Until now, there’s been some confusion about the causes of early menopause, especially in regard to exercise. Some research has suggested that women who are more physically active are at a lower risk of menopause before 45, while other findings have pointed to the exact opposite conclusion. But a recent study may finally help clear up what actually causes early menopause — and what doesn’t.
The September 2018 study published in Human Reproduction found that exercise is basically unrelated to the risk of early menopause. Researchers analyzed data from more than 107,000 women and saw no link between their amount of physical activity and their risk for this specific issue. Considering that this is the largest study ever to examine the particular question, it's a huge relief to a lot of women who were stressing about whether this factor would ultimately affect their menopause timing.
"Our study provides considerable information in helping us understand the relationship between activity and timing of menopause; this is because of its size, its focus on early menopause specifically, and because of its prospective design, which limited the likelihood of bias and allowed us to look at physical activity at different time periods,” said research director Elizabeth Bertone-Johnson, ScD, in a press release. "Several previous well-designed studies have found suggestions that more physical activity is associated with older age at menopause, but even in those studies the size of the effect was very small. Our results, in conjunction with other studies, provides substantial evidence that physical activity is not importantly associated with early menopause."
But this begs the question: What does cause early menopause, if not exercise or physical activity? Researchers who worked on this study say they’re still investigating other potential causes of early menopause, but their work has pointed to a couple of distinct possibilities.
”Our work has suggested that environmental factors are associated with early menopause,” said Dr. Bertone-Johnson. “We found higher intake of calcium and vitamin D from dairy foods to be associated with lower risk. Higher intake of vegetable protein was associated with lower risk as well, though animal protein was not. Cigarette smoking is associated with higher risk, as is being underweight. We are currently investigating other factors as well."
If you suspect you may be undergoing early menopause, talk to your doctor about your options.