Menopause – how can we remain in charge during this changing phase?
Menopause – That thing we dread…’the change’! It’s a natural process that weirdly only causes symptoms for some people and not others! But importantly when it does it seems to impact both the person going through it and the people around them.
I believe the more everyone knows about this stuff the better. After all, all of us girls go through it and most men will be affected either by friends or family members, mothers, sisters, wives etc. going through it!
So let’s take a look at what it’s all about. What the symptoms may be. Things we can do to improve these symptoms and fitness and nutrition choices to help.
Menopause can be subdivided into 3 different phases. Perimenopause, menopause and postmenopause.
This phase can start in women as young as 30-35years of age and is when you start experiencing symptoms. But it’s not always obvious as there are no unmistakable signs that define it. It lasts on average 8-10years!!! (crikey – and you thought PMT was bad!) It is possible to still have periods and become pregnant during this phase. So theoretically it is possible for women in there 40’s to have babies and go straight into peri-menopause. (It’s like a hormonal rollercoaster!)
This is the phase when there has been no period for 12months. This can be in your 40’s/50’s (average 51years of age)
Typical symptoms many associate with the menopause can be found mainly during peri-menopause but also into the menopause phase. These may include irregular periods, incontinence, depression, hot flushes, sleeping problems, mood changes, weight gain and slow metabolism, dry skin, loss of collagen, hair thinning, loss of breast fullness, cognitive impairment and decreased libido. Some women only have some of these symptoms and some none.
This is the phase when all the symptoms decrease and there is no oestrogen production any more so weight gain and fatigue may occur.
There are obviously medicine cures for many of these symptoms but I am not going to discuss these. I want to look at some alternative options, a more holistic approach you could take.
As our oestrogen levels fall in menopause we produce more cortisol (the stress hormone) and our ability to cope with the stresses of life gets harder. Minimising these stress factors plays an important role in helping with the symptoms of menopause. Stress triggers could include poor sleep, negative life occurrences and depression as well as caffeine and alcohol consumption. (yes, that’s what I said!) Exercise is another stress on the body. So recovery from training becomes even more important. Get better sleep, take a nap, have a day off exercise or lower the intensity of the workout.
Self-care is necessary to manage our stress and cortisol levels. Meditation works for some. Reading a book or going for a walk or having a hot bath may work for others. Take some time out though, and do something relaxing for yourself.
From the age of 30+ there is a natural decline in metabolism. You will hit yet more challenges in menopause. Many women will gain 5-10kg on average, which can equate to a dress size or two. As our oestrogen production from our ovaries drops, our body produces more oestrogen in our fat cells (so we all need fat cells!). So as our oestrogen falls we produce more cortisol and become more resistant to insulin, or sensitive to sugars. Which in turn leads to weight gain. So the impact of estradiol (our most active oestrogen) makes weight control harder and fat storage increase.
It pays us to eat wholesome foods, make healthy choices, including lean proteins, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates. ‘Junk’ foods can exacerbate the symptoms by spiking the blood sugar levels. As always I believe in being mindful rather than restrictive with what you eat.
I would recommend ladies going through these menopausal changes think about exercising more intelligently. We want to be doing the most efficient and effective things that our bodies need. Millions of burpees isn’t really what we need right now!
I encourage strength training. An increase in lean muscle mass (I’m not talking body builder looks!) gives the body the best chance to stay healthy moving forward as we age. Muscle is metabolically more efficient than fat. It gives you a zest for life. Means you are strong in everyday life (carrying bags, lifting things etc) and is important to our structure in the prevention of osteoporosis and other age related degenerative issues.
Some metabolic overload is also good. Think hard, fast and exhausting work. But this doesn’t need to go on for a long time. Conclude your session with a metabolic finisher for example, lifting some weights faster or a mini circuit.
If someone has the attitude towards you to ‘just suck it up’ or ‘no pain no gain’ then maybe they are not the right person to be spending your time with, whether that be your friends or a trainer? This attitude can be harmful to someone who is going through a changing phase in life. Not only do women lose confidence in our own athletic ability but also in making changes and stepping out of our comfort zone. We need to remember we are still as capable and as strong as ever.
Menopause has such a negative vibe associated with it. Many people look at it as a sad phase in life. Can we look at it as a different season in our lives instead…like puberty, pregnancy and post natal? Could we use it as an opportunity to reinvent ourselves? A time to give your body what it deserves, non-judgmental self-care. After years of caring for others, it could be a chance to care for you instead?
For anyone going through any hormone changing stages in their life, you need to learn to love yourself, as we tend to take great care of the things we love!
Don’t forget to make small changes, allow them to become habits and lifestyle changes. Play the long game. Quick fixes won’t work long term.