Ms. Olmstead is the Editorial Director of Contemporary OB/GYN.
Women should not feel that they need to log long hours of vigorous exercise to see any benefits, says a study from Spain.
Overweight and obese postmenopausal women need not be intimidated by customary recommendations for physical activity. A study conducted in Spain and published in the October 2013 issue of the journal Menopause has shown that even low physical activity levels improve vascular function in this group.
Many health organizations now recommend that adults log 2.5 to 5 hours a week of moderate exercise, or 1 to 2.5 hours a week of vigorous exercise, the study authors point out. Physicians may find that older, overweight women who are unaccustomed to exercise consider this an unrealistic expectation.
“Engaging chronically sedentary groups with physical boundaries, such as aging and obesity, into a [physical activity] program is rather difficult,” the authors write. With this in mind they studied the effects of a lower-than-advised level of physical activity on small artery vascular function and oxidative stress in obese and overweight postmenopausal women.
Forty-seven overweight and obese postmenopausal women completed a 4-month program of 1-hour low-intensity physical activity (walking sessions supervised by health care and physical education professionals) for 2 days per week. Before and after the intervention, the women’s physical activity level, endogenous antioxidant status, asymmetrical dimethylarginine concentrations, endothelial function by small artery reactive hyperemia index (saRHI), and resting heart rate (RHR) were assessed.
Increases in physical activity were positively associated with increases in saRHI (r =0.330, P =0.027) and decreases in RHR (r =-0.297, P =0.047). Improvement in antioxidant capacity was also seen.
The researchers noted that limitations to the study included the small sample size and lack of a control group. They also noted that while more research is needed, their study showed improvement in cardiovascular health markers among overweight and obese postmenopausal women engaging in low levels of physical activity.
They recommend that new long-term clinical trials be conducted to establish clinical guidelines on implementing low-intensity physical activity programs in groups with physical limitations.
Merino J, Ferré R, Girona J, et al. Even low physical activity levels improve vascular function in overweight and obese postmenopausal women. Menopause. 2013;20(10):1036–1042.