As women go through menopause, they may see a decline in their ability to carry out routine tasks such as climbing stairs and carrying heavy things, according to a U.S. study. Exactly why is not clear, though extra weight and depression symptoms seemed to account for some of the link, said researchers whose findings were published in the journal Menopause. “There is definitely a connection between menopause and the physical limitations women perceive themselves as having,” said lead researcher Lisa Tseng, a medical student at the University of Pittsburgh. Tseng said her findings suggest that the physiological changes of menopause play a role. A woman’s body composition tends to change with an increase in fat and decrease in muscle mass. With a decline in estrogen, bone mass dips as well. Men also lose muscle mass and strength as they age, but studies have found that reductions in the strength of women strength seems to speed up around menopause.The study surveyed more than 2,200 U.S. women in their 40s and 50s. Overall, three-quarters of postmenopausal women had at least moderate physical limitations, whether in the ability to exercise or to accomplish routine tasks. In contrast, only 10 percent of pre-menopausal women said the same thing.Even when Tseng’s team factored in age, weight and health conditions like arthritis, depression and diabetes, menopause itself was still linked to a three-fold increase in the odds of physical limitations.
According to Timothy Church, a researcher at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, both men and women lose muscle mass — typically at a rate of 1 to 2 percent per year — after age 50. At the same time, studies show, they become less active. No one is sure whether the muscle loss or the inactivity typically comes first, but studies show that when postmenopausal women — and older men — get regular exercise, their physical health and mental well-being often improve.Church and his colleagues have found in their own research that even when women are overweight and sedentary, starting an exercise routine can improve their fitness levels, blood vessel function and sleep quality.