MyMT™ Blog

New Research: The association between your lifestyle and the severity of symptoms in menopause.

Iran has been in the news for all the wrong reasons over the past few weeks. The Covid-19 pandemic has hit it hard. I didn’t know where Yazd was until I read the research article. But smack in the middle of Iran lies Yzad province. Somewhere in this province is the Shahid Sadoughi University and over the past year or so, within the Faculty of Medicine and School of Public Health, there has been some wonderful research being undertaken by PhD students. The study arrived in my in-box this week. When I read the title, it got my attention – ‘The Association between Lifestyle and Severity of Menopausal Symptoms in Menopausal Women. 

Over 300 Iranian women participated in this study – I would like to thank them. I hope they are all doing OK during the Covid-19 crisis.

For too long, menopause has been invisible in the lifestyle research and the emergence of this study broadens our understanding of this life-stage.

With an average age of 49-50 years, this particular study labelled these women as post-menopausal. This is just a term used to signify the change towards not having menstrual periods as we age. You enter post-menopause, when your periods have stopped for a year or more. I noted that entering post-menopause at 49-50 years for these Iranian women, is slightly earlier that the global average age that women enter their post-menopause years, which is 51-52 years. I was also intrigued that from all the various amounts of data collected in this study, the average age of marraige of the study participants was 19 years old. I had barely left home at that age. 

Defining ‘lifestyle‘ is tricky, because as most of us would know, this differs between culture, socio-economic means and our geographical location. Furthermore, defining ‘healthy lifestyle‘ differs again. But wherever we live and whatever culture we follow, your ‘lifestyle’ refers to the range of activities that you undertake daily and those which make up your daily life.

Hence, within this context is whether or not we choose to pursue activities that are known to contribute to a ‘healthy lifestyle’ – you know the list – not smoking, following nutritional guidelines (which differ around the world), ensuring adequate exercise, avoiding drug use, protecting ourselves against accidents, preventing disease, maintaining emotional control and adapting to our environment. Yes, all those factors are determinants of your ‘lifestyle’. When I began to understand that there are numerous women throughout the world who don’t report symptoms of menopause and don’t experience the lifestyle-related diseases attributed to older age in many western countries, I became curious about the choices that influence our lifestyle behaviours during menopause. I talk about these in my Masterclass on Menopause (now available online for you as well) and refer to women in their 50’s and early 60’s as the ‘Guinea Pig Generation’ for an explosion of lifestyle changes that have influenced our health over our life-time and I talk about these in more depth as well as exercise, in the online webinar which I’ve recorded for you whilst in lock-down here in New Zealand.  

 

Lifestyle research has been gathering momentum over the past decade. An ageing population globally and the rise in diseases attributed to how we choose to live our life, has lead researchers down this path. Nowadays it is thought that 70% of diseases as we age are associated with an individual’s lifestyle. Women in menopause, please take note because with the research that has emerged from the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation, it makes sense that the life we’ve lived contributes to the severity of our symptoms in menopause and weight gain as well.  This is due to the build up of cellular inflammation and how to reverse this is the emphasis in the MyMT 12 week programmes. 

I’ve said numerous times that one of the realisations I personally took out of my own doctoral research, which explored women’s health as they age, was that because menopause is the biological gateway to the next phase of our lives, it becomes a vulnerable time for our health as we age. If you are putting on weight or experiencing poor sleep, depression, high cholesterol, sore joints, worsening hot flushes, symptoms of fibromyalgia or other health changes and you are only in your 50’s, then I know how you feel. It’s a confusing and frustrating time. 

But back to the wonderful women of Iran and the relationship between their lifestyle practices and the severity of their symptoms. The results were ‘significant’ concluded the study authors. 

Our study found a significant relationship between lifestyle factors and the severity of menopausal symptoms; whereby those with a healthier lifestyle had less severity of symptoms.”  [Yoshany et al, 2020, p. 4]

So, what constituted a ‘healthy lifestyle’ in those with less severe symptoms?

For most, engaging in some physical  activity was important, although the amount and type wasn’t defined in this particular study. But I have written about the type of exercise that best suits us as we transition menopause in the past and I’ve linked this article HERE. 

This is important to note for those of you feeling depressed and ‘hopeless’. Some women are doing too much exercise when they aren’t sleeping – I see this a lot. What this does is to increase a stress hormone called cortisol and this prevents healing and repairing of tissues overnight. High-end exercisers might then find that they experience worsening hot flushes, sore joints and emotional changes. Then there are those of you who have no energy for exercise, because your motivation is low and/or you are feeling depressed. As we lose oestrogen, our lovely mood hormone called serotonin declines as well. This decline is more rapid for those who aren’t sleeping and have gut inflammation froom IBS or other gut health changes. The link between our gut health and depression is well known in metabolic research. So for those of you, who don’t feel like doing much exercise, then it’s important that not only do you deal with any underlying health concerns, but that you make the time to do some moderate aerobic exercise. Julie in BC, Canada was the same. There were days when she struggled to get through her day and as she said, “It seems as if all my joy had been sucked out of me.”  She shares her remarkable story about her journey  HERE. 

