What is the menopause?
Put simply, the menopause is when a woman stops having periods and can no longer get pregnant. The ovaries start to release fewer hormones, and they stop releasing an egg every month. Oestrogen, or rather the decline of it, has a lot to answer for in terms of symptoms that are experienced.
The average age for a woman to reach menopause in the UK is 51, although this can be anywhere between the ages of 45 and 55 with 1 in 100 women going through menopause before the age of 40. Most of us will experience some symptoms although the symptoms and severity will differ from woman to woman.
How do I know if I am in the menopause?
The first indication is usually a change in the pattern of your periods, you might start having lighter or heavier periods or having them more, or less regularly. There is no set pattern to this, and everyone’s experience will be different. Eventually your periods will stop altogether. On average 8 out of 10 women will also experience other symptoms which can start a few months or even years before your periods stop (this is known as the perimenopause) and can last up to approximately 4 years after your last period although this can be up to 12 years in around 1 in 10 women. When you haven’t had a period for 12 months, this is known as post menopause.
What are the symptoms of menopause?
There are many different menopause symptoms but some of the most common are:
Hot flushes – short bursts of excessive heat which come on suddenly, usually in the face, neck and chest area and last a few minutes. Low oestrogen levels can lower the level of norepinephrine which helps the body to regulate its temperature. Low levels of norepinephrine can mean an increase in your body temperature leading to a hot flush.
Night sweats – the same as hot flushes but these occur at night and can interrupt sleep.
Trouble sleeping – as oestrogen declines during menopause, this causes hot flushes, night sweats and anxiety leading to disrupted sleep. Read our blog on ‘Menopause and sleep – or lack of it!’.
Joint aches and pains – oestrogen helps to reduce inflammation so as this declines more aches and pains can be felt in joints such as knees, shoulders, neck, elbows, and hands.
Heart palpitations – you may notice that your heart beats faster, especially during hot flushes – this is due to the change in hormones.
Headaches – again, due to the changes in hormones, you may start to experience headaches, or your headaches may become worse.
Low mood – declining levels of oestrogen can contribute to tiredness, irritability, anxiety, and forgetfulness, all of which affect your mood.
Trouble concentrating – Oestrogen pushes the brain to burn glucose for energy so when that declines during menopause, your brain doesn’t work as hard, causing a lack of concentration.
Decreased muscle mass and bone mass – again, due to the decline in oestrogen, you will start to notice decreased muscle mass and strength, decreased bone mass and an increase in visceral fat mass.
Please bear in mind that you might only experience a few symptoms, and these may well be mild.
What can I do to ease symptoms?
- Make sure you have a healthy diet including lots of fruit, vegetables, and calcium rich foods such as yogurt, milk, cheese, kale, and spinach. Avoid processed foods, sugar, spicy foods, alcohol and caffeine.
- If you suffer with night sweats, try turning your pillow over to the cool side in the middle of the night or buy a cooling pillow. Make sure you have a climate control duvet and pillows and use a fan.
- Try keeping a diary to see what triggers hot flushes and headaches. Elimination of certain things can ease these.
- Keep your brain working. Challenge yourself. Learn something new. Do puzzles, crosswords, or jigsaws, anything that keeps your brain active.
- If you’re a smoker, stop! Women who smoke tend to start the menopause earlier and have lower oestrogen levels. Smoking speeds up aging in the ovaries as well as in the rest of the body. Once aging speeds up, the metabolism slows down and cortisol (stress hormone) levels increase, making you look older than you are.
- Make sure you are exercising regularly. Cardio, resistance exercise and a balance exercise such as Yoga should be included in a weekly exercise plan. Click here to see our personalised 30 minute resistance circuit.
- Drink water!
- Get outside in the fresh air. Go for a walk or just sit outside (weather permitting).
How will the menopause affect my workout?
Menopause can make you feel tired and fatigued and it’s easy to lose the motivation to exercise when all you want to do is curl up on the sofa. Add in weight gain and anxiety and the last thing you probably feel like doing is throwing on your fitness clothes and heading to the gym.
Hot flushes can also put you off exercising as the last thing you will want is to get hot and sweaty.
However, having said that, your workouts shouldn’t stop when the menopause starts! If anything, this is one of the best things that you can do, not only for your body but for your mind too. You will start to see the benefits straight away which will help with motivation. If you’re not used to exercise, start slowly. Consistency is key for women during menopause so make sure you set aside a regular time each day and combine fast walking with resistance exercise and classes such as Zumba or Yoga. Regular exercise helps to improve your mood, energy and your mental health as well as improving your metabolism, breathing and strengthening the heart.
Three little tips that I have learnt (not easily but practice makes perfect!) are:
- Before you go to bed, try to write down 3 good things about your day.
- Stop trying to do everything! This is hard at any time of life but even more so during the menopause when our energy levels are low. We work, rush and leave little time for ourselves at a time when our bodies are going through huge changes! Step back and let someone else pick up the slack.
- Stop worrying about things that are happening tomorrow, the next day or next week. Focus on today!
Remember, don’t be too hard on yourself. Your body is going through a lot of changes. You don’t have to run before you can walk. A great way is to start with changing little things and gradually add other things in. So, for example, one day go for a short walk and make yourself a healthy breakfast. That’s a great day! 😊 You can slowly build up to longer walks, more exercise and more healthy meals but if there’s a day when all you want to do is have a bar of chocolate and watch tv, then do it, and do it without feeling guilty! (Just as long as it’s not every day! 😊) Our bodies are very good at telling us what it needs and if that’s a day of rest, then listen!
We will come out the other side of this feeling stronger, healthier, and happier! 😊
Caroline & Hannah xx