No proof yet that stretching really eases menopause symptoms

Stretching for 10 minutes a day can lessen the symptoms of menopause and depression, according to research carried out by the North American Menopause Society.

However, the evidence for the claim does not entirely stand up to scrutiny (see our expert analysis below).

The researchers analysed the effects of light exercise on 40 menopausal women between the ages of 40 and 61. They compared this information with data on the amount of times they experienced hot flushes, chills, aches and sleep disruption.

Twenty of the women were told to stretch for 10 minutes a day before bed for three weeks, and the other 20 were told to do no exercise.

At the beginning of the study, the groups gave generally similar answers in a questionnaire about their mood and menopause symptoms. The women in the stretching group had improved scores on both sets of questions after three weeks, although both groups reported no change in the number of hot flushes.

Dr JoAnn Pinkerton, executive director of the society, said: ‘If women were to exercise with light walking 30 minutes daily and then stretch for 10 minutes, they might improve their health, menopausal symptoms, mood and cognition and, if stretching helps sleep, improve their sleep.

‘It is impossible to tell if the positive effect found from stretching on menopausal and depressive symptoms was due to the stretching, the increased movement, or not doing whatever they normally do during the 10 minutes before bed such as eat, smoke or drink.’

Instant analysis
Unfortunately this study relies on a small number of subjects in a specific group (40 Japanese women aged 40-61 who were asked to stretch for 10 minutes daily before bed). Such a small number of subjects limits the power and generalisability of the results.

Menopausal symptoms were self-reported and as such were subject to a degree of subjectivity, though to the researchers’ credit standardised indices were used (the Simplified Menopausal Index and the Self-Rating Depression Scale) and a degree of randomisation was employed.

However, the study lacked an effective control group — the comparison group was not assigned a task to do before bed and so was not able to report any improvement in their symptoms.

It is also surprising that there was a compliance rate of just 75 per cent in a programme which lasted only three weeks, but there was nonetheless an observed reduction in the severity of symptoms reported using these scales.

This study should ideally be repeated in a larger, more diverse group of postmenopausal women and with a suitably active control group in order to draw useful, meaningful results from the researchers’ observations.
JCH
Research score: 1/5