Aging is part of life.
Unfortunately, we haven’t figured out how to stop the aging process altogether. We can speed it up, and we can slow it down. The former always seems to be easier than the latter.
But what is one thing that we do know? Menopause is not just about what is happening inside our bodies. It’s important to realize that our mindset, who we spend time with, and the life changes and events we’re experiencing also matter.
Have you ever heard of an elderly person’s passing coinciding with another important life event? Maybe you had a grandfather that passed away once he finally saw his great-grandson being born. Or maybe you’ve heard a story of a Wife finally passing after celebrating her husband's 90th birthday. These tragic yet beautiful stories remind us that we have a great deal of say in something that seems so out of control. Like death… or menopause.
Menopause usually hits when other big life changes are happening.
The truth is, menopause comes at a time in life when we also might be dealing with other major stressors or changes.
The kids have finally left the nest. Suddenly, your whole focus on raising kids has disappeared and you’re feeling a bit empty. The house does too.
Relationships have changed. Maybe you’re working through a divorce, dating again, or coming out. Or maybe you’re working through the realities of you and your partner getting older.
Your kids don’t need you, but now your parents do. If you have parents or older relatives who are alive that may be dealing with health problems, you may need to give them more of your attention.
Maybe you’re struggling with job burnout or fatigue. Being at the same job for 20+ years perhaps has you feeling a bit uninspired or ready for a change.
And so maybe you’re considering sparking up a career change, a new place to live, or a new hobby.
If we’re going to find a silver lining to going through menopause, it’s this…
Menopause is a great time to build new healthy habits — and maintain current ones.
Every struggle is an opportunity for you to practise a new skill or further develop current ones. And besides, many women that we work with say that middle age is a time in their life where they’ve actually felt most alive and empowered!
A fresh new perspective on life emerges as we no longer care about things like if skinny jeans are on trend or not and instead focus on our authenticity, our compassion, and our courage!
Women say they feel more powerful, less willing to put up with BS, and more focused than ever on who it is they want to be. I’d say that’s pretty cool.
And as we know, difficult experiences always bring us insight, wisdom and resilience. So if you’re going to look forward to anything in your peri-menopausal or menopausal stage of life, it’s a stronger, more resilient, more knowledgeable you.
I’ve also said in an article once before (and likely on social media as well) that not only does how we feel dictate how we act, but how we act dictates how we feel. So just as hormonal changes can affect our sleep, body composition, mood, mental health and more, our daily habits can impact how strongly we feel those hormonal shifts.
Don’t succumb to the “it is what it is” mentality of menopause.
You’ve got more power and control than you think.
6 lifestyle strategies that can help alleviate menopause symptoms.
Strategy #1: Prioritize quality nutrition.
At this stage in your life, you’re likely no longer interested in the fad-diets, chicken broth cleanse or the 21 day detoxes. Which is fantastic, by the way. You’re ready for the real deal.
Here’s the great news about eating well:
Good nutrition can ease or even alleviate much of the discomfort of midlife physical changes, plus it’ll help you maintain a healthy body composition.
Prioritizing good nutrition can also decrease disease risk, help manage symptoms of changing menstrual cycles, reduce inflammation (and inflammation-related pain), improve skin quality, and promote dental health.
How to do it:
Dedicate time to eating your food, distraction-free. I get you’re busy, most of us are busy. But eating a tuna sandwich while hunched over your keyboard trying to send off an email can prevent you from tuning in to when you’ve eaten the amount your body actually needs. Often time this leads to overeating, bloating and low energy.
Eating slowly and distraction-free is a simple way to alleviate digestive upset like heartburn as well.
If you’re focused on increasing nutrient intake in general, consider prioritizing the following:
- Carbohydrates: Prioritize veggies at most meals. Unless you’ve been told not to by a doctor, aim for 1-2 cups or handfuls of slow-digesting, high fibre carbohydrates with most of your meals.
- Protein: Evidence suggests that our protein needs go up, not down, as we age. More protein means more lean mass and better bone density, especially if you’re also doing resistance training. Shoot for over 100g of protein in a day - that’s a minimum. Take it further an eat 0.8-1g of protein per lb of bodyweight. A 150 woman can eat 135-150g per day. More protein can also help with skin quality as we age. Check out a previous article all about protein - the muscle macro.
- Phytoestrogens: The research on phytoestrogens in food (such as soy) suggests that they may help with hot flashes… or they may not. In other words, it’s not entirely clear. Feel free to experiment with adding soy to your diet, especially more traditional versions like fresh edamame, miso, and tempeh. These are consumed in Japan, China, and other Southeast Asian countries, where women have much lower rates of hot flashes.
If you have a family history of breast cancer and/or the BRCA gene, check with your doctor before adding estrogenic foods.
- Hydration: Drink plenty of water and keep your salt intake moderate. This can help with water retention and breast tenderness, which can fluctuate over your cycle, as well as skin quality.
- Vitamin D: Some evidence suggests that an lessen perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms. Get your D levels checked, and if they’re low, either book that tropical vacation you’ve always wanted (hey, it’s for medical reasons), or supplement. Vitamin D is also important for maintaining bone health.
- Caffeine: Notice whether caffeine in coffee, tea, energy drinks, dark chocolate or medications (such as painkillers) triggers or exacerbates any symptoms you have, such as breast tenderness or migraines. Experiment with reducing or avoiding caffeine to see if it’s worth the trade-off.
- Flaxseed: Flaxseeds are rich in plant compounds called lignans. With the help of intestinal bacteria, lignans can be converted to weak estrogens (enterodiol and enterolactone) which may help reduce menopausal symptoms.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids (2-6 grams a day) may help with some symptoms, like hot flashes, depressive symptoms, and memory decline. There also may be added benefit to starting supplementation before the onset of perimenopause, although the research is unclear. Including high-quality fats in your diet may also help with skin changes.
- Iron: If you’ve stopped menstruating, you’ll need less iron (down to about 8 mg a day)
- Calcium: For bone health, calcium needs increase during menopause to about 1200 mg a day, preferably from food sources such as quality dairy products; cooked dark leafy greens; bone-in canned salmon or sardines; or calcium-fortified foods.
- Magnesium: Magnesium is important for calcium metabolism and also helps preserve bone health. Supplemental magnesium (200 – 400 mg / day) may also help alleviate hormone-related cramps and migraines.
Strategy #2: Approach alcohol intake mindfully.
Really sorry to do this, but it’s got to be done. The truth about alcohol is that yes, every middle aged woman loves a good glass of red after a long day, but it also may be causing you some harm longer term than the next day's hangover.
Plus, the whole “wine-o-clock” cliché t-shirt isn’t you. You're trendier than that.
But although a buttery Chardonnay goes nicely with fish, it doesn’t necessarily pair well with our bodies, especially as we age and our livers become less efficient at processing it.
Limiting alcohol consumption may help reduce inflammation, as well as your risk of breast cancer and other diseases.
How to do it:
Let’s start by recognizing some behaviour and patterns. Who are we likely to drink with? What time of day has us craving a gin & tonic? What events are you attending that have the liquor flowing?
It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and say yes when someone offers you a cold cider at a barbecue. But why? Is it because there are others around you drinking and so you feel like you need to join in as well? Is it because it’s hot out and the ice-cold bubbles sound really refreshing right now?
Either way, drinking should always be a calm and conscious choice, rather than an obligation or compulsion.
Take a minute and tally up how many drinks on average you have each week. Let’s take a small step forward and reduce that by 2 moving forward.
Strategy #3: Commit to regular exercise that you truly enjoy.
Exercise (moving at moderate intensity 2-4 times per week for 30-60 minutes per session) seems to help with menopausal symptoms like cramps associated with changing menstrual cycles and inflammation, though it varies from woman to woman.
Women who have lower fitness levels going into exercise sessions may be less likely to see a benefit, which has made interpreting the impact of exercise more difficult.
Still, regular exercise is your best shot at having a healthy, strong, functional body composition. This means lots of protective lean mass (like strong muscles and bones) and less body fat (especially the more risky stuff around your internal organs, called visceral fat). It also means a lower risk of disease, including breast cancer.
How to do it:
Here are some guidelines to consider for exercising during menopause:
- If you still love intense workouts, recognize that you’ll need more recovery. And have a good physiotherapist on speed dial.
- Whether it’s a full yoga routine or simply a 5-minute mobility warmup, make sure to include regular joint mobility / injury-prevention type movements to keep joints lubricated and flexible.
- Do some weight-bearing movements / resistance training at least 2-3 times a week. This tells your bones, muscles, and connective tissues that you need them to stay dense and strong.
- Start where you are. If you’re just picking up an exercise habit for the first time in midlife, start gently. In women who are sedentary, yoga may be a good activity to start with and has been shown to improve quality of life in menopausal women.
- Consider making it social. Many of us are more likely to stick with things if we have accountability, support, and community. Join a class or group, or find a workout buddy. Or get a dog. Their toilet is outside, so they’re always motivated for a walk.
- Keep cool. Your body is having a tough time regulating your temperature, so exercise in a cool place and drink cool fluids.
- Consult with a physiotherapist who specializes in pelvic rehab if you’re noticing you’re peeing during squats, jump rope, or other movements, or if you’re having pelvic pain under load.
- If you use a trainer / coach, make sure they understand how to train a body at midlife. They should be able to balance challenge with respect for any limitations you have.
- Have fun.
Strategy #4: Practice self-compassion, especially when it comes to your body.
When your sleep is disrupted by a hot flash, or when you’re struggling to put on a pair of pants that once were easy, it’s understandable to feel angry and frustrated. Or even sad.
At midlife, you will put on more body fat. As ovarian production of estradiol (a type of estrogen) shuts down, our body relies on our adipose (fat) tissue (along with a few other types of tissue) to produce similar hormones.
We actually need that extra bump in our rump to keep us healthy as we age.
And it turns out, there’s a “sweet spot” for our body composition.
While having enough body fat will maintain hormonal health, too much body fat increases our risk of estrogen-dependent cancers (e.g. ovarian and breast cancer) as well as other metabolic diseases.
So, it’s important for your health to be conscious of your body composition, but it’s also key to make peace with your body as it is now.
How to do it:
Forget about the celebrities that somehow look 25 when they’re 55. They pay a team of surgeons, personal trainers, stylists, and magical wizards to keep them camera-ready. On top of that, photoshop, and photoshop, and more photoshop. So don’t believe what you see.
Define what “fitness” and “health” mean for you. I’ve tasked a few of our members recently to map out exactly what “being healthy” means for them. Then I challenge them to map out exactly what “healthier” looks like. And again, and again.
Decide what you value, in terms of your physical self.
Maybe you value strength more than aesthetics, and maybe you don’t. Maybe you want to see what your body can do, instead of how your body can look.
Your body will change. You will look different. And whatever you feel you’ve lost, mourn it.
That pair of jeans that used to fit you when you were 23, get rid of them. Cry about it if you have to, but then move on. And I don’t mean to be harsh, but embracing your body for where it is now instead of trying to achieve a past life will lead you to a better, happier you.
And then, set new, realistic and achievable goals for yourself based on where you want to go.
Approach these goals with self-compassion rather than self-criticism.
Strategy #5: Prioritize and schedule recovery and sleep.
When things don’t go the way we want, most of us tend to do more and push harder.
For example, if you’re lost losing weight after consciously eating less and hitting the gym, you may (understandably) think it makes sense to add more and higher intensity exercise, combined with less food on your plate.
Grrr, that should do it.
But it doesn’t.
While you may not think of exercise as a stressor, it is.
Exercise requires your body to work harder. And work = stress.
With every stressor you add on, you also need proportionate recovery from it.
Restricting food is also a stressor. Women who worry about limiting food intake to manage body weight tend to have higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, than women who don’t.
Add that to the sleep disruptions so common in menopause (between 40-60 percent of women going through menopause have poor sleep quality or insomnia), and your “stress bucket” is getting pretty full.
Lower estrogen levels also means your body has a decreased capacity to deal with stress. That bucket fills up quicker than it used to.
Even though many stressors are good for us (like exercise, learning, and change), they only make us stronger if we give ourselves the chance to recover from them.
