We cannot pretend menopause is not going to happen. We cannot wish it away, or hope that it won’t happen to us.
We also cannot think that it won’t affect us. It will, and it will affect those around us too.
So, instead of putting out the fires and the hot flashes as they happen, let’s start learning what changes to our lifestyle and mindset we need to make to give us the greatest impact.
What’s the difference, perimenopause and menopause?
Perimenopause happens 8 to 10 years before menopause, when the ovaries gradually produce less estrogen. It usually starts in a woman’s 40s, but it can start in her 30s as well.
Perimenopause lasts up until menopause, which is the point when the ovaries stop releasing eggs (ie. we stop having periods).
To be fully out of perimenopause and menopause (medically speaking), we need to be without a menstrual cycle for one full year.
How will I know when I am postmenopausal?
A woman is considered to be postmenopausal when she has not had her period for an entire year.
Measuring through a blood test called the follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) level is another way to determine if you are postmenopausal.
FSH is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland (located at the base of the brain). However, the routine use of the FSH test is not needed to help the vast majority of women. Sometimes, the levels can be misleading since the levels go up and down during the transition into menopause.
What are the heck are the symptoms?
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats and/or cold flashes
- Vaginal dryness; discomfort during sex
- Urinary urgency (the need to pee more often)
- Difficulty sleeping and/or staying asleep
- Emotional changes (irritability, anger, mood swings, depression)
- Dry skin, eyes or mouth
- Brain fog
Women who are perimenopausal also have this barrel of fun to look forward to:
- Racing heart rates
- Joint and muscle aches and pain
- Changes to sex drive
- Weight gain
- Hair loss or thinning
Can my lifestyle trigger the symptoms of peri and menopause?
A number of the symptoms of menopause can be set off and intensified by lifestyle choices. For instance, the following have been known to trigger hot flashes:
- Caffeine (this sucks)
- Alcohol (this really sucks)
- Spicy foods
- Hot foods
- Cigarette smoke
- Refined carbohydrates
- Fatty cuts of meat
What else can go wrong, after 40?
On top of all of our menopause and perimenopause symptoms, we also have age-related changes happening to the body.
Why we are getting fat
The big reason why we gain weight after the age of 40 is because we are losing a percentage of our lean muscle mass, each and every year.
Muscle tissue burns more calories than any other tissue in the body, both at rest and at work. So, when our lean muscle mass decreases our metabolism takes a nosedive.
After the age of 30, women can expect to lose as much as 3% to 5% of their lean muscle mass per decade. Once we reach 75 years this loss accelerates (however for some women this can happen as early as 65 years).
How do you offset this? Not by walking and not by performing cardio. The only way to build your lean muscle mass is with a properly devised strength training program.
Our organs, as we age
As our cells age they don’t function as well as they used to and eventually old cells must die as a normal part of the bodies functioning.
While this is a normal process of age, it does become a concern when the number of old cells in the ovaries, liver, and kidneys decrease.
When these cells become too low, an organ cannot function normally and this is why most organs function less than stellar as people age.
Great news, though, not all organs lose a large number of cells. The brain is one good example. Science has proven that women who are healthy do not lose as many brain cells as unhealthy women do.
Our bones, as we age
Bone mass and bone density decrease as we age and will begin to decline by approximately 1% (or so) with each passing year from 30 years old until menopause is reached – at which point we will then see a 2-3% loss each year.
Our connective tissue, as we age
Our tendons (that great stuff that keeps our muscles connected to our bone) are also being affected.
As we age we lose some of the water in our tendons and this, in turn, makes our tissue stiffer and less able to handle stress and more susceptible to injury.
Our speed and reaction time, as we age
The number of our muscle fibers are also decrease as we age. This means that our muscles can’t contract as easily as they used to, making us slower in general as well as slowing down our reaction time.
Our heart, as we age
Our heart muscle also slows down as we age. It becomes less able to propel large quantities of blood quickly which means that we are going to tire more easily and take longer to recover as we get older.
Our insides get fatter
Body fat increases as we age and the distribution of body fat shifts from subcutaneous (under the skin, evenly over the body) to visceral (around the internal organs).
Visceral fat is deep within the body surrounding our internal organs and is also known to increase our chances of developing: heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, sleep apnea, various forms of cancer and other degenerative diseases.
Estrogen, how we miss thee
Most of the symptoms related to perismenopause and menopause are happening because we are producing less estrogen.
This production will continue to decrease until the ovaries eventually stop making it.
WTF is going on with my belly fat?
When estrogen declines cortisol and insulin production increase.
And guess what? Both of these hormones contribute to fat gain, especially around the midsection, and in particular as that dangerous visceral fat we learned about just above.
In addition, perimenopausal women may see more accumulation of fat around the belly – even if they are eating better and exercising correctly.
You see our bodies are pretty amazing machines and during times of hormone imbalances our body favours belly fat because its programmed to preserve fertility as long as possible. Thanks body.
Belly fat also produces estrogen! So, it’s of no surprise that when estrogen production from the ovaries slows, the body compensates by adding a spare tire around our mid-section.
A good night’s sleep. What’s that?
Sleep patterns will also change as we age.
This can either cause difficulty falling asleep, constant waking or full on insomnia – all of which will lead to lower energy levels and fatigue.
Chronic sleep deprivation is also linked to elevated cortisol levels and cortisol is that visceral belly fat loving hormone, in addition it is responsible to increasing our risk for a whole host of diseases, including cancer.
How to master menopause
Mastering perimenopause and menopause starts with your lifestyle.
For some it might mean dietary changes, for others it might mean adding strength training to their weekly workouts.
While for other women it could be improving their sleep, or adding stress relieving activities to their day.
However, for a lot of women it will mean making more than one change to their lifestyle. This can pose a problem, though.
Adding too many goals, and too many lifestyle changes, all at once is a recipe for disaster.
My suggestion for success
Where ever you are with your symptoms, and whatever your reasons WHY are (because remember, you HAVE to want to want these lifestyle changes), I want you to start with only one change first.
The reasons are both physiological and psychological.
On a physiological standpoint our brains are actually only programmed to operate on 10% willpower, the other 90% runs on muscle memory, or habits.
We need to make these changes to our lifestyle become habits so that the 10% is not battling it out with the 90%.
Psychologically speaking, small changes and manageable goals help us from not freaking out and throwing our arms up in the air two weeks in.
BUT, this does not mean I do not want you to challenge yourself, or that these changes will be easy.
Start with one, the rest will follow
Start by picking one symptom that is bothering you the most and then begin making the necessary changes to your lifestyle to help you master that one symptom.
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