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Menopause Peer-Support Groups, Strength Training Enhance Health for Older Women

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WebMD Health News

Sept. 29, 1999 (New York) -- Many women go through menopause with trepidation, seeing it as a time of loss, unwelcome physiologic changes, and general feelings of anxiety. Peer-support groups and strength training can help women make a positive transition through menopause and later life, according to new research presented at the 10th Annual Meeting of the North American Menopause Society. Not only do women reap benefits in terms of improved coping with symptoms around menopause, but they also see long-term benefits in their self-esteem and physical health, the studies suggest.

The Mind/Body Center for Women's Health at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston has pioneered menopause peer-support groups. These groups help women with bothersome symptoms, such as insomnia, mood swings, hot flashes, generalized anxiety, and fears about what menopause is doing to their bodies. Leslee Kagan, nurse practitioner and co-director of the perimenopause/menopause group at the Mind/Body Center for Women's Health, tells WebMD that the program is designed to teach women "self-nurturance."

In a 10-week session, a small group of women meet to discuss what they are going through. Women are taught a range of techniques that aim to change their perspective on menopause and help them appreciate that they are "transitioning into a different phase of their life," says Kagan. A key part of the program involves teaching women to practice the relaxation response. Women take tapes home to learn how to do it, and "we recommend that they practice it for 15 minutes twice a day," says Kagan. The relaxation response was pioneered by Mind/Body Medical Institute founder Herbert Benson, MD.

Yet Kagan emphasized that the program uses many other modalities, such as group support, behavioral techniques, exercise, time management, and stress management. "Using cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, women think more positively and get past worries such as, 'I am getting old, I am getting fat, my reproductive years are over,'" said Kagan.

Kathy Castagna participated in the program when she was faced with "terrible insomnia and a generalized feeling of anxiety" as she approached menopause. "I was in such bad shape that I was desperate," she tells WebMD. "Someone told me about the program and my insurer covered it. ... The relaxation response really helped me to get control and the group dynamics were a big help," says Castagna. She credits the program with making a major change in her mood and general well-being.

In two other papers, researchers from Tufts University in Medford, Mass., and Oregon State University in Corvallis reported gains in muscle and balance with progressive strength training. Tufts University's Miriam E. Nelson, PhD, author of the book Strong Women Stay Young, described a strength training program that can be done at home by both healthy and frail women to strengthen their muscle and prevent falls.

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