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Estrogen and Activity

When people think of estrogen, they think about “female issues” (I sigh as I type that phrase) that influences mood, weight, weight distribution, and anything having to do with female secondary sexual characteristics. The side of estrogen that most people don’t understand is how it affects physical performance and exercise in women, particularly in peri-menopausal, menopausal, and post-menopausal women. The onset of menopause begins when the ovaries slowdown in their estrogen production. And while many women associate menopause with hot flashes, many don’t realize the effects menopause has on weight and body fat. Menopause can cause weight gain and an overall redistribution of body fat. If you are a visual learner, think about it this way: “Prior to menopause, women tend to have more of a ‘pear shape.’ After menopause, women tend to accumulate fat in the abdominal region, assuming the ‘apple shape’ that is more common in overweight men’” (Melanson et al.).


If you’re reading this and are thinking, “Great, there is so much to look forward to after 50!” in a sarcastic tone, I promise you that it not the goal of this post. The goal of this post is to inform you and help you. So, what does all of this talk about estrogen have to do with exercise? Let’s explore a study conducted by Edward L. Melanson, Ph.D., FACSM, and Wendy M. Kohrt, Ph.D., FACSM:

“Sixty-one healthy premenopausal women (average age 35 years) received monthly intramuscular shots for five months to suppress ovarian hormones. In a double-blinded manner, 30 of these women received E2 treatment using a transdermal patch, and the remaining 31 received a placebo patch. Some women in each group were also randomized to perform supervised resistance exercise. Physical activity was measured for one week during each month of the intervention using a waist-worn accelerometer. We compared physical activity levels at month four, which is the time we expected the effects of ovarian hormone suppression to be maximal. Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity tended to be higher in the women who received E2 treatment, and these effects were more pronounced in women who were not participating in the exercise intervention. These findings suggest that E2 helped maintain spontaneous physical activity in women who were not otherwise exercising” (Melanson et al.).


For your convenience, I have italicized the main finding of this study. To summarize the study, 30 women received E2 (estradiol) treatment and 31 women received a placebo. The women who received the hormone estradiol, a hormone similar to estrogen, were much more active than those who received the placebo. In addition, the effects of estrogen made the exercise “more pronounced” in the women who received the hormone treatment (the positive effects of exercise was much more apparent).


Don’t get bummed out from this study… menopause is a natural part of a woman’s life, there is no avoiding it. However, there are some measures that can be taken to reduce the effects that lack of estrogen has on weight gain and fat distribution. First, talk to your doctor if you are perimenopausal or menopausal about what you can do to help with the menopause symptoms. Second, work with a trainer and a nutritionist, if you are able to, to create an exercise and eating regiment that will ensure that you don’t become that apple-shape that the researchers are speaking of. If you can’t work with a nutritionist nor trainer, start exercising and eating right. There are tons of blogs (like this one) that will give you correct, trustworthy, and scientifically-backed information that will help you improve your lifestyle. Finally, if you are not perimenopausal yet, it’s never too early to start bettering your health and fitness. If you get on top of it early, it won’t be as big of an issue later on in life when these hormone changes start to occur. If the idea of incorporating exercise into your life frightens you, start by making one small change per week. For example, get up and walk for 20 minutes in the morning or walk your dog instead of letting him roam in the yard. A bunch of small changes will make an incredible difference.

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