“Menopause is the opposite life-stage to puberty and we don’t medicate our daughters with hormone therapies, anti-depressants and endless supplements. Too many women believe that menopause is a ‘sickness’, and yes, I was one of these women who believed this too, because that’s how it has been traditionally managed. But we aren’t sick! Our lifestyle is so busy these days, that not sleeping, feeling stressed and the wrong food and exercise for this life-stage, is increasing a hormone called cortisol and this pulls down progesterone out of the adrenal pathway. The same thing happens in teenage female athletes and it’s partly why so many young women stop exercising or competing during and after puberty. Understanding this in sport science research sent me on a whole new path with understanding menopause. But that’s not all. We are the first generation of women to have so much inflammation accumulating in our liver, gut, muscles, joints and fat cells. This has a powerful effect on our symptoms as well.”
[Wendy Sweet, PhD/ Women’s Healthy Ageing Researcher & MyMT Founder & Lifestyle Coach]
I love this slide. When I take my seminars, I leave this slide up for a few minutes and watch the look of comprehension on the lovely faces of women attending my ‘Masterclass of Menopause’ seminars. When I was so confused about my own symptoms and HRT wasn’t working to help resolve my sleep, hot flushes and weight gain, this visual image sent me on a whole new path towards understanding menopause.
What does seeing this slide do for you?
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.
When we lose the effect of these 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 different opinions about how to eat and exercise, that it all becomes a bit confusing! I was confused too. However, once I began to understand that menopause was the gateway to ageing, then the healthy ageing research I was doing 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 form exercising regularly. Every day, hundreds of women tell me that these are the main symptoms that they are experiencing. So, if this is you too, then I want to reassure you, that when we change our lifestyle to better match this life-stage, then our symptoms go away and we feel so much healthier again.
Oestrogen is a powerful hormone.
For decades our levels of oestrogen have been high – even higher in pregnancy! Oestrogen works in partnership with your other reproductive hormone called progesterone, helping to keep your blood vessels dilated, helping control 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 for those of you who are used to exercising regularly, this is partly why you may be experiencing sore joints and muscles and at night, feeling like your legs are more restless than usual. As well, oestrogen has a crucial role to play in helping to improve our tendon function. It’s why thousands of women start to experience sore joints as they go through menopause, especially if like me, they have been regularly exercising all their life. What you have to remember is that your tendons are ageing, so you need to look after them – after all, they have to give you another 20-30 years of function!
This means that when we are transitioning through menopause (or we are already in post-menopause), if we continue to exercise like we used to (hard-out), then this impacts on the inflammation that is already sitting in our knees, ankles, ligaments and tendons. So, my message to women who are regular exercisers and enjoy a more vigorous workout, then change things up a bit to accommodate your changing hormonal environment and allow your body to adjust. If you can, then also join me on the online Rebuild My Fitness programme. In this 12 week online programme, you discover how to change your exercise to accommodate your changing hormones at this time of life. Women are working through this programme now and loving their learning.
Most, such as Lydia in the photo below, do the weight loss ‘Transform Me’ programme first or the symptom reduction ‘Circuit Breaker’ programme first and then come into the exercise programme next. I encourage this because the priority over exercise, is always reducing joint pain, turning around energy, sleeping all night and re- and/or losing weight.
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 diseases of older age are due to the accumulation of inflammation in cells and tissues, so 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 60’s and they are so loving feeling healthier again. Just like Bev, in the image below – she is now 62 years and it’s been such 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.
When I present my live-events, I’m always talking about inflammation. The research on ageing and inflammation has been picking up for over a decade now. It’s an important discussion to have, because as the first generation of women to experience so many changes in society, scientists now know, through the new science of epi-genetics, that many of these changes impact on our cells and tissues. One of the main changes in western societies has been to our food production and if you think about it, we are the first generation to have had so many changes to food production, amount and variety.
Today, health behaviour researchers understand that after World War 2, when mass food production sky-rocketed, so did the variety of processed foods and supplements. The rapid expansion of the population in many western countries where there were high numbers of births after WW2 – especially New Zealand, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom, where there are the highest proportion of the Baby-boomer generation, mass production of food arrived at the same time, that women went out to work and therefore, had less time to prepare and grow their own food. Larger and larger supermarkets arrived at the same time as more modern ways of living. The age of consumer convenience had arrived. And like the modern washing machine, it was fantastic because it was marketed to our mothers and us in our younger days as ‘saving time’.
For women in their 50’s and early 60’s today, so began our trajectory into eating in different ways and moving less. Conversely, all of these initiatives to ‘save time’ meant we had ‘less time’! Life got busier and we rushed more! With mortgages to pay we were out working and holding down careers and running house-holds as well. We began to stay up late too because this meant we had ‘time to ourselves’ when everyone else had gone to bed. And because many of us were at the forefront of the emergence of the modern fitness and sports industries, we discovered how going to the gym or running helped us to cope with all that we had going on. Jane Fonda arrived into our lives and we began to change the way we exercised, making this a really important part of our day too. As every one of the women I interviewed in my research studies mentioned, exercise simply helped them to cope and as Angela said, “It was such a great place to go to put the kids in the creche and have an hour to yourself.”
But we had oestrogen then. And now we don’t.
My passion these days is to help you transition through menopause using powerful lifestyle strategies which I’ve researched specifically to help you reduce your symptoms now that you are in a low oestrogen and progesterone hormonal environment. It’s your stepping stone into your healthy ageing and I take you through the 7 pillars of healthy ageing.
How to do this is in my online 12 week programmes. There are two different programmes – one for thinner women called ‘Circuit-Breaker’ and one for overweight women, called ‘Transform Me’. As I say to the amazing women attending my seminars, I step you through what to do, so you discover that feeling of freedom in your joints, muscles and body again. You simply begin to feel healthy again. Menopause is the time of our lives which heralds in our biological ageing and after 40 years of modern living, we just have to make a few adjustments to get back to a new, but oh, so familiar, hormonal environment again.
And when we do, you’ll feel ‘alive’ like Pauline does again….
If 2019 is the year for you to take back control of your menopause symptoms and jump-start your menopause transformation, including weight loss for those of you overweight, then I hope that you will let me guide you. The first thing to do is to think about how you are transitioning back in time to pre-puberty hormonal levels when you felt strong, energetic and you moved freely. Mid-life is a time that many women end up on lots of supplements, various medications and experience gut and health changes, sore joints or more. But it doesn’t have to be this way. I’ve positioned ‘menopause’ in our ageing and when you allow your body to adjust to this life-stage and you reduce the inflammation that’s been building up for decades, then your symptoms go away and you enjoy feeling like your old self again.
Wendy Sweet [PhD] Women’s Healthy Ageing Researcher/ Registered Exercise Specialist, NZ/ Member – Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine.