Background: Evidence suggests that many perimenopausal and early postmenopausal women will experience menopausal symptoms; hot flushes are the most common. Symptoms caused by fluctuating levels of oestrogen may be alleviated by hormone therapy (HT), but a marked global decline in its use has resulted from concerns about the risks and benefits of HT. Consequently, many women are seeking alternatives. As large numbers of women are choosing not to take HT, it is increasingly important to identify evidence-based lifestyle modifications that have the potential to reduce vasomotor menopausal symptoms.
Objectives: To examine the effectiveness of any type of exercise intervention in the management of vasomotor symptoms in symptomatic perimenopausal and postmenopausal women.
Search methods: Searches of the following electronic bibliographic databases were performed to identify randomised controlled trials (RCTs): Cochrane Menstrual Disorders and Subfertility Group Specialised Trials Register, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (Wiley Internet interface), MEDLINE (Ovid), EMBASE (Ovid), PsycINFO (Ovid), the Science Citation Index and the Social Science Citation Index (Web of Science), the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL) (Ovid) and SPORTDiscus. Searches include findings up to 3 March 2014.
Selection criteria: RCTs in which any type of exercise intervention was compared with no treatment/control or other treatments in the management of menopausal vasomotor symptoms in symptomatic perimenopausal/postmenopausal women.
Data collection and analysis: Five studies were deemed eligible for inclusion. Two review authors independently selected the studies, and three review authors independently extracted the data. The primary review outcome was vasomotor symptoms, defined as hot flushes and/or night sweats. We combined data to calculate standardised mean differences (SMDs) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs). Statistical heterogeneity was assessed using the I(2) statistic. We assessed the overall quality of the evidence for main comparisons using GRADE (Grades of Recommendation, Assessment, Development and Evaluation) methods.
Main results: We included five RCTs (733 women) comparing exercise with no active treatment, exercise with yoga and exercise with HT. The evidence was of low quality: Limitations in study design were noted, along with inconsistency and imprecision. In the comparison of exercise versus no active treatment (three studies, n = 454 women), no evidence was found of a difference between groups in frequency or intensity of vasomotor symptoms (SMD -0.10, 95% CI -0.33 to 0.13, three RCTs, 454 women, I(2) = 30%, low-quality evidence). Nor was any evidence found of a difference between groups in the frequency or intensity of vasomotor symptoms when exercise was compared with yoga (SMD -0.03, 95% CI -0.45 to 0.38, two studies, n = 279 women, I(2) = 61%, low-quality evidence). It was not possible to include one of the trials in the meta-analyses; this trial compared three groups: exercise plus soy milk, soy milk only and control; results favoured exercise relative to the comparators, but study numbers were small. One trial compared exercise with HT, and the HT group reported significantly fewer flushes in 24 hours than the exercise group (mean difference 5.8, 95% CI 3.17 to 8.43, 14 participants). None of the trials found evidence of a difference between groups with respect to adverse effects, but data were very scanty.
Authors' conclusions: Evidence was insufficient to show whether exercise is an effective treatment for vasomotor menopausal symptoms. One small study suggested that HT is more effective than exercise. Evidence was insufficient to show the relative effectiveness of exercise when compared with HT or yoga.