Women’s Health Research Review

Scientists are perpetually uncovering new insights that can help improve the health of women and men. Recent research on six topics central to women’s health have been reviewed. For each issue, a key health question is posed and a recent research article that suggests a proper response is summarized. Each topic closes with a “take-home message” that offers practical guidance and recommendations. The topics are:

  • Stroke and physical activity.
  • Breast cancer prevention.
  • Metabolic syndrome and occupational physical activity.
  • Physical activity during pregnancy and post-partum.
  • Weight gain during menopause.
  • Adherence to strength-training programs.

What role does physical activity play in reducing women’s risk of stroke?

A study published in Stroke defined stroke as a decrease of blood flow to the brain, depriving it of oxygen and nutrients. A major threat to women and men, stroke is the third-leading cause of disability and health in the United States. Fortunately, exercise can be an effective defense against stroke. According to researchers, physical activity reduces the risk of stroke by 25%-30%.

The research team investigated the risk of stroke in healthy women who were ? 45 years of age at baseline. They assessed whether the occurrence of stroke was related to physical activity or other variables such as diet, history of hypertension or elevated cholesterol levels.

Researchers concluded that fast-paced walking on a regular basis significantly reduces the risk of stroke. The most active women in this study were seventeen percent less likely to have a stroke than the least active women. The study also found that women who walked two or more hours a week at a risk pace had a thirty percent lower change of having a stroke.

The take-home message is daily physical activity that progressively develops into a brisk (somewhat difficult) intensity yields the greatest protection from stroke.

Can lifestyle changes prevent breast cancer?

Critical Reviews in Oncology/Hematology reported that breast cancer is a major health risk in women. The two main types are ductile carcinoma (more common type), which occurs in the ducts that allow milk to travel from the breast to the nipple; and lobular carcinoma, which occurs in the lobules, where milk is produced. There appears to be a link between breast cancer protection and healthy lifestyle habits such as proper diet and exercise. According to researchers, a healthy diet (low in saturated and trans fats and low in simple sugars) and consistent moderate to high intensity exercise may aid in the prevention among premenopausal women.

Several studies reviewed suggested that early intervention (between ages 3-5) of these actions could be very meaningful. It was found that excess weight and obesity are very related to breast cancer and suggested patients should strive to attain a healthy BMI (<25 kg/m2). In addition, alcohol intake (?7 alcoholic beverages a week) is associated with increased risk of breast cancer.

Authors explained that dietary and activity lifestyle interventions modify breast cancer risk through their varying effects on hormone metabolism. Authors recommend that women engage in 3-5 hours of moderate-intensity exercise each week.

The take-home message is physical activity helps reduce the risk of breast cancer. Unfortunately, a great majority of women are quite sedentary in their daily lives. Children and teens are no exception to this goal. Research suggests that the benefits of living a healthy, physically active lifestyle in childhood carry through to adulthood.

Does physical activity on the job reduce risk of metabolic syndrome in women?

In a study reported in Journal of Physical Activity & Health stated that physical activity plays a major role in the prevention of metabolic syndrome, which is becoming increasingly prevalent in women. To be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, a women must have three or more of the following risk factors:

  • Hypertension (?130/85 or on blood pressure-lowering medicine).
  • High blood triglycerides (?150mg/dL).
  • High fasting glucose (?100mg/dL).
  • Above-normal waist circumference (>35 inches).
  • Low HDL cholesterol (?5mg/dL).

The study found that occupational physical activity may help decrease the risk of metabolic syndrome in working women. Study results found that women in moderate to heavy working occupations such as a waitress or landscaper may acquire enough physical activity to ward off metabolic syndrome. Also, the more active women are during their leisure time, the less likely they are to have metabolic syndrome. By contrast, the least-active women who also have sedentary jobs are the most likely to have metabolic syndrome.

The take-home message is that in today’s technological society, most working women’s jobs involve sustained sitting at a computer. Thus, leisure-time physical activity is essential in reducing the risk of metabolic syndrome.

How much exercise is recommended before and after childbirth?

According to the Australian Journal of Primary Health, the old-school thinking was that exercise during pregnancy put the mother and unborn babies at risk. Many studies, however, have shown that exercise has profound benefits for the mother and the fetus. It is highly recommended that women get 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on most, if not all days before, during and after pregnancy. Benefits include weight management, prevention of gestational diabetes mellitus, better physiological readiness for the demands of childbirth, and the energy and ability to properly care for a newborn baby. Alas, in spite of these benefits, seventy-two percent of survey respondents said their healthcare provider had not provided guidance on the benefits of engaging in moderate physical activity.

The take-home message is that exercise during and after pregnancy may be decisive in the prevention or management of gestational diabetes mellitus and type 2 diabetes as well as other ailments.

Stay tuned for next month’s NewsShaper on more Women’s Health Research Reviews.

Resource: IDEA Fitness Journal

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