Not getting enough recovery and sleep can also contribute to pain, inflammation, and age-related skin changes.
How do to it:
Check in with yourself. Are you exhausted? Are your workouts feeling like a heavy slog?
If so, try this radical idea: Take a week off from the gym. Focus on activities that are less intense and more pleasurable. Like taking your dog for a walk in the park, or paddling around in the pool.
When you go back to the gym, notice how you feel. Do you have more energy? Or a renewed sense of interest? Are your muscles feeling stronger or less achey?
Play around with exercise frequency and intensity. Try reducing the number of sessions a week or decreasing the intensity of a few sessions. Replace some higher intensity weight training or cardio sessions with lower intensity sessions like yoga or long walks.
Every month or so, schedule a “recovery week”. For that week, decrease exercise volume, or skip the gym altogether and just engage in gentler movement like stretching, foam rolling, tai chi, or quiet hikes in nature.
Sleep is also a key part of recovery. If you have difficulty sleeping, here are some things to try:
- Practice getting to bed earlier and good sleep hygiene.
- See a therapist who specializes in sleep. Cognitive behavioral therapy or hypnosis designed specifically for insomnia can be effective.
- Try exercise like yoga, weight training, or brisk walks, which can improve chronic insomnia in perimenopausal women.
- Experiment with natural remedies like valerian root, tart cherry juice, and isoflavones (from soy), which may improve sleep.
- Talk to your doctor. Certain prescription medications, such as hormone replacement therapy or low-dose SSRI’s can help.
- Get a massage.
- Many women even opt for a separate bedroom if they have a partner whose flailing and snoring is making their already-fragile sleep unworkable.
Strategy #6: Take steps to manage your stress.
You may find that, compared to your younger years, you just don’t care as much about what people think of you. This can be hugely stress-relieving.
But thanks to all the changes you’re going through, you may also be dealing with feelings you’re not used to, sometimes swinging wildly.
Unmanaged stress can have a negative impact on your sex life, brain function, pain and inflammation, and overall disease risk — not to mention your overall quality of life.
How to do it:
Coaching or counseling, mindfulness or relaxation practices, and other mental health strategies can dramatically improve your existing mental health or preserve the wellbeing you have. Mindfulness and relaxation practices can also help manage pain.
If the mood fluctuations or psychological distress are severe and causing problems with your daily-life function, consider consulting a mental health professional. For instance:
- You might consider getting coaching or counseling.
- You might consider speaking to your doctor or psychiatrist about antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication.
- Also discuss these feelings with your doctor or psychiatrist if you’re on hormone replacement therapy.
Menopause can be a gift… it kinda means you “made it”.
Let’s put another positive spin on this, yes? Many of our prehistoric ancestresses didn’t survive past the age of 40.
Hitting menopause means we have a chance to focus on a new beginning of sorts! Maybe you’ve spent the last 25 years of your life identifying as a mother. Now your kids have left the house, you’ve lost the ability to create more life now it’s time to create a new adventure for you.
So embrace this new, amazing, and exciting chapter of your life and realize that you have more control than you think. We may just have to work together to redefine what health, fitness and success looks like to you, and then create a plan of action to execute.
Looking for help along your journey?
Our 1:1 Coaching program helps women just like you on their health and weight loss journey. Our job is to work with you to create a lifestyle that fosters sustainable weight loss.
We’ve help 1000+ women on their journey in losing 10-45+ lbs, increase muscle mass, decrease body fat percentage, lift heavier, sleep better, regulate hormones, create better relationships with food, gain more energy, workout more often, have better personal relationships and so much more.
Gunter, Dr. Jen, The Menopause Manifesto, New York City, Kensington publishing Corp, 2021
Krista Scott-Dixon, PhD, Helen Kollias, PhD, Jennifer Broxterman, MSc, RD, PN1, Pam Ruhland, What's happening to my body?, Precision Nutrition
Sims, Dr. Stacey, ROAR: How to Match Your Food and Fitness to Your Unique Female Physiology for Optimum Performance, Great Health, and a Strong, Lean Body for Life, Rodale Books, 2016