Physical activity can help middle-aged women maintain muscle mass as their bodies change

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Researchers are highlighting a link between menopause and a loss of muscle density

While previous studies have highlighted the importance of staying physically active during middle age, a new study explored the extra benefits women can reap from engaging in regular exercise. 

Researchers found that physical activity is key for women in middle age. The study found that exercise is crucial in order to maintain muscle density, which becomes depleted during menopause. 

“We already know that estrogen has a role in the regulation of muscle properties,” said researcher Hanna-Kaarina Juppi. “By following the hormonal status, measuring many aspects of muscles and by taking into consideration the simultaneous chronological aging of women going through menopause transition, we were able to show that the decrease of muscle mass takes place already in early postmenopause.” 

Benefits of physical activity

To better understand how menopause can affect women’s muscle mass, the researchers had over 230 women participate in the study. The group was followed from perimenopause to postmenopause, and their muscle mass was measured at both junctures. The women ranged in age, as menopause affects every woman differently. 

In addition to muscle mass, the researchers also analyzed the women’s hormone levels and assessed their physical activity in two ways: both a self-reporting questionnaire and a wearable device. 

Ultimately, the researchers learned that physical activity was an important factor in helping the women fight off a loss of muscle mass. Findings showed that women lost around one percent of muscle mass during menopause; however, those who remained active during menopause were stronger than those who had more sedentary habits. 

The researchers hope that women apply these findings to their daily lives and begin to incorporate physical activity into their routines. Doing so even in small ways can help in countless ways. 

“The observed change doesn’t seem like much, but what is meaningful is that the decline happens in a short period of time and can have an impact on metabolism, as muscles are important regulators of whole-body metabolism,” said Juppi. 

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