“Change is about interrupting the habits and patterns that no longer serve us. When you change your life, you become your real you.” (Dr Edith Eger (PhD), Clinical Therapist and Auschwitz Survivor)
The ultimate key to freedom as you age is to keep becoming who you truly are, mentioned Dr Eger in her fascinating book, called The Gift: A Survivor’s Journey to Freedom. I was reading it on a long-haul flight from New Zealand to Geneva back in March. At the time we were heading to the Alps to watch the New Zealanders compete in the Freeride World Tour. As I read Dr Eger’s book, I reflected on her sage advice about ‘change’.
When I went into my menopause transition, I didn’t realise that in more ways that one, we need to ‘change our routines’ to meet the ‘change of life’.
Nearly a decade ago, I was desperate to feel like my old self again. But I felt trapped. Not only trapped in not understanding what was going on in my body as I moved into menopause but trapped within my thoughts and beliefs about how to look after myself and live my best life. I was too busy taking care of others and ensuring that they were living their best life.
Somehow, my own needs didn’t quite register. It’s interesting that women’s health research is consistent in this theme too – that women on the whole, don’t realise that they need to pay attention to their own self-care, because they are too busy looking after others or busy in their workplaces.
But that wasn’t all. Not only was I caring for others, but I was still trying to keep the daily routines that I had been used to for years. Routines that involved following dietary and exercise advice that, I didn’t understand, were better suited for males and athletes, as the emphasis was on high amounts of protein and fats.
As many women do these days, I was also taking hormone medications and various supplements that were the domain of the bio-medical approach to menopause. But I still didn’t feel healthy. There was something missing. And that ‘something’ was how I felt. I didn’t feel like me – full of energy, vitality and motivation.
Self-Identity is what we all carry with us throughout our lives. Identity is the qualities, beliefs, personality traits, appearance, and/or expressions that characterize a person or group. In my doctoral studies I read a lot about self-identity and the meanings and beliefs that we form and construct as part of our upbringing and the groups that we belong to.
In sociology, emphasis is placed on collective identity, in which an individual’s identity is strongly associated with role-behavior or the collection of group memberships that define them. We can all relate to this I’m sure and if you have teenagers, then you will be witness to them forming friendships or otherwise in terms of their peers.
Over the past few decades one of the collective groups that I feel that I belong to is the wonderful skiing community. My husband and I have always skied, so too do my children. It is part of ‘who we are’ as a family.
However, in my midlife transition through menopause, my aching joints, sleepless nights, fatigue and changing immune health almost robbed me of this identity.
Almost a decade ago in my early 50s, even the thought of being able to ski and hike in the mountains was a distant dream. I was too exhausted and sore. At the time, I nearly hung-up my ski boots for good. From your emails to me, I know that many of you, who have been active all of your life, have had to also curtail some of your activities during menopause due to your fatigue and aches and pains.
Understanding that changing oestrogen levels during menopause also changes iron and ferritin (stored iron), is important for those of you who feel tired, unwell or you can’t tolerate exercise without becoming breathless easily. It’s the same for female athletes too.
Low iron or ferritin increases feelings of anxiety and not coping. Just as some of you are finding now that you are in perimenopause or menopause.
You don’t have to be an athlete to benefit from watching your iron and ferritin stores. If you are in perimenopause and still menstruating and you are experiencing hot flushes, night sweats, increased anxiety or sore muscles, then take note to go and get your ferritin, iron and Vitamin B12 levels checked. Add Vitamin D to that list as well.
When I was over in Switzerland, I did lots of skiing and hiking. A few years ago I wouldn’t have been able to do this because my knees, feet and muscles ached continuously. Remembering this and what I began to do about it, is in this short video which I made, just for you. If you are struggling at the moment, then I hope it gives you … hope.
I’ve come across numerous women who are still competing or participating in vigorous exercise as they move through menopause. Many also have night sweats, hot flushes (hot flashes), anxiety, emotional turmoil and poor recovery and poor performance from their training and competing. But instead of getting their iron, ferritin or B12 levels checked, they are put on Menopause HRT – there is nothing wrong with this obviously, but often they still get hot flushes.
I spoke about this in a Lifestyle Medicine conference a few years ago and wasn’t surprised when a number of Doctor’s came up to me afterwards saying that they see this all the time and never think to do iron and ferritin studies on peri-menopausal women. And you don’t have to be a runner either – whether you are sedentary or active, during your menopause transition, monitoring your iron levels is an important part of your hot flush management.
So, if you are lining up for your HRT, then perhaps ask to get iron and ferritin (stored iron) levels checked as well as Vitamin D. All of these blood markers, if low, impact your symptoms. And conversely if you are in POST-Menopause and therefore, not menstruating any more, your iron and ferritin levels may actually be high.
It is well known in sport and exercise science that female runners are at higher risk of low iron levels. For women in menopause who exercise, it’s the same. But not sleeping, low iron and menopause hormonal changes, also impact on temperature, hot flushes, night sweats and the immune system.
Persistent tiredness, feelings of lethargy, upper respiratory tract infections and of course, not sleeping are well known symptoms of over-training syndrome, but so too are night sweats, hot flushes and a temperature regulation system, that is out of balance.
It’s the same for female athletes.
Whilst I was over in Switzerland, I didn’t realise that Cheryl and her daughter were trekking to Everest Base Camp. If there is a hike that is going to test your fitness, health and your resilience, then it is hiking at altitude. How amazing they were to get there and as Cheryl mentioned to me,
“I never wavered from the goal of reaching Everest Base Camp, even though others were having an easier time of it. The takeaway from it all is to trust your body to not fail … it won’t if given the right mind set and you have the right knowledge, which I had from doing your programme.”
Improving her understanding of the role that menopause plays in her fitness was integral to Cheryl’s success and you can read her story HERE when you get a chance. Knowing also that there are essential nutrients that she needs in order to look after her joints and muscles as well as recover-well, was an important sharing of information I had with her in the programme.
Vitamins and minerals are essential to a myriad of physiologic functions, and a deficiency results in a wide variety of disorders. Among these disorders is the inability of mammals to maintain body temperature adequately in the cold or in the extreme heat.
Whether you are on Menopause-HRT or not, you need to understand that in menopause or post-menopause, there is an intricate link between your sleep, your hot flushes and your iron levels – too little or too much and your temperature regulation gets out of balance.
Freedom from menopause symptoms and poor health as you age is yours to choose.
With the myriad of symptoms I was experiencing a few years ago as well as the weight gain, I’m so pleased that as part of my own menopause journey, I chose healthy ageing. Doing this as well as understanding what and how to change specific lifestyle factors, reduce inflammation and boost my ageing immune system helped me retain my self-identity as well.
It is well known in sports psychology that we suffer most when we believe that we have no control over our lives. But with the understanding of what is going on with our changing physiology during menopause we can take back control.
For numerous women in my coaching group, this means slowly removing themselves from the thoughts and beliefs that keep them in their current lifestyle routines and habits. Afterall, as their body is changing hormonally, then we have to change with it.
Through this we can support our growth and wellness at this time of life. If you are feeling out of control, I hope you can join me sometime. My passion is for you to live your best peri-to post-menopause life free of symptom chaos.