Media Releases

Significant amounts of strenuous activity before menopause may lead to poorer cognitive performance, finds University of Toronto researcher

January 17, 2011

TORONTO, ON – The amount and intensity of exercise that a woman engages in during her lifetime could affect her mental acuity later in life, according to a U of T family medicine researcher.

Dr. Mary Tierney, a Professor and Research Scholar in the Department of Family and Community Medicine and Director of the Geriatric Research Unit at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, and has found a link between the lifelong intensity of a women’s physical activity before menopause and her cognitive performance after menopause. The study was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease in December 2010.

Scientists know that strenuous physical activity affects sex hormone levels; menstruation in elite female athletes tends to first occur later than their moderately active peers. It’s also known that women who have lower levels of estrogen throughout their lives before menopause experience more cognitive impairment after menopause.

Dr. Tierney says “It may be that pre-menopausal women who engage in greater amounts of strenuous activity are more likely to experience a reduction in their levels of estrogen which in turn has a negative effect on cognition in later life. We also found that the higher the amount of moderate activity in which the women engaged, the better their cognitive performance after menopause. Greater amounts of moderate activity, unlike strenuous activity, enhance brain functioning.”

In this study moderate and strenuous activities were measured by the Metabolic Equivalency Task (MET) classification. Walking is considered moderate while running is strenuous. Other moderate activities include yoga, dancing, water aerobics and bicycling. Judo, mountain climbing, tennis, swimming laps and circuit training are classified as strenuous.

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For more information, a copy of the journal article and to arrange an interview with Dr. Mary Tierney, please contact:

Danielle Simpson
Communications Coordinator
Department of Family and Community Medicine
University of Toronto
416-978-8793
danielle.simpson@utoronto.ca