How menopause affects the bodies of athletic women

How the bodies of female athletes change as they age. (Washington Post)

Hey, active women of a certain age: The good news is that you are probably going to weather menopause better than your sofa-bound sisters. The bad news is that "the change of life" doesn't just affect your mood and your lady parts - it also drags down your race times.

Menopause is when the monthly waves of estrogen and other hormones that women have been surfing since puberty finally ebb for good. Periods cease, of course. But all kinds of other biological processes change as well, including some that affect athletic performance.

Combine that with other age-related decline, and you find that your body is a different machine from the one that glided through your 20s and 30s. You're still an athlete, you just have to figure out your new normal.

"Just because you hit a certain age, your body doesn't stop," said Stacy T. Sims, a nutrition scientist and physiologist in New Zealand who has studied women's performance for 25 years. "The fitter you are, the less of a problem these are. When you are competing, that's when you really feel them, because you are, like, 'What is going on?' But when you're a general woman and you're keeping fit, then all these things are" easier to handle.

But what if you're not very fit right now?

"It is definitely not too late - that's the greatest thing about this," said Monica Serra, a research scientist at the VA Maryland Health Care System who has written about post-menopausal competitive athletes. "If you start exercising, you can build your bone mass, you can build your lean mass, you can lose the fat mass, you can improve the quality of your muscle. . . . Research says people who exercise have a better quality of life."

The accompanying graphic shows the major changes that occur as female athletes age. They sound bad, but don't worry: As you'll read in the graphic, there's always a "but . . . ."


(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Bonnie Snyder Berkowitz



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