Unless you’re already doing them, menopause lifestyle changes are something that should be thought about long before the perimenopause even starts. In fact they are really something that should be considered by those in their 30s at least!
Menopause is actually the day when there has been an absence of periods for a year. However symptoms can happen before the menopause in the perimenopause. For purposes of this post I will refer to just the menopause – but this will of course include the perimenopause.
Why Menopause Lifestyle Changes are Needed
When the menopause hits several things happen that can impact on our health and quality of life. In the short term oestrogen loss can cause menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats, sleep problems, muscle and joint pain, anxiety, depression and low libido). Longer term increased risk of higher cholesterol levels and cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke); osteoporosis (weakens bones and makes them break more easily) and weight gain.
Whether HRT is opted for or not, changes to lifestyle such as diet and exercise can really help with menopause. These include problems with muscle mass reduction, skin, pelvic floor, loss of calcium, a higher risk of heart disease, belly fat, as well as many other menopausal symptoms (such as hot flushes and anxiety).
There is actually quite a lot to take in and so the early we can adapt a healthy lifestyle the better. The earlier we start the easier it will be to make small changes at a time.
During the menopause muscle mass reduces and this slows metabolism. Therefore, if your diet doesn’t change you are likely to gain weight. This is further impacted by the likelihood that you will not be able to be quite as active as you age.
Of course these means you may need fewer calories. Obviously making sure you understand calories is a good starting point. Sticking to your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) will help ensure you do not put on too much weight.
To help your body hang on to muscle eat plenty of high protein foods -fish, poultry, legumes, nuts and seeds.
But also you will need to do resistance activities, such as using weights, to help preserve and build muscle mass.
Issues with skin due to the menopause include dryness, wrinkles and fine lines, age spots, acne, redness, thinning and sagging and increased sensitivity. Plus facial hair.
To help stay away from processed foods and sugars, hydrate and get good amino acids from good quality proteins. Wear a good sun cream (factor 50) and exercise.
Pelvic health issues include vaginal dryness, urinary incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, sexual dysfunction, painful periods, and increased risk of pelvic floor disorders.
These can be helped with pelvic floor exercises, HRT and other medical and lifestyle interventions.
Loss of Calcium
During menopause we slowly lose calcium from our bones. As we lose oestrogen it increases the rate we lose calcium from our bones and the risk of osteoporosis. This will higher the chance of bones breaking even with minor falls.
Help Through Exercise
Again it is important to keep up muscle strength to reduce the risk of falling; as well as exercise encouraging bone development. However, too much exercise where the periods stop reduce oestrogen levels!
For prevention of osteoporosis high-impact exercise such as skipping, aerobics, weight-training, running, jogging and tennis are thought to be useful. However, these exercises might not all be suitable if you already have it.
Any weight-bearing exercise such as walking are good, as it improves bone strength; plus keeping thigh and hip muscles strong. This is good for balance and will help prevent falls.
Another exercise effective at helping to prevent falls is T’ai Chi. Doing it regularly will also help strengthen the muscles in the upper body, lower body and core – which will also help improve balance.
Help Through Diet
A poor diet puts you at a greater risk of osteoporosis if it doesn’t include enough calcium or Vitamin D or if you’re very underweight. There are lots of nutrients that help to keep bones healthy – choose plenty of fruit, vegetables and dairy. Aim for 2/3 calcium-rich foods a day (milk; cheese; yoghurt or custard/rice pudding).
Vitamin D is good for bone health; get it from sunlight, but in the UK this is only between April to September. Direct sunlight for 10 minutes once or twice per day. Wear factor 50 sun lotion at all times for skin.
Other Risk Factors
Other risk factors include:
- family history
- previous fractures
- medical conditions (such as coeliac disease) that affect the absorption of food
- plus heavy smoking and heavy drinking.
Why Give Up Smoking and Drinking Alcohol
Tobacco is directly toxic to bones. In women it lowers the oestrogen level and may cause early menopause. Giving up smoking was probably one of the first lifestyle changes I made early on.
Drinking a lot of alcohol reduces the body’s ability to make bone. It also increases the risk of breaking a bone as a result of a fall. Also, along with caffeine, alcohol can make hot flushes and night sweats worse. Not to mention those unnecessary calories, interfering with your sleep and generally making your menopause symptoms worse. If you do not wish to give up alcohol then consider when you drink along with your cycle/fluctuating symptoms.
Higher risk of heart disease
Menopause can increase your risk of developing heart disease. You will be pleased to know that again a healthy diet can help with lowering cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
Achieve this by:
- Switching from saturated to unsaturated fats by:
- cutting down on fatty meats
- using low saturated oils and spreads
- eat lower fat dairy
- grill rather than frying food
- Include meals based on fish, nuts, beans or pulses at least once or twice a week.
- Eat at least four portions of unsalted nuts, seeds, legumes per week.
- Reduce your intake of refined sugars like sweets, cakes and soft drinks.
- Reduce salt by avoiding processed foods (ready meals, soups, cooking sauces and limiting salted snacks).
- Aim for two portions of fish per week. One should be oily as rich in omega-3 fats. Oily fish includes canned sardines, mackerel, salmon, trout and herrings.
- Fruit and vegetables provide vitamins, minerals, fibre and other plant nutrients such as antioxidants to help protect your heart. Aim for 5 different coloured a day (fresh, frozen, canned, dried or juiced all count).
- Swap to higher fibre foods – wholegrain breads, brown rice, high fibre breakfast cereals. Other excellent sources of fibre are oats and pulses (lentils, chickpeas and beans).
Reduced levels of oestrogen after menopause can cause fat to be stored around your waist rather than on your hips and thighs. In postmenopausal women, belly fat accounts for 15 to 20% of their total body weight, compared with 5 to 8% in premenopausal women. Known as visceral fat it is unhealthy and linked to an increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, dementia and increased menopausal symptoms, such as hot flushes.
Menopausal Lifestyle Changes
As well as the above there are many menopausal symptoms that can be exacerbated or relieved through our choice of lifestyle choices.
To stay hydrated, which will help keep your weight in check and flush out toxins and absorb nutrients and exercise.
Keep active at least 150 minutes a week – including weight bearing activities on two or more days. Whilst incorporating some yoga or stretching. Also make time for your mental health – meditation or art therapy – to help keep stress levels down.
The best approach is to follow DASH or a Mediterranean style diet – plenty of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
Fruit and vegetables rich in antioxidants help to prevent cell damage. Try to include dark green leafy vegetables – spinach, kale and broccoli, as well as bell peppers, eggplant, tomatoes and carrots into your diet. Plus brightly hued fruits such as mango, cherries and berries, are also loaded with powerful antioxidants.
Some foods can have mild oestrogen-like effects but can take two to three months for benefits to be seen: This is particularly for hot flushes. It is thought that this includes linseeds, (linseed bread) and Soya (milk and yogurt) or edamame beans, chickpeas and lentils. Also lignans – wholegrains, fruit (apples, bananas), vegetables (spinach, broccoli), eggs, and green tea.
Gut bacteria differences may make them work better for some than others. Consuming several times a day appears to be more effective than one larger dose.
Foods to Avoid
Of course there are some foods to avoid such as fatty foods (fast food, fried food, processed cookies, cakes and snacks – apart from fatty fish and nuts) and spicy foods (which can make hot flushes worse).
The above information is taken from my understanding of what I have learned from Menofit Classes and resources online. Therefore, please consult with someone qualified for further information. The Menofit course is available.