THE CLINIC: Is Menopause to Blame for Compromised Running Performance?

Thu, 13 Sept. 2012 - 8:47 p.m. MT
Credit: ARA Staff - American Running Association

QUESTION:

Have there been any studies on the effects of menopause and running? 

I started having hot flashes when I was 40. Previous to that, I loved 

running in hot weather; the hotter the better. But after that, when 

it was hot and the stress of being on the starting line would bring 

on a hot flash, I really wilted because I had no way to dissipate the 

heat. My race times suffered. Now, some of my younger friends are 

starting and wondering if there's something they should do or could 

do. Does running help you through menopause? Make the symptoms worse? 

Are there any supplements or nutritional changes that would help? What about soy products?

 

Vera Abercrombie

Meadville, PA

 

ANSWER:

This question has been examined in a number of studies over the years. The overall consensus is that age, not menopause, is largely responsible for the changes seen in running endurance and speed. That being said, some of the symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes and sleep deprivation, can impact running performance. A 1997 study published in Runner's World offered the following conclusions: 

 

  •  More women in this sample perceive changes in their running to be related to age than to menopause. 

 

  •  The most common change in running for women of menopausal age was a decrease in training pace. 

 

  •  Most women reported that running affects menopause in a positive way, despite negative changes in running. 

 

  •  The women runners in this sample reported being postmenopausal at an age earlier than the national average. 

 

  •  More participants use HRT than the national average. 

 

  •  The midlife women reported more negative than positive changes affecting their running. 

 

  •  Weight maintenance was reported by those women who run the fastest and the most miles. 

 

  • Weight gain was fairly typical for women in this sample, even with regular exercise. 

 

  • The women in this sample continue to run and compete well beyond menopause. 

 

I generally agree with these, as this is consistent with what I have seen in my own practice. Menopause and its symptoms are tremendously varied and each individual is affected differently. Interestingly, most studies indicate that running is a wonderful treatment for menopausal symptoms, as exercise has been shown to dramatically reduce hot flashes and mood changes. My guess is that your symptoms may be even worse without your running...so keep it up! 

 

Ron Eaker, MD

Augusta, GA

 

ANSWER:

Menopause has not been related in severity of symptoms or the timing of its onset

to running. Certain specific considerations include, has the runner stopped having

periods for more than six months, and has she had her thyroid checked?

Soy supplements have not been shown to help hot flashes. As long as other

risk factors are not present (smoking, stroke, heart disease), it

can be very beneficial to use short-term hormone replacement therapy (HRT) at as

low a dose as possible to alleviate the symptoms. 

 

Hot flashes are probably worse or more common in runners with a leaner body

and lower BMI. This is because adipose tissue (fat) is a source of estrogen

production in larger women.

 

Lynn Pitson

Salisbury, NC

DISCLAIMER: The medical information on this site is provided as an information resource only and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. This information is not intended to be patient education, does not create any patient-physician relationship, and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment. Please consult your health care provider before making any healthcare decisions or for guidance about a specific medical condition.

The American Running Association (ARA) and its Clinic Advisory Board disclaims responsibility and shall have no liability for any consequences suffered as a result of your reliance on the information contained in this site. ARA does not endorse specifically any test, treatment, or procedure mentioned on this site.

(RUNNING & FITNEWS® July / August 2009 • Volume 27, Number 4)



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