Why is it that our health changes so much as we arrive in our menopause transition?
It’s a question I asked myself when my weight had reached an all-time high, my joints were sore, my energy levels were at rock-bottom and my cholesterol and blood pressure were increasing too. Don’t even mention my mood-swings, worsening sleep and hot flushes. all of which were causing chaos with my everyday functioning.
When my menopause symptoms were troubling me the most, I was doing my women’s healthy ageing studies. I’m so pleased that I was. Because all my beliefs about how to ‘get healthy’ again, needed to change. For decades, the recommendations for ‘health’ have been marketed to us through the modern fitness and nutrition industries, but most of the information from these domains have come out of research on men, athletes or younger women. Very little research had been done on women in mid-life. As such the messages we receive are often based on high-performance sports and exercise science research and not necessarily on women’s mid-life health.
The current World Health Organisation [WHO] definition of health, formulated in 1948, describes health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Even as far back as 1948, defining ‘health’ was an attempt to acknowledge that there are numerous influences and dimensions that affect our health. And I don’t think there are any surprises here either – for many of us reaching our mid-life years, we know that how we feel isn’t just about our fatigue or aches and pains. It’s about how we feel emotionally, whether we feel bloated or overweight, and how stressed and time-poor we feel as well.
Getting our health back under control is not insurmountable as we reach mid-life, especially when it comes to the health changes that can arrive during our menopause transition. When I take my live-events, numerous women indicate that they aren’t sleeping, the have sore joints, restless legs, migraines, dizziness and changing cholesterol levels. Some are told that these health changes are ‘normal’ in menopause. No, they aren’t.
I reassure them, that unless they have been diagnosed with a specific medical condition, then yes, they can turn around their health in mid-life and beyond. But this requires a focus on reducing the build-up of inflammation in our cells and tissues [and this includes fat-cells] as well as a focus on sleeping all night, using food and exercise as our medicine and managing stress. In other words, it’s not just one thing that women have to implement – it’s lots of different things that we have to do which meet the evidence for women’s optimal health as we age.
Menopause is the biological ‘gateway’ into our ageing and there are numerous changes that occur in our body when we make this biological passage towards the next phase of our life – our older age.
Once I began to understand that menopause was the biological gateway to ageing, the women’s health and ageing research I was reading for my doctoral studies, opened the door to understanding how to lose weight, sleep all night, reduce hot flushes, decrease my anxiety and reduce the sore joints that were preventing me from exercising regularly. In other words, I drew from numerous sources of lifestyle and ageing evidence to solve the menopause ‘jigsaw’. To say it was life-changing, ws an understatement.
If you already feel unhealthy and you are heading towards worsening weight or other health concerns in menopause or post-menopause, then here are 5 powerful factors you can put into place right now to start to change how you feel:
5 Things to Do to Go from the ‘Red’ Zone to the ‘Green Zone’ with your Health in Menopause:
- Allow your body to ADAPT to your changing hormonal environment in menopause. Whether you are just heading into peri-menopause, or you are already in post-menopause, then your body is naturally trying to clear excess oestrogen. It doesn’t need as much oestrogen any more, because from a life-course perspective, our reproductive cycle is ending! Once you understand that there are many sources of oestrogen in our environment and in our food-chain, then you can work to reduce the impact of excess oestrogen that is going into your body. For those of you who want to lose weight, then this is what I teach you in the 12 week Transform Me weight loss programme. So yes, come on board if you can.
2. Turn around your Circadian Rhythm. The basis of ‘good health’ is understanding that your sleep matters. Between 7-8 hours of deep restorative sleep is crucial to restoring your health as you age. This requires some changes to your exercise and nutrition type and timing. If you are waking up to hot flushes, night sweats or an over-active bladder, then understanding that your lowering oestrogen is affecting the production of your sleep hormone melatonin and your thyroid function is important.
3. Reduce too many ANIMAL FATS in your diet if you are already overweight or obese. Oestrogen is a powerful hormone but our fat cells love storing it. Animal fats contain hormones too and may contribute to worsening inflammation in our liver, kidney and joints. Because ageing itself is inflammatory, as our blood vessels, gut, nerves and muscles all experience changes as we lose oestrogen, then menopause becomes a vulnerable time in our lives, whereby we might be acquiring more inflammation in cells and tissues – (there’s even a new term called ‘inflammaging’ which I’ve written about HERE). This is why reducing inflammation is one of the first things that we must turn around or learn to manage during menopause. The biggest change in our body during menopause, is the loss of muscle tone and size as well as the changes that occur in our liver and these organs develop inflammation too. Add to this, decades of inflammation building up in our body from our western lifestyle and our menopause transition becomes the perfect-storm for even more inflammation in these critical organs. So, unless you are an endurance athlete, then watch your fat intake [and this is why my nutrition information follows women’s healthy ageing research, not the Keto or Paleo Diets which haven’t been researched for women’s health as they age].
4. Restore your Sore Joints so you can become active again as you age. Healthy ageing depends on remaining functional and active. We all know this. But how do we turn around our muscles and joints so that we CAN become more active. That was my dilemma as well. When I learnt that we have oestrogen receptors in our tendons, that during menopause, begin to lose the attachment of oestrogen, I discovered powerful strategies from the Olive Wellness Research Institute in Australia and from joint-health research that allow our joints to feel healthy again. I now have an entire module about this in my two menopause transformation programme. One of these strategies is to use cold-pressed olive oil instead of all the various other oils that are frequently marketed to us, e.g. coconut oil, soybean oil, canola oil etc.
5. Aerobic exercise matters more than high intensity (anaerobic) exercise until you sleep all night. All of the women coming into my symptom reduction and weight loss programmes know that until they sleep all night and reduce inflammation that’s been building up for years, light to moderate exercise is the type of exercise that I recommend. Oestrogen works in partnership with your other reproductive hormone called progesterone, helping to keep your blood vessels dilated, controling your blood pressure, temperature, metabolism, heart health and also helping your joints and muscles to heal and recover after exercise. The role of oestrogen in blood vessel dilation helps to improve our efficiency for removing the lactic acid from muscles after harder workouts, so when we begin to lose oestrogen and progesterone during our menopause transition, this increases inflammation in our muscles, joints and tendons. For those of you who are used to exercising regularly and working more vigorously, then you need to understand that your muscles and blood vessels are trying to change as you move through menopause.
I never thought about the fact that when I went into peri-menopause, my reproductive biology was going back in time. But now I think about it almost every day! It motivates me to get back to that feeling again because as women living in the modern, western world, we have another 30 years of living to do.
We already know from the health of the first cohort of Baby-boomers to reach their older-age, that many health challenges of ageing are due to the accumulation of inflammation in cells and tissues. That’s why mid-life is an important time for us to take back control. It’s so important that we turn around our sleep and other symptoms as we age. This is the most powerful thing that we can do to help our health and immune system so we enjoy healthy and vibrant years in the future.
When we lose the effect of our reproductive hormones, it means we have to make some adjustments to our lifestyle. For many women reaching mid-life, this is the most difficult thing to achieve not only because we have so much going on in our lives still, but because there are so many conflicting opinions about how to eat and exercise and stay healthy – it all becomes a bit confusing, so we give up! I was confused too.
That’s why I designed MyMT™ – so you can feel healthy again and get back in control of your symptoms, weight and health naturally. Come join me for 3 months when you can. Details and pricing HERE. Please use the promo code ATHOME20 to access your NZ$50 savings on either of the programmes.
Dr Wendy Sweet, PhD/ Member: Australasian Lifestyle Medicine Society.