Manoa, HAWAII - A new medical study sheds more light on menopause. It studied the age women were when they started this hormonal shift, and how that affected their health in later years. 

Staying fit is a key part of aging well for people of all ages, but a new study finds it's especially important for women.

University of Hawaii Office of Public Health Studies associate professor Catherine M. Pirkle, PhD says, "If you come into older age in better shape, with more muscle, and better cardiovascular health, that just helps you through the aging process. For women, this is critical. Often, we're told don't build muscle." She's extensively studied the subject.

Dr. Pirkle is part of an international team that tracked nearly 10,000 women in Canada. She says women in high-income nations like Canada and the US start menopause at around age 50 to 52. The study says women who started it in their 40s or even late 30s were weaker and had more health issues as they aged. "When we have menopause, we see estrogen decline, and that puts us at risk for things like osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease," she explains. 

That's why, she says, women need to build their bone density and muscle mass before menopause. "You want to have later ages at menopause, and you can help yourself to have later ages at menopause by doing things like not smoking, maintaining a healthy body weight," she adds.

Doctors say the age at which women start menopause varies, based on genetics but also on lifestyle. So, women can put off menopause just a little longer by doing something as simple as taking a brisk 30-minute walk every day.

If you've already entered or completed this phase of life, there's still something you can do. Dr. Shandhini Raidoo, a women's health provider and clinical instructor at UH JABSOM's Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, advises, "I don't think it's ever too late to change your lifestyle to try to be healthier."

Even if you never work out, Dr. Raidoo says start small. "Taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Walking a few blocks instead of driving," she urges.

And lift weights. It can still help with osteoporosis and bone health, which can happen even after menopause. Adjustments now - to make life easier before or after that period of life known as 'The Change.'