Centre for Neuroscience and Cell Biology (CNC) and the European Project FOIE GRAS, coordinated by CNC, have been working closely with the organizing team of the European University Games 2018 in order to promote exercise practice and healthy living.
As part of this EUG2018-CNC partnership, the CNC researchers and the FOIE GRAS ESRs have written a series of chronicles that build upon the benefits of exercise practice on health.
These chronicles result from the collaboration between the Center for Neuroscience and Cell Biology (CNC) of the University of Coimbra, the European Advanced Training Network FOIE GRAS (http://www.projectfoiegras.eu), the Erasmus+ Program and the Academic Sports Federation University (FADU) in the scope of the European University Games Coimbra 2018.
These illustrated chronicles will be published in Portuguese at the local newspaper Diário de Coimbra and you can read here the English version on our website.
Exercise practice as a natural beneficial therapy for menopause
Throughout our life, the organism is controlled by hormones, natural substances produced by our endocrine system. Amongst the different hormones, we have sex hormones, those that define male and female secondary sex characteristics, such enlarged breast and widened hips in females, facial hair and Adam’s apple in male and pubic hair in both. Mostly produced by the ovaries, estrogens and progesterone are the female sex hormones that, besides defining the secondary sexual traits, also help regulate the function of many cells in our body, for instance cardiac cells, neurons and the cells in charge of regulating bone remodeling processes. That is why, when the levels of these hormones decrease, women become more susceptible to some pathologies such as cardiovascular diseases, Alzheimer’s Disease and osteoporosis.
Even though menopause is part of the natural process of aging, it is one of the most challenge period in women’s life. By definition, menopause is the name given to the last menstruation and represents both the end of the reproductive cycle and the cessation of the production of female sex hormones by the ovaries. Menopause occurs on average at the age of 50, but it can start between ages 45 and 55, depending on individual genetic and lifestyle factors. For example, smoking, an unhealthy diet and some medications promote the appearance of a precocious menopause. There is a wide range of symptoms and physiological alterations that take place during this period, all of them associated to the hormonal alterations that emerge during this life stage. Hot flashes, a sudden rise of in body temperature associated with sweating, atrophy and increased of vaginal pH and accumulation of abdominal fat are the more most common symptoms associated to menopause. Due to the discomfort caused by the hot flashes, associated mood and sleep disorders or depression also emerge. This symptomatology can appear a few years prior to the last menstruation, in the so-called peri-menopause period and can also persist many years post-menopause, but with time, woman’s body starts to adapt to the new conditions and the symptoms become stable. However, due to the low estrogen and progesterone levels, the susceptibility to some pathologies like cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s Disease increases.
To reduce the symptoms associated to menopause, Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), providing estrogen and progesterone, has been used since 1940. Nonetheless, due to its secondary effects, for instance an increased susceptibility to the appearance of breast, ovarian or endometrial cancer, HRT cannot be recommended to all women. For example, HRT is not recommended to women with a family history of breast cancer. These limitations bring about the need to look for alternatives to HRT that can relieve the symptoms and reduce the risk of menopause-associated pathologies.
The practice of moderate intensity exercise under professional surveillance is, as such, considered to be a strategy that helps relieve the symptoms associated to menopause, contributing to women’s well-being and to an active and healthy aging. During exercise practice, our organism releases several hormones that contribute to our well-being by regulating the cellular metabolism. Particularly relevant amongst these hormones, endorphins work as natural analgesics and help relieve pain and regulate emotions. Being released during exercise, these hormones induce the relaxation of the body, bringing a sensation of pleasure and well-being whilst helping to reduce anxiety and stress. Another hormone released during the practice of exercise is the growth hormone, which stimulates the growth of cartilage and bone tissues, reducing the risk of osteoporosis. Catecholamines, such as adrenaline and noradrenaline, are also natural compounds released by our body in response to exercise practice and are responsible for the increment of the metabolic rate, a pace that tends to slow down as we age. Stimulating our metabolism after the menopause is quite important, since it helps to reduce the accumulation of abdominal fat.
In conclusion, exercise practice can be a natural beneficial therapy that regulates the hormonal production of our organism and provides a sensation of well-being that is fundamental for an active and healthy aging.
Author: Vilma Oliveira is a Researcher at the Center for Neuroscience and Cell Biology (CNC), University of Coimbra (UC), in Portugal.
The project: This chronicle results from the collaboration between the Center for Neuroscience and Cell Biology (CNC) of the University of Coimbra, the European Advanced Training Network FOIE GRAS (http://www.projectfoiegras.eu), the Erasmus+ Program and the Academic Sports Federation University (FADU) in the scope of the European University Games Coimbra 2018.
Coordination: Anabela Marisa Azul, João Ramalho-Santos, Mireia Alemany i Pagès, Paulo Oliveira and Sara Varela Amaral
Illustration: Rui Tavares