Menopause. There’s a word with the power to strike fear into the hearts of women – and their partners – the world over. And if the media is to believed it’s an absolute monster. But that doesn’t need to be the case. There’s actually lots that can be done to make this phase in our lives more manageable and less bleak than it’s often portrayed.
The menopause defined
‘Menopause’ simply refers to a time when a woman’s ovaries stop releasing eggs – usually between the ages of 45 and 55 – and she doesn’t have periods any more. For that you can blame dropping levels of the female hormone oestrogen. Unfortunately, those dipping hormones frequently herald the onset of the dreaded hot flushes, brain fog, depression, weight gain, aches and pains, increased risk of cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis, headaches, irritability and fatigue, not to mention a freefalling sex drive.
A catalogue of challenging symptoms by anyone’s standards. Despite this, it’s important to remember that there is light (and not just an oncoming train) at the end of the tunnel. You’re not alone – about 80% of women experience at least one symptom – but many of these can be managed via a healthy diet and lifestyle changes. These can also protect against long-term health problems, such as cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis (thinning bones), that are associated with falling oestrogen levels.
A smart menopause
For optimum health before, during and after the menopause, try to:
Eat healthily – Have a varied low-sugar, high-fibre diet with plenty of fruit, vegetables and fluids. Maintain bone density with sufficient calcium and vitamin D. To help your heart, swap saturated fat, such as butter, for olive or sunflower oils, eat oily fish at least twice a week, reduce salt and include plenty of wholegrain foods for energy. Add phytoestrogens in to your diet like chickpeas and legumes as they help mop up floating oestrogens and are full of fibre which we need to keep good bowel health. This is especially important in menopause as we need to excrete excess oestrogen. Certain food supplements may also help.
Ditch unhealthy lifestyle habits – Smoking and excessive alcohol can increase the risk of both cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis, while also triggering menopausal symptoms. Limit caffeine and processed foods. It’s also worth being aware of what we put into our bodies in terms of beauty lotions and potions. Also be mindful of cleaning products, candles and plug-in air fresheners with fake smells. They contain xenoestrogens which are hormone disruptors.
Watch your weight – Maintaining a healthy weight can protect against illnesses such as type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. Healthy eating and regular exercise will help. Hip to weight ratio is the best way to keep an eye on weight. Measure your waist at the narrowest point and hips at the widest, divide the waist circumference by the hip circumference to get the waist to hip ratio. A score of 0.8 is ideal in women.
Get plenty of rest – Symptoms such as night sweats and anxiety are real sleep vampires. But having a good sleep hygiene routine can help. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Consider a warm (but not hot) bath before bed. Switch off phones and screens two hours before bed and don’t take devices into the bedroom – the blue light disrupts sleep.
Exercise – At this time of life it’s more about building strength than endurance. Opt for weight-bearing exercise such as brisk walking or dancing, while some gentle weight training is good for bone health. Protect against cardiovascular disease with more vigorous activity that raises your heart rate. Adding yoga and pilates bring the pace down. Exercise also helps alleviate weight gain, sleep problems and hot flushes, and is a great mood-lifter. Try to do it outside if possible. Nature is calming.
Be kind to yourself – A menopausal woman’s body goes through major hormonal changes that are only slightly less cataclysmic than pregnancy – a time when it’s ‘officially’ OK to rest. So, relax, put your feet up, watch TV, go out with a friend, take up a new hobby or do whatever makes you happy. Meditation can also be extremely beneficial.
The advantages of menopause
Yes, there really are advantages, such as:
- No risk of pregnancy – This is a get out of jail card for many and it can be a time to relax and be more adventurous with your partner.
- Greater freedom – While many fifty-somethings still have caring responsibilities these years can also – time and money permitting – offer opportunities for travelling, pursuing a hobby or relaxing with your partner and friends.
- You’re fighting fit – You’ve looked after yourself, exercised and had plenty of me-time. So you’re in tip-top shape to enjoy whatever life has to offer!
- A new direction? – This could be the perfect time for gaining another qualification, switching careers or trying voluntary work. There are thousands of opportunities to put your valuable knowledge, skills and experience to good use.
As a midlife personal trainer and wellness coach, I specialise in helping women safely through all stages of the menopause. In my ‘1:1 Menopause Consultation’ you’ll receive personalised advice and guidance on nutrition, healthy lifestyle habits, sleep, exercise, reducing stress and how to manage your symptoms. And if you book with me before 30th June 2019, it will cost you just £75, instead of £99.