‘The world completed the dusk of 2019 and the dawn of 2020 with a new public health challenge’ states a brand new report delivered into my inbox yesterday (Monye & Adelowo, 2020), following an amazing weekend listening to researchers present at the virtual Australasian Lifestyle Medicine conference –sorry Melbourne, I did miss you and was disappointed to be attending this conference whilst sitting at my kitchen table instead of being in your beautiful city.
Researchers have observed that the prevalence of symptoms and admissions to hospital over the course of ‘the year of the pandemic’, are highest in people with pre-existing health conditions. Having Type 2 diabetes, being overweight or obese and having existing immune health concerns, inflammatory changes in your gut or high blood pressure or other cardio-metabolic health concerns top the list. We all now know, that the older you are, the worse the risk.
After an extra-ordinary year, this new research offers a pathway towards the lifestyle recommendations you need to put into place to improve and strengthen your immune function …. and I’m heartened that every single strategy is in the MyMT™ 12 week programmes.
As many of you return to some normality in your lives over the Christmas break (I hope), I wonder if you can make a cup of your favourite beverage and just reflect on how your health has been this year – and if it hasn’t been ideal, especially your sleep which is the foundation of your immune health, then I hope this information will help you. I’ve also put in links to my other articles that I put out to you over the last few months in case you have a bit more time to read them as the year ends.
2021 is a new beginning for all of us and for women in menopause who might be struggling with worsening health, then it’s time to press , not only on 2020, but on any changes to your health. Because as the saying goes, ‘If you keep doing the same old things, you will get the same old results.’ When my own health changed so much during my menopause transition, I had to change my beliefs about how to look after myself and when nobody else had the answers I sought, I used my women’s health and ageing research to explore the lifestyle medicine evidence. Doing this opened up an entirely new way of understanding about how to change my lifestyle in order to match my new hormonal environment. I hope this new research and my numerous articles over the year, have helped you too.
Last week, I received an email from a lady who has just started my programme. She’s a teacher in her late-40’s. After an exhausting year where teachers everywhere have been under the most extra-ordinary amount of change in their working environment, it all caught up with her. “I’ve taken the day off” she said. “I felt so over-whelmed with everything that’s been going on and finally, ‘hit-the-wall’. I didn’t realise how peri-menopause would impact on how I was feeling. But this morning I’ve listened to your first modules on sleep and oestrogen dominance and feel hope for the first time in a long time.”
I think many of you have forgotten how far you’ve come with dealing with a pandemic and the amount of ‘change’ that you’ve had to face this year. Give yourself a pat on the back.
But if we are going to put this year behind us and move forward with improving our health, then how do we look after ourselves in ways that will improve and strengthen our immune health?
This was the question that I put into my coaching community half-way through the year, especially when some of my ladies from the UK and America tested positive for the virus. I’m thankful that researchers have now examined the enormous amount of evidence that has accumulated from the pandemic and announced a way forward for us all to help strengthen the immune system. For a generation of women arriving in menopause, this is important. I’m always saying that our menopause transition is a crucial time for our health as we age because ageing itself is inflammatory and as the ‘book-end to puberty’, menopause heralds in changes that are occurring in our tissues as we age.
I think that this has been the year whereby we’ve all woken up to the fact that our immune system plays a central role in many underlying disease pathways.
Inflammation resulting from a maladaptation of the immune system affects all organ systems in the body. If your joints and muscles are sore since you arrived in peri-menopause, or your gut health has changed and you’ve developed Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), or you are feeling depressed and anxious or you are overweight, then these are all signs of chronic inflammation. We become more vulnerable to this inflammation sitting around when we can’t sleep. It’s why, before any crazy diet or exercise regime that you might be thinking of going on to lose your weight in the New Year, I’m passionate about getting you sleeping all night. Without sleeping, you can kiss your immune health goodbye. This is why SLEEP is listed in the report as crucial to strengthening your immunity. So, whether you decide to join me on the MyMT™ programmes or not over the Christmas and New Year holiday season, then here’s what this new report says we need to focus on in order to manage our immune health as we go forward into a brand new way of living our lives.
Lifestyle Factors to Strengthen our Immunity:
- Sleep: There is an absolute improvement in the reduction of inflammatory markers when sleep disturbance, is eliminated. The researchers found this to be equivalent to the absolute positive changes associated with adequate aerobic exercise and healthy dietary interventions. This is why, changing our symptoms in menopause isn’t only about diet and exercise. It’s about working to your circadian rhythm, which gets out of balance as we reach menopause. This is the subject of my first webinar for you in all of the MyMT™ programmes – it’s that important!
