From a friendly game of football to stepping out with a walking group, we all know exercise is good for our health. Now, University of Southern Queensland researchers are going a step further, examining whether playing sport can protect menopausal women against mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety.

Principal investigator Professor Andrea Lamont-Mills said team sport and group-based physical activity could provide a strong sense of connectedness and belonging, which were both key suicide protective factors. “Despite what we think, young women are not the most at-risk age group for taking their own lives,” Professor Lamont-Mills said.

“It is midlife women aged 40-59 who are at the highest risk of suicide, which is also around the age when most women start to experience symptoms of menopause.” Professor Lamont-Mills said this was the first research program to investigate the relationship between sport and suicidal behaviour with a focus on older women athletes, particularly menopausal women.

“We are interested in how women’s mental health may be influenced by going through menopause and whether participation in sport may be psychologically beneficial for menopausal women,” she said. “The outcomes from this research could be used to support the development of cost-effective, targeted sport programs for menopausal women which aim to reduce rates of suicide and depression.

“We need to start by better understanding why women aged 40-59 are more at risk of taking their own lives and whether menopause may play a part. Then look at whether sport can positively influence women’s feelings of social connectedness and mental health in this age group.” University of Southern Queensland researchers are looking for women aged 35-65 to take part in the study by completing an online survey. Women who participate and do not participate in sport are needed.

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