As a pelvic floor physical therapist, I have seen and treated a number of women transitioning into menopause- whether they are in their early stages of perimenopause (this can range from a couple years to ten years) or have officially gone 12 months without a period (the technical definition for entering menopause). Going through menopause can be an extremely transformational time that I find most women are not well educated on. If you are going through peri- or menopause, you might find yourself consulting Dr. Google asking, “Is [insert symptom] normal” or “is [insert symptom] going to last for the rest of my life?”, only to be inundated with personal horror stories. It can be very doom and gloom out there.
Despite what you might read online or hear from your friends, peri/menopause does not have to be a scary or extremely difficult time in your life. Having the knowledge on the physiological changes that accompany peri/menopause and how to prepare your body for a smoother transition can be life-changing. Here, we’ll just be discussing the changes you can make to support the transition into menopause, not for specific symptoms of menopause (ie. hot flashes, cognitive and mood changes, insomnia, urinary symptoms, vaginal dryness). It’s also important to know that Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) can be an absolute game changer. It helps with bone density, reducing vasomotor symptoms, having better sleep, and more. Talk to your physician to see if you are a good candidate for HRT.
There are also 3 lifestyle modifications you can make for an easier transition:
The transition into menopause occurs because of a significant decline in circulating estrogen in your body. Estrogen receptors are all throughout our body, so you may see a number of systems affected by this decrease. One of the most important changes that accompany a decline in estrogen is decreased bone density. As bone density decreases, women are more prone to bone fractures, which can be detrimental in one’s older years.
Not only does exercise help to increase your bone mineral density, but it also helps with heart function (side note: the number one cause of death for women is cardiovascular disease), cognitive function, regulating sleep, weight gain, mood instability, and can reduce vasomotor symptoms (ie. hot flashes).
While cardio is great, especially for heart health, women need to be doing resistance training/weight training to put stress on the bones leading to increased bone density. You should aim for 3-4x/week of 20-30 minutes of moderate intensity cardio and 3-4x/week of 20-30 minutes of resistance training.
Other forms of exercise I love for women during this time are Pilates, yoga, and hypopressives. Hypopressives is a breathing technique that helps with increasing vagal tone (thus helping vasomotor symptoms and sleep), pelvic floor symptoms, and even slimming your waistline. See my other blog post here for more information on hypopressives.
An “ideal” weekly workout routine might look something like: 3x/week of 30 minutes of cardio, 3x/week of 30 minutes of resistance training (you can combine your cardio days with resistance training days), 1-2x/week of Pilates, 1-2x/week of hypopressives, 1-2x/week of yoga.
Your diet is so important for optimal hormone balance, an optimal gut microbiome (which we know from research on the gut-brain axis can help with cognitive function and mood stability), and preventing constipation. Bowel movements are not only important for a healthy gut, but also serve an important role in detoxification.
So what can you implement to support all of these systems during this time?
Fiber. Fiber is vital for maintaining digestive health, especially during menopause. Fiber-rich foods can help alleviate GI issues by promoting regular bowel movements and preventing constipation.It also helps regulate blood sugar levels, which is essential for managing weight.
Fruits and Vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. They are essential for maintaining overall health, but they become even more crucial during menopause. Here's why:
- Bone Health: Many fruits and vegetables are rich in calcium and vitamin K, which are vital for bone health.
- Heart Health: Fruits and vegetables are low in saturated fats and high in heart-healthy nutrients like potassium and fiber, aiding in cardiovascular health.
- Phytoestrogens: Some fruits and vegetables, such as soy, flaxseeds, and legumes, contain natural compounds called phytoestrogens. These compounds can help alleviate menopausal symptoms by mimicking the effects of estrogen in the body.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish like salmon, walnuts, and flaxseeds, have great anti-inflammatory properties.Omega-3s can help reduce inflammation, lower triglyceride levels, and support cardiovascular health. They may also have a positive impact on mood and cognitive function, potentially reducing the risk of cognitive decline.
Protein. I often find that women are not getting enough protein into their diet. Protein is essential for building and maintaining muscle and bone mineral density. You should aim for 0.7- 1.0 grams of protein per 1 pound of body weight.
Eliminate or reduce your alcohol intake. I know, I know. This one’s a tough one. More and more research is coming out showing the detrimental effects of alcohol, especially on sleep. Alcohol can also contribute to worsening hot flashes. Try to reduce your alcohol intake to at most two drinks per week.
Other Essential Nutrients.
- Calcium and Vitamin D are essential for maintaining bone density and preventing osteoporosis
- Magnesium can help with mood swings and sleep disturