Menopause is a common biological process that marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years. While it is a significant milestone in a woman’s life, it can also bring about a range of physical and emotional symptoms. Hormonal changes during menopause can cause hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, weight gain, and sleep disturbances. While hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is commonly used to manage these symptoms, many women seek alternative approaches or complementary lifestyle modifications. Here, we explore various lifestyle modifications that can help women navigate menopause and improve their overall well-being.
Engaging in regular physical activity is essential for women experiencing menopause. Exercise can help alleviate many common symptoms, including mood swings, weight gain, and sleep disturbances. It also helps maintain bone health, as menopause increases the risk of osteoporosis. Incorporate aerobic exercises, strength training, and flexibility exercises into your routine. Aim for a minimum of 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week, along with muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days.
Adopting a healthy and balanced diet is essential during menopause. Add whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats to your meals. Focus on calcium-rich foods like dairy products, leafy greens, and fortified foods to maintain bone health. Lower the intake of sugary and processed foods, as they can exacerbate mood swings and weight gain. Further, staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water is crucial for overall health and alleviating hot flashes.
Menopause can be stressful for many women, and stress can worsen symptoms such as hot flashes and mood swings. Incorporate stress management techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, or tai chi into your daily routine. Engaging in movements you enjoy, such as hobbies or spending time with loved ones, can also help reduce stress levels.
Many women experience disrupted sleep patterns during menopause. To promote better sleep, establish a regular sleep schedule, create a relaxing bedtime routine, and ensure a comfortable sleep environment. Restrict caffeine and alcohol intake, especially in the evening, as they can interfere with sleep. If hot flashes disrupt sleep, keep your bedroom cool, use breathable bedding, and wear lightweight sleepwear.
Weight gain is a common complaint during menopause. Hormonal changes can slow down metabolism, making it more manageable to gain weight and harder to lose it. Focus on maintaining a healthy weight through regular exercise and a balanced diet. Strength training exercises can assist in building lean muscle mass, increase metabolism, and aid in weight management. Consult a healthcare professional for personalized guidance on weight management during menopause.
Quitting Smoking and Limiting Alcohol
Menopause is an opportune time to quit smoking if you haven’t already. Smoking can worsen menopausal symptoms, increase the risk of heart disease, and decrease bone density. Additionally, limit alcohol consumption as it can trigger hot flashes and disrupt sleep. Moderation is key, and it is suggested to restrict alcohol to one drink per day or avoid it altogether.
Maintaining social connections and seeking support from friends, family, or support groups can positively impact your well-being during menopause. Sharing experiences, seeking advice, and receiving emotional help from others who comprehend what you’re going through can be immensely helpful.
Several complementary therapies have been found to alleviate menopausal symptoms. These include acupuncture, herbal remedies like black cohosh and evening primrose oil, and mind-body techniques like biofeedback and hypnosis. While some women find relief through these methods, it’s important to consult a healthcare expert before trying complementary therapies.
Menopause is a biological stage in a woman’s life that can bring about various physical and emotional changes. While hormone replacement therapy is an alternative for managing menopausal symptoms, lifestyle modifications can also significantly alleviate these challenges. By incorporating regular exercise, maintaining a balanced diet, managing stress, prioritizing sleep, managing weight, quitting smoking, seeking social support, and considering complementary therapies, women can positively change their lifestyles and improve their overall well-being during menopause. It is important to consult with a healthcare professional to develop an individualized plan that suits your specific needs and medical history. Embracing these lifestyle modifications can empower women to navigate menopause more easily and confidently.
Exercises during Menopause
NourishDoc: What exercises should be done if women do not start doing them early?
Menopause coach Sonya: One of the reasons about fitness over 40 is because it’s when we enter that Peri menopausal stage that our exercise needs can change, and our physiology starts changing. Perimenopause can start as early as 35. So it is something that the earlier you start thinking about in your 30s. But if you start implementing the changes after 40, you set yourself up for a healthier, happier, stronger future.
If you still need to train, the changes for women are looking at introducing strength training into your weekly routine. And we recommend strength training, which becomes so important in those years because as our estrogen declines, our bone density also becomes impacted. And strength training is the easiest and most beneficial way to work with your body to maintain bone density. So you kind of slow down that decline from the estrogen. Build muscle strength, which keeps your posture good. It keeps your body fit, strong, and capable. The other area that we want to talk about a lot is balance.
The other area we want to talk about, obviously, is cardio. We want heart health to become super important for women; more women die from heart disease than anything else, particularly in Australia. So heart health becomes important. So we want to be looking, we want to help the heart, we want healthy bones. And the other area that I like to talk about is also starting to reduce, so reduce the amount of long steady-state cardio you might be doing, shortening that up a little bit, and reducing high-intensity training.
So your cortisol is your stress hormone; exercise naturally stresses the body. So you’re in an elevated stress level because of your fluctuating hormones; you then exercise, adding a little bit more stress on top of that. But if you’re doing high-intensity interval training, you add a bigger load onto your cortisol every time you work out. And that’s going to set your body back from a recovery perspective. It’s going to impact your sleep. And it’s not good for your blood pressure, which brings us back to heart health. So you can see how everything’s interconnected. So reducing high-intensity interval training, not stopping it altogether. It’s got a place that perhaps does shorter bursts and less often.
And the other area I like to discuss when we’re talking about our intention or exercise is starting to work some plyometrics into your workouts if they’re not something you’ve done before. So Plyometrics is when you are doing a bounding type exercise. So it’s where you may have, well, you will usually have both feet off the ground at one point. From an intentional workout perspective, I recommend that all women over 40 do strength training at least three sessions a week, ideally getting some cardio, high-intensity training, and plyometrics. And if you can, they’re easy to bring into your existing workouts.
And if you’re, you know, you’re doing a workout three to four times a week, I’ve crossed the seven days, allowing some days in there for recovery as well recovery becomes important as we start getting those fluctuations in our hormones. So that’s an intentional exercise perspective; that one thing that I think, in many respects, is way more important that isn’t talked about enough is our neatness. So NEAT stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, the daily exercise we do. That’s not intentional.
Tai-Chi and yoga
NourishDoc: What are your thoughts on Tai-chi and yoga?
Menopause coach Sonya: Tai Chi, yoga, and Pilates are other great. They’re beautiful ways to bring your nervous system down; start working on those cortisol levels a little. Quieting the mind finding ways to be quieter, a little more focused on you than everything going on externally. Yoga and Pilates can also be great with resistance training, mostly body weight. If you’re doing reformer Pilates, you are getting more resistance with the bed used in those. However, it would help if you could overload progressively with those exercises. So that’s where getting into a gym and doing some strength training with yours, your kettlebells, your dumbbells, and your bars and sorts of things. Still, become very important. So I like to see the Tai Chi, the yoga, and the Pilates woven across a week into your actual strength and cardio workouts.