Exercise before menopause to develop muscle strength
The small blood vessels in muscles of women after menopause are less able to grow compared to young women, according to new research published in The Journal of Physiology. This means exercising before menopause is all the more important for women in order to develop blood vessels in muscles, and thus the ability to develop muscle strength.
Recent studies have shown that there are some substantial differences in the way the blood vessels, which influences susceptibility to conditions like heart disease and stroke, are affected by ageing and physical activity between women and men — a difference which to a large extent is related to the female sex hormone, oestrogen. Oestrogen is protective of the heart and blood vessels in women for about half of their lives, but at menopause there is an abrupt permanent loss of oestrogen, leading to a decline in the health of blood vessels.
Researchers from the University of Copenhagen set out to examine the smallest of blood vessels in muscle, called capillaries — the number of which can change depending on how much the muscle is used, such as during exercise. Capillaries in skeletal muscle (as opposed to heart muscle) are very important for skeletal muscle function, physical capacity and health as it is here that oxygen and nutrients, such as sugar and fats, are taken up into muscle when needed. Loss of capillaries in muscle can affect insulin sensitivity and thereby the development of type 2 diabetes.
The researchers studied both older (over 60 years old) and younger (around 25 years old) women, obtaining skeletal muscle samples from their thigh muscles which were used to isolate blood vessel cells and muscle cells for further detailed study in the lab. The older women also conducted eight weeks of cycling training at moderate to high intensity. After the training period samples were again obtained from the thigh muscle and used for analysis of capillary number and specific proteins.
The study found that when the aged women completed a period of aerobic exercise training by cycling, they did not achieve an increase in the number of capillaries in muscle. And while ageing is known to lead to a loss of capillaries in the muscle, such an effect has been shown to be counteracted in men by undertaking a physically active lifestyle. This new study suggests that women do not attain capillary growth as readily and that an underlying cause may be a flaw in the cells that make up capillaries.
The researchers acknowledge that both men and women will benefit from being physically active throughout life, regardless of age. Nevertheless, the current study supports the idea that women may benefit from being physically active before menopause, while they still have oestrogen, so that they have a good physical starting point as they get older.
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