Background: Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common endocrine disorder, affecting 8-12% of women. Lifestyle modification, including increased physical activity, is the first-line approach in managing PCOS. A systematic review was performed to identify and describe the effect of exercise as an independent intervention on clinical outcomes in PCOS.
Methods: Five databases were searched with no time limit. A pre-specified definition of PCOS was not used. Studies were included if exercise therapy (aerobic and/or resistance) could be evaluated as an independent treatment against a comparison group. Outcomes measured included cardiovascular risk factors [insulin resistance (IR), lipid profiles, blood pressure and weight] and reproductive measures (ovulation, menstrual regularity and fertility outcomes). Quality analysis was performed based on the Cochrane Handbook of Systematic Reviews and the Quality of Reporting of Meta-Analyses checklist.
Results: Eight manuscripts were identified (five randomized controlled trials and three cohort studies). All studies involved moderate intensity physical activity and most were of either 12 or 24 weeks duration with frequency and duration of exercise sessions ranging between studies. The most consistent improvements included improved ovulation, reduced IR (9-30%) and weight loss (4.5-10%). Improvements were not dependant on the type of exercise, frequency or length of exercise sessions.
Conclusions: Exercise-specific interventions in PCOS are limited. Studies vary considerably in design, intensity and outcome measures; therefore conclusive results remain elusive. Larger, optimally designed studies are needed to both gain insights into the mechanisms of exercise action and to evaluate the public health impact of exercise of PCOS.