Research in fitness and sports for women
In recent years, leaders in the field of women’s medical issues have complained that too many researchers focused on men as the subjects of their research – forgetting to take into account that women’s brains and bodies often process and react to medications differently from men’s. Now come new research results that are especially important for women who are interested in health and fitness.
While research has suggested that regular physical exercise reduces women’s risk of breast cancer, until recently, research has not indicated just how much exercise women should do to benefit from this unique protection or which type of breast cancer is influenced by physical activity.
In May 2008, researchers in Germany completed a six-year long look at breast cancer and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in a follow-up on U.S. (Women’s Health Initiative) and United Kingdom (Million Women) studies. They found that women who have taken menopausal hormone therapy before have a 37 percent higher risk of breast cancer than women who have never taken HRT.
The risk of breast cancer is elevated by 73 percent during the actual time of HRT use. However, the good news is that within five years after cessation of therapy the risk of breast cancer in former HRT users falls back to the level of women who never used HRT. These results also confirm the findings of the Women’s Health Initiative Study and the Million Women Study.
For women committed to health and fitness, the German study also provides other significant news. Results showed that the risk of developing breast cancer after menopause was lower by about one-third in the physically more active control participations compared to women who had generally taken little physical exercise – and it was not necessary to work out hard at the gym.
The women in the physically most active group walked for two hours every day and cycled for one hour, while the most inactive study participants walked for only about 30 minutes every day. The researchers concluded that physical activity in the postmenopausal period is particularly beneficial for reducing breast cancer.
The study found that physically active women are less frequently affected by tumors that form receptors for estrogen and progesterone – the two female sexual hormones. These malignant “hormone receptor positive tumors” represent 62.5 percent of breast cancers among the study participants.
As a result, researchers believe that physical exercise reduces the risk of cancer through hormonal mechanisms instead of merely by reducing body fat or other changes in physical constitution – as had previously been assumed. The researchers even considered activities including gardening, cycling or walking to stores rather than simply driving great choices for physical exercise.
“Our advice to all women is to stay or become physically active also in the second half of your life. You will not only reduce your risk of breast cancer, but it has been proven that your bones, heart and brain also benefit from it,” says Associate Profession Dr. Karen Steindorf of the German Cancer Research Center, who analyzed the study results.
As women age – something that’s going to happen to all of us, being physically fit helps us stay at the top of our cognitive/thinking/intellectual game by benefiting blood flow in the brain.
Marc Poulin, Ph.D, Senior Scholar at the Alberta (Canada) Heritage Foundation for Medical Research reported in January 2009, said that “Being sedentary is now considered a risk factor for stroke and dementia.” Poulin’s research shows for the first time that women who are fit have better blood flow in the brain and this translates into improved cognition (thinking).
Poulin looked at a random sample of 42 women – average age 65 years old – and compared two groups: women who took part in regular aerobic activity and women who were inactive. He recorded and monitored their cardiovascular health, resting brain blood flow and the reserve capacity of blood vessels in the brain, as well as their cognitive functioning.
The active group had lower (10 percent) resting and exercising arterial blood pressure, higher (5 percent) vascular responses in the brain during sub maximal exercise and when the levels of carbon dioxide in the blood were elevated, and higher (10 percent) cognitive function scores.
“The take home message from our research is that basic fitness – something as simple as getting out for a walk every day – is critical to staying mentally sharp and remaining healthy as we age,” says Poulin, a member of the Department of Physiology and Biophysics in the Faculties of Medicine and Kinesiology at the University of Calgary. So-get out there, no matter what your age, and be active-your life depends on it!