2. Increase physical activity – but not too much. I’ve talked about moderate physical activity in numerous newsletters over the past year and why, when we aren’t sleeping or have joint and muscular pain and we are going through peri-menopause, then we need to back-off high intensity exercise.
There is clear evidence that the immune system responds to regular physical activity, with the extent and duration reflecting the degree of physiological stress imposed by the workload. Whilst there is an emphasis on higher-intensity, short-duration exercise in the fitness industry, I know from my sport and exercise science lecturing, that doing too much of this type of exercise leads to over-training and worsening immune health, specifically, upper respiratory tract infections. Many women are doing too much high-intensity exercise (and I include heavy weight training in this), but if they aren’t sleeping, then this is sending them into over-training mode, which then upsets the balance between oestrogen and progesterone in peri-menopause and menopause.
3. Improve Gut Health. Studies have further elucidated that the direct viral infection of the intestinal mucosa in patients with the virus, may lead to gastrointestinal symptoms such as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea. Researchers from the Hubrecht Institute in Utrecht, Rotterdam, Maastricht, the Netherlands, have found that the corona virus can infect cells of the intestine and multiply there. Improving gut health matters and I’ve written about why this is crucial to us in menopause HERE.
4. Improve Nutrition for immune health. Researchers know that immune cells need adequate supply of energy (from foods) in order to effectively respond to invading infections. If you are thin and under a lot of stress, then take note. You need to eat! If you are overweight and crave sugary, fatty, salty foods, then this is what you have to turn around. Both circumstances increase the risk of immune health changes as we age. With the increased demand for energy during periods of infection and fever, researchers now know that the nutrients we need for our immune health include zinc, iron (except not too much iron in post-menopause which I’ve written about HERE), magnesium, Vitamin C, B12, Vitamin E and of course, amino acids from good quality protein sources. These amino acids help in the production of immune proteins and support the antioxidant defence mechanism, which is needed to limit tissue damage in viral infection. During lockdown here in New Zealand, I wrote an article about lung health and nutrients, so this is on my Blog page on the website.
6. Stop smoking and other substance abuse that affects the lungs. Peer reviewed studies in China observed that patients with the history of smoking who were hospitalised with the virus had a 14% higher risk of developing pneumonia with poor prognosis. Many women don’t understand that the role of oestrogen is powerful in our lungs. This increases our risk of developing immune health problems and pneumonia if we do develop lung problems. It was one of my most popular articles during lockdown, so if you go to my blog page on the website, then you can have a read if you are interested.
6. Reduce or manage stress. I talk a lot about stress management and how to reduce our chronic stress hormone called cortisol, in the MyMT™ programmes. Our response to feeling overwhelmed and stressed during menopause impacts hugely on our immune health and our weight. For busy, active women with a lot going on in their lives this is crucial to being able to navigate symptoms in menopause. The hormone that is usually released in response to chronic stress, cortisol, has been shown to have the potential to disrupt immune regulation and is specifically associated with increased proinflammatory cells that increase the duration of viral infections. It was such a privilege to help Dr Clare Wright understand this and why her weight was increasing, as she continues to support employees in the NHS in Wales. It’s been an incredibly stressful year for her and others and I’m so pleased she came on the MyMT™ Transform Me weight loss programme.
‘Optimising the host immune system should be a vital strategy to combat the virus, limit its complications and reduce risk’ mentions this profound report.
I know this is easier said than done for women navigating their health changes during their menopause transition, and yes, it was the same for me as well. But I also believe that doing nothing about your health is no longer an option and we must progressively move forward to making small changes that are specific to our hormonal environment during menopause. That’s why I developed MyMT™ for you. It’s a 12 week progressive programme where you learn what to do and most importantly, why you need to do it! Understanding ‘why’, helps you to turn your health intention into actionable steps.
If you feel that you need to have a little mid-life or post-menopause re-set and want to put this year behind you with your health changes, then I invite you to listen to this short video below and see if you might like to have my support. I explain how you can access the MyMT™ Transform Me programme on the best offer I’ve ever promoted. I’m passionate about mid-life women feeling better and understanding how to transition menopause in ways that suit our biological ageing. No matter where you live in the world, you can work with me – it would be my privilege to help you to feel like your old self again.
Monye, I. & Adelowo, A. (2020). Strengthening immunity through healthy lifestyle practices: Recommendations for lifestyle interventions. Lifestyle Medicine, Vol. 1, 1-11. Wiley Publ.