Menopausal women who practice yoga may experience more relief from symptoms like night sweats and hot flashes than their peers who do not do this type of exercise, according to a review published in the journal Maturitas .
Women go through menopause when they stop menstruating, which usually occurs between ages 45 and 55. As the ovaries curb production of the hormones estrogen and progesterone in the years leading up to menopause and afterward, women can experience symptoms ranging from vaginal dryness to mood swings , joint pain, and insomnia.
The study team examined data on 1,306 women in 13 different trials that randomly assigned some participants to practice yoga and others to get no treatment or to try some intervention such as health education or other forms of exercise. All of the women suffered from menopause symptoms at the beginning.
The median cohort size was 54 (range, 30 to 355). The small trials ranged in length from 4 to 16 weeks and had women practice yoga or other interventions anywhere from 1 to 14 times weekly. Women who did yoga in the trials tried a variety of different forms, including hatha yoga that focuses on breathing and meditation and Iyengar yoga, which concentrates on body alignment.
"There were already clear hints from earlier studies that yoga might be good for relieving menopause-related psychological symptoms such as mood swings, depression or sleep problems," said lead author Holger Cramer, research director at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany .
"Based on the new data, yoga can also effectively relieve physical symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, fatigue or bladder problems," Cramer said. "This indicates a potentially beneficial effect of yoga for all women with menopausal symptoms."
The results offer fresh evidence of the potential for yoga to help with menopause symptoms, said Dr. James Stahl of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and Geisel School of Medicine Lebanon, New Hampshire.
"All of the mind-body tools, yoga, acupuncture, qi gong, and meditation probably work through multiple mechanisms – through remodeling how the mind-body perceives sensations and signals, how the mind-body responds to those stimuli and finally through helping set or reset the mind-body's steady state, "Stahl added.
Because yoga is a relatively low-risk physical activity that can be easily adapted to different fitness levels, patients should consider it for symptom relief, said Dr. Rachael Polis, a researcher at Crozer-Keystone Health System headquartered in Springfield, Pennsylvania.
Yoga is relatively low-impact, inexpensive, can be practiced anywhere, and anytime. "For this reason, it's a great early intervention for patients to attempt," Polis said. "I do recommend someone new to yoga take classes with a well-trained instructor who can teach correct body alignment and suggest posture modifications when needed."