were fit before their ovaries were removed did not gain weight. Vieira-Potter theorized that healthy exercise regimens might protect postmenopausal women from weight gain and its health complications.
Be aware and adjust
Vieira-Potter also theorized that a drop in estrogen leads to a drop in the chemical dopamine that sends signals to the pleasure or reward center in the brain, so women get less pleasure from exercising, and they put on weight.
The key, she said, is for older women to be aware of these changes and to adjust their lifestyles accordingly.
“We don’t need a lot of activity,” she said, “Women don’t need to take up marathon running because they’re going through menopause.”
Although the research did not involve humans, scientists say animal models are useful.
A different theory
Dawn Lowe studies aging and exercise at the University of Minnesota. She is involved in a large study of premenopausal and postmenopausal women that includes researchers from a spectrum of disciplines.
These scientists are looking at activity in older women from a different angle. They want to see how women’s health influences physical activity. As women age, they can lose control of their bladders. That lack of control at unexpected moments causes some women to stop exercising because exercise can be one of the causes of incontinence.
“The pelvic floor is composed of muscles. We think about leg muscles becoming weaker with age in men and women, but the pelvic floor is also a muscle. There is growing evidence that that muscle becomes weak with age as well,” Lowe told VOA in a Skype interview.
The result can be involuntary urinary or fecal incontinence, especially during exercise. Nearly 40 percent of the women in the study experienced incontinence. Lowe said there’s growing evidence, particularly for women, that estrogen affects how that muscle works.
Lowe says over the next several years, we can expect to learn a lot about women’s health and how it changes through the menopausal years, with the hope of keeping women active and healthy.