Researchers from the University of Granada in Spain found that the number of women suffering severe symptoms fell by a quarter after they took part in a 12-month supervised exercise programme, while problems increased among women who didn't exercise.
Fifty per cent of the 24-strong exercise group had severe symptoms at the start of the programme compared with 37 per cent at the end. 58 per cent of the 24 women in the non-exercise group reported problems at the start of the study and this rose to 67 per cent over the same period.
"The group that improved took part in three hours of fully supervised exercise a week for 12 months" explains lead researcher Professor Carmen Villaverde-Gutierrez. "This comprised cardio respiratory, stretching, muscle-strengthening and relaxation exercises.
"As well as monitoring severe symptoms, we also looked at the women's quality of life and found that the average scores for the exercise group improved while those for the control group decreased."
For example, at the start of the study the exercise group averaged 2.80 on a specialist social well-being scale and the control group average 2.86. By the end of the study the exercise group has risen to 2.91 but the control group had fallen considerably to 2.16.
The exercise group also increased their average scores on scales measuring physical and psychological functioning and positive state of mind, with the control group showing reduced averages.
Women taking part in the study were recruited from a health centre near Grenada following a thorough health assessment by both a doctor and nurse. The 48 women, who had an average age of just over 60, were randomly assigned to the exercise and control groups.