How exercise protects women from disease

The benefits of a regular workout
Exercise isn’t just about firming up your thighs and toning your triceps … regular workouts can help ward off many of the major diseases that affect women — from breast cancer to high blood pressure, osteoporosis to arthritis.
But perhaps the most valuable benefit of all is the protective effect exercise has on the heart. Did you know that one in every two women in the UK dies of heart or vascular disease? Yet regular aerobic exercise can reduce the risk of heart disease by 30 to 40 per cent.

Aerobic exercise (from walking to jogging, dancing to swimming) influences four of the main heart disease risk factors:
Blood pressure (people with hypertension are three times more likely to experience heart disease)
Cholesterol profile (exercise lowers total cholesterol and increases the amount of HDL cholesterol)
Risk of diabetes
Excess body weight.
Regularly active women have a 42 per cent lower risk of getting type II diabetes, as a higher fitness level has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity and enhance glucose transportation.

Although it’s never too soon to start reaping the benefits of exercise, it’s never too late, either. A study published in the journal Epidemiology found that women who took up exercise after the menopause had a 30 per cent lower risk of developing breast cancer. Those who had been active throughout their lives had a 42 per cent lower risk than sedentary women, however.

Scientists don’t know exactly why exercise seems to be protective against breast cancer — it may be that regularly active women produce a less harmful form of oestrogen, or that they are exposed to less oestrogen overall. But the overall verdict spells out one thing: consistent, vigorous exercise is linked to a lower lifetime breast cancer risk. There is also some evidence that staying fit reduces your risk of colon cancer, and cancers of the upper digestive tract, too.

The old ‘use it or lose it’ adage is often applied to muscle — but the same goes for bone density. The more you do sooner, the better. Peak bone mass — the maximum amount of bone you ever attain — occurs around the age of 20 and from 30 or so onwards, a slow decline begins. In the decades prior to menopause, we lose 0.75 to 1 per cent per year — but in the years following it, bone density (the thickness and strength of the bone) can plummet by as much as 5 per cent per year. This is why the bone-thinning condition osteoporosis – that causes frailty, a high risk of fracture and loss of height — affects one in three women over the age of 50 in the UK.

According to a report in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the most crucial ‘controllable’ factor that affects skeletal health is the amount of bone-loading exercise we do. A study from the University of Cambridge found that only high-impact exercise, like running, reduces the risk of hip fracture — low impact exercise, like walking, had no beneficial effect on bone density. But you don’t have to become a runner to protect your bones.

One study found that 50 jumps a day — taking just a couple of minutes — significantly improved bone density in a group of pre-menopausal women. Any high-impact exercise, such as skipping, aerobics or dancing, is effective, while resistance training is excellent for the bones and joints that aren’t normally weight-bearing (such as the wrists and cervical spine). Weight-supported activities, such as cycling and swimming, have no effect on bone at all, since there is no load.

And if you were wondering whether all that joint pounding is bad for you, read on … Regular exercise through a full range of motion can help maintain joint mobility and function (according to research published in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery). Another study, published in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatism, showed that even something as high impact as running could protect against osteoarthritis by keeping joints and connective tissue strong, mobile and topped up with nutrients.

So there are a few more things to think about next time you’re deciding between your training shoes and your slippers …


Offset osteoporosis through exercise and nutrition

Build up your bone strength through exercise
Osteoporosis literally means ‘porous bones’ and individuals with osteoporosis are at an increased risk of fracture. The hip, spine and wrist are the most common fracture areas and statistics show that after the age of 50, 20 per cent of men and 50 per cent of women will suffer a bone fracture as a result of the disease.
Here’s the realbuzz guide on how to beat osteoporosis through exercise and nutrition.

There are several identifiable risk factors that increase your susceptibility to osteoporosis but equally, there are many positive steps that you can take to offset your chances of becoming a sufferer. Until osteoporosis strikes, most people are completely unaware that they may be susceptible, so read on to check out how you can limit your osteoporosis risk through:

Lifestyle choices
Correct nutrition around exercise
Osteoporosis risk factors

Everyone is potentially at risk of suffering from osteoporosis, because as we age, bone loss occurs. There are also additional risk factors that can add to your susceptibility, including:

Due to falling oestrogen levels through early menopause, early hysterectomy or cessation of periods, bone turnover is reduced. Poor diet and excessive exercise can lead to temporary loss of periods, so nutrition and exercise considerations are important.
Low levels of testosterone can lead to bone loss. This is a less likely occurrence than low oestrogen levels in women, but it has the same effect on bone strength.
Alcohol consumption
A high alcohol intake reduces absorption of vitamin D which is needed to transport calcium (a key mineral for bone strength). Very recent studies have found that low alcohol consumption ( as little as three standard measures of less alcohol per week) may contribute to bone health but further research is needed.

A close family history (parents) of osteoporosis, particularly hip fractures, increases your chances of becoming a sufferer.


Exercise and the menopause

The positive affects of exercise on the menopause
The menopause is clearly a defining moment in the biology of any woman and can lead to unwanted side-effects, including weight gain. However, the menopause doesn’t have to spell an end to your hard-earned fitness. Instead, here’s the guide to exercising through the menopause and beyond.
Despite the huge emotive significance that menopause has in our society – the turning of the corner, the slippery slope towards old age, the passing of femininity… put simply, the menopause is the signal of the end of reproductive potential. There is no longer enough of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone to facilitate or sustain pregnancy.

The average woman reaches menopause at 52-years-old, but the changes associated with the menopause can begin as much as a decade earlier. During this ‘peri-menopause’ stage, levels of the female hormones are depleting, influencing everything from mood to fat distribution, and causing unwelcome affects such as hot flushes.

Symptoms vary widely from woman to woman, but there is a lot of evidence to suggest that regular exercise can soften the experience of the menopause. In a study conducted by the Melpomene Institute in 1997, more than three-quarters of the study participants said that running had had a positive effect on their experience of the menopause. A quarter felt that it had dampened the physical symptoms while more than 30 per cent said it had had emotional and mood benefits. In another study, menopausal women who exercised had fewer concentration problems and less memory loss, while Australian research found that regular workouts reduced the incidence of night sweats and hot flushes.

Weight gain during the menopause

Although heart disease and bone health are the major health concerns for post-menopausal women, many will be more concerned about middle age spread. But is weight gain inevitable?

Many experts believe that it is the reduction in physical activity, along with a decreased metabolism, not attenuated by resistance training, that causes those extra pounds rather than something physiologically related to menopause.

Most of us tend to become increasingly sedentary as we get older – we drive instead of walk, take cabs, eat out and spend our leisure time not dancing till dawn but tucked up on the couch watching television. The resultant decrease in muscle mass slows metabolism down, while cardiovascular fitness declines, making us all the less inclined to get hot and sweaty.

One study found that women aged 42 to 50 gained the same amount of weight over that period whether or not they had been through the menopause, suggesting that lifestyle factors are the culprit in weight gain, rather than the menopause. What is a result of the menopause, however, is the shift in fat storage distribution to the abdominal region


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