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.


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