"This is great support, and another study, showing that being sedentary is not only not good for your health, it is not good for your menopause symptoms," said Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, executive director of the North American Menopause Society and a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Virginia.
Although Pinkerton was not involved in the current study, she selected it for publication in the society's journal, Menopause, where she is an editor.
"That's the current theory," Pinkerton
thinks that exercise is probably having a direct effect on reducing menopause symptoms, it is hard to rule out that other differences in the lifestyle of sedentary women, such as having more children than active women, are not also making their menopause worse.
Although exercise can be beneficial for women of all ages, if you "start when you're in your 40s, you can avoid gaining that 12 to 15 pounds [that women often gain during the menopausal transition] and you can be in better shape and better able to handle the stresses that are thrown at you when you have hormonal changes and menopausal symptoms," Pinkerton
The average age that women go through menopause is 51, but before that, they go through a period called perimenopause, usually starting in their 40s.
During this time, levels of estrogen fluctuate, metabolism changes and muscle can be lost, all of which can conspire to make it easy for women to gain weight and hard for them to lose weight.
Women should aim to get at least 30 minutes of exercise three days a week, Pinkerton
That half-hour could be split up into three 10-minute sessions a day.
"Instead of thinking about how I have to go to the gym for an hour, think about walking more, getting up and moving around," Pinkerton
It is also important to remember that exercise may not necessarily take the place of other treatments for menopausal symptoms.
"Exercise may help you navigate the perimenopausal transition and may decrease the severity of hot flashes and symptoms, but if you have persistent symptoms, talk with a specialist about other options out there," Pinkerton said.
What else can help women during menopause?
Hormone therapy is the gold standard for treating just about all symptoms of menopause, Pinkerton
Women who have severe hot flashes could be candidates, but so could those with milder symptoms, such as mood changes or difficulty sleeping, and those who want to prevent bone loss.
"But not every woman wants to or can take hormone therapy," Pinkerton
Many women and doctors are still worried, she
added, about the Women's Health Initiative study in 2002, which reported that estrogen plus progestin increased the risk of heart disease and breast cancer.
However, updates to this study in the last several years suggest that hormone therapy is safe for treating women in early menopause.
Women who want to avoid hormone therapy could be candidates instead for an antidepressant, such as paroxetine, known as Paxil, Pinkerton
They would generally take a lower dose than for treating depression, and that would be associated with fewer side effects.
The choice in treatment also depends on the types of symptoms women are having.
For those who are struggling with sleep problems, a pain medication such as gabapentin, known as Neurontin, could be a good choice because one of its effects is to induce drowsiness, Pinkerton
For women who want to avoid medication altogether, there is some evidence that cognitive behavioral therapy and hypnosis therapy can be effective.
A 2015 analysis suggested that cognitive behavioral therapy, which focuses on helping people change their thoughts and feelings to be more positive, may help improve mild depression in menopausal women.
These therapies can reduce hot flashes in general because they help women relax, which in turn can help their brains do a better job of controlling temperature perception, Pinkerton