Menopause marks the natural end of reproductive years when a woman has had no period for 12 consecutive months. The average age of menopause is the early 50s. Perimenopause is the transition period leading up to menopause. Usually, it occurs in women in their mid-to-late 40s (sometimes as early as their 30s). Perimenopause can last from 2-10 years.
Here’s just 5 things I learnt about Menopause and Perimenopause, from attending a workshop by Dr Wendy Sweet.
1. Women transition into menopause earlier than people might think
The average age of menopause is around 51 years but the years preceding menopause encompass a transition from normal menstruation to cessation. This is termed the peri-menopausal years and are generally characterised by irregular periods.
On average, in non-surgical menopause, peri-menopause begins around the late forties and may last up to four years.
With this transition comes a whole heap of symptoms…. and because women are possibly a little unaware of this ‘transition phase’, these symptoms can be met with much confusion and frustration. Which leads me onto point 2.
2. Women can develop all sorts of symptoms
Women can develop all sorts of symptoms that they don’t necessarily think are to do with menopause:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Putting on weight (especially belly fat)
- Aching muscles and joints
- Palpitations (heart beating quickly and out of control)
- Feeling tired when wake up (lacking energy)
- Feeling anxious or nervous
- Afraid to exercise because urine leaks
- Skin dryness (changes in texture, appearance and tone)
- Putting on weight
- Frozen shoulder
- Night sweats
Then there is ‘invisible symptoms’ that appear in bloodwork. Symptoms like:
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- High blood fats (high triglycerides)
- High low-density cholesterol (LDL-C)
- High Inflammatory Markers (C-Reactive Protein)
- Low Ferritin (stored iron)
- Low Vitamin-D
- Altered Thyroid and Adrenal hormones.
Symptoms are different for different women. For example, some women put on belly fat, and some women don’t. For those that do, it can mean they are ‘oestrogen dominant’, and despite exercise and healthy eating, belly fat can continue to increase.
Why do all these sorts of symptoms happen? Because all of the hormonal signals in the body are connected. Which leads onto point 3.
3. There’s more to it than a decrease in oestrogen
Our body chemistry is really sensitive to any hormones that are changing. When we go into peri-menopause and menopause other hormones kick-in to try to stabilise and re-address the imbalance. I won’t delve into the nitty gritty science of hormones here – they key point here is that when one hormone is low (e.g. oestrogen), this impacts on other hormones too. Which leads me to point 4.
4. Aspects of our lifestyle can impact on symptom severity, and in turn, our health
Our bodies are built for survival. So when our hormones go through changes, our body naturally tries to balance out those changes (ie. our body attempts to maintain ‘homeostasis’). This means that during peri-menopause and menopause our body is working pretty hard to maintain a balance. Changing aspects of our lifestyle can help bring balance back into our hormones.
If we don’t change our lifestyle to accommodate our changing hormonal environment we can experience symptom chaos. If we can work with our changing mid-life hormones, then symptoms can improve (and health can improve for the better).
What lifestyle choices do we need to consider?
- Create better sleep habits – sleep problems are one of the most common perimenopause symptoms. To improve your sleep get your nighttime routine right and create your sleep sanctuary
- Reduce stress / Embrace stress management techniques – when you find yourself struggling mentally or emotionally, consider things like meditation, deep breathing and/or walks in nature.
- Nutrition for an ageing body – Make sure you eat enough protein and fibre. Limit caffeine and alcohol.
- Exercise for an ageing body… which leads me to point 5.
5. Menopause can dramatically alter a woman’s response to exercise
Peri-menopause and menopause can dramatically alter a woman’s response to exercise. Women who have been active their whole life, can hit peri-menopause and no longer have energy for exercise, or the exercise they do, doesn’t give them the results they want – especially when it comes to weight loss.
Again, without delving too much into the nitty gritty hormone and natural ageing science, heres five exercise strategies that can make a difference to how menopausal women feel and how they stay healthy during this phase of life:
- Moderate intensity cardio rather than Hiit (until you are sleeping well)
- Prioritise strength training – strength training will prevent loss of muscle mass and improve your bone density. It will improve your joint stability, which will help to prevent injuries as you get older, plus improve cognitive brain function.
- Do your pelvic floor exercises – as with other muscles your pelvic floor muscle are going to get weaker with age and they also need strengthening, so make sure you are doing your pelvic floor exercises. Go to see a Women’s Health Physio if you have any issues.
- Balance activities
- Gait activities
- Daily incidental movement (over the course of a day or a week, when you use the stairs, walk or cycle to work, do the housework or sweep the yard, these all contribute to exercise benefits).
To put this into SAY YES context:
- Chose classes with functional strength exercises, balance exercises and moderate intensity cardio options, (ie.Squads, Strong+, Empower)
- Avoid or modify higher intensity classes (ie. Energy, Boxing, Circuit) until you are sleeping well
Knowledge is power. The more you are prepared for what’s going to happen, the easier this transition will be.
The better shape you are in physically, mentally, nutritionally, and metabolically going into this transition, the smoother this journey will be.
While your body won’t be the same at 40 or 50 as it was at 25, that’s OK. It can still be strong and capable, especially with the right nurturing and self-care.
READY TO SAY YES TO YOURSELF AND YOUR HEALTH? OUR 4 WEEK KICKSTARTER PROGRAM IS A GREAT PLACE TO START.