The women in the Iranian study who reported the least menopause symptoms didn’t smoke and followed healthy nutritional choices. Following on from other similar studies, the authors noted that overweight status also correlated with more severe hot flushes. 

A lot of women in the MyMT™ community, myself included, can attest to this connection between being overweight and experiencing more severe hot flushes and night sweats. Part of the reason for this, is because as we move into post-menopause, there are numerous changes around our body that are a result of our biological ageing. This includes the loss of elasticity in our blood vessels and structural changes to our liver and gallbladder. This means that we need to reduce the load on our liver and gallbladder as we age by changing our diet. This is important for those of you already overweight because our fat cells store excess oestrogenic compounds and fats in our diet if we aren’t able to stay active because our joints and muscles are sore or our energy levels are low from not sleeping [don’t forget I have made a new stand-alone module for those of you who want to Restore Your Joyful Joints].  Hence, the normal changes that occur in our body as we move through menopause can have a negative effect on our metabolism and eventually our health. For those of you who are overweight, then managing this is important, otherwise hot flushes and night sweats can last for years. 

Understanding that natural menopause is the biological gateway to our ageing years is important. It’s why I always show women this slide in my Masterclass on Menopause events (don’t forget that this is now available to you ONLINE). 

When I first saw our hormonal life-stages in this image, I finally felt relief. It’s a powerful reminder that we are transitioning through a normal life-stage that heralds in the next phase of our life – our biological ageing. Understanding this was a game-changer for me personally. With my studies on women’s healthy ageing, I was able to position menopause as a normal life-stage in ageing research. And when it comes to women’s ageing, there are numerous changes that occur in our body because oestrogen and progesterone are powerful hormones that affect the entire body.

As such, the nutritional emphasis I have in the MyMT™ programmes follows the scientific research for maintaining our healthy ageing. The approach I have researched is from a modified Mediterranean Diet. This not only meets the scientific evidence for anti-inflammatory diets, but also meets women’s cardiac health research. Post-menopause heart disease is the number 1 concern for us as we age, globally. If you want to do the Keto or a Paleo diet, then you won’t find these types of diets in this programme.  They aren’t evidenced against post-menopause weight loss research and post-menopause is a very different hormonal environment compared with peri-menopause (pre-menopause), whereby women are just entering their menopause transition but still experiencing periods). 

Through the  MyMT™ 12-week programmes, women the world over are now gaining clarity on why their symptoms are occurring and how to use my specific lifestyle change strategies that I’ve researched from my women’s health studies (and applied for myself as well) to help them thrive and survive their menopause transition. 

We already know from the health of the first cohort of Baby-boomers to reach their older-age, that many diseases of older age are due to the accumulation of inflammation in cells and tissues. To get back to having a body that is free from inflammation, there are changes we need to make now, in our late 40’s and 50’s and even into our 60’s. I have numerous women on my programme who are in their late 50’s and 60’s and they are so loving feeling healthier again. Andrea from Australia, in the image below – she told me she was 59 when this photo was taken. It’s been a privilege to help her thrive again. 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.

Both programmes follow my 7-pillars for women’s health as they age. This is because our menopause transition is our biological gateway into our ageing.  And with these hormonal changes, come numerous physiological changes that occur in our body and throughout our organs when both oestrogen and progesterone are declining.

Because I would love you to learn how to change how you are feeling if symptoms are getting you down, then as part of my support for women at this time of the Covid-19 pandemic, I have taken NZ$100 OFF the cost of them for a limited time only. This makes either of the programmes NZ$199/ AUS$188/ UK£97 and CAN$168 [monthly payments also apply]. You can read more about these programmes HERE and how they work. If you would like to come on board with me, then please use the promo code ATHOME20 and apply this in any Buy Now button on the website. It would be my privilege to help you. 

Dr Wendy Sweet, [PhD/ MyMT Founder/ Member: Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine].

References: 

Blumel J., Fica, J., Chedraui, P., Mezones-Holguin E., Zuniga, M & Witis, S. (2016). Sedentary lifestyle in middle-aged women is associated with severe menopausal symptoms and obesity. Menopause, 23(5), 488-93.

Pettee-Gabriel, K., Sternfield, B., Colvin A. et al. (2017). Physical activity trajectories during midlife and subsequent risk of physical functioning decline in late mid-life: The Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN). Preventive Medicine, 105, pp 287-294.

Yoshany, N., Mazloomy Mahmoodabad, S., Bahri, N., Moori, MK., & Hanna, F. (2020). Association between lifestyle and severity of menopausal symptoms in postmenopausal women. Electron J. Gen Med. 17(5): em22, 1-6.

“If you have ever wondered if there was a clear easy plan to follow to sleep all night, reduce hot flushes and prevent or reduce your weight gain during menopause, then ‘welcome’ – you’re in the right place now.”

Discover how either of my two Menopause Transformation programmes might help you too or take my Symptoms Quiz below… 

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