Marilyn Graham was 56 when she signed up for a gruelling hour of cycling each morning for 12 weeks.
She was occasionally decked out in a mask, a heart monitor and a bag of intravenous fluid and subjected to needle pricks to obtain blood samples. "I was probably the biggest whiner of the group, complaining loudly about the seats and how my butt hurt," said Graham, who writes software for business units on the University of California-Berkeley (UC-B).
"It was really intense, and on some days my legs felt like wet noodles. On a cranky day I'd say, 'Let me off this stupid bike!'" But once the training "kicked in", she said, "I was feeling good. I had energy left over at the end of the day, less mental sluggishness. And I dropped two dress sizes without any weight loss."
Graham's experience was typical of the healthy but sedentary women, averaging 55 years of age, who participated in a 2006 study of endurance training in 50-plus women. UC-B researchers report that postmenopausal women can achieve the same health benefits from regular, vigorous exercise as younger women do.
"There is some good news here for older women in the population, in that they respond much like younger women do to training," said study leader and exercise physiologist George Brooks, UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology.
"There have been very few studies looking at postmenopausal women, who are different because of decreased oestrogen, decreased lean body mass and decreased aerobic capacity," said Zinta Zarins of UC Berkeley, who conducted the experiments.
Although the endurance training involved cycling for an hour, five days a week, at 65 percent of maximum lung capacity, the researchers noted that even less strenuous aerobic exercise would likely produce some benefit. said an UC-B release.
"Most people don't exercise at this level, but some exercise is better than none at all," Zarins said, noting that 60 minutes of jogging on a treadmill or swimming should be as effective as an hour on a stationary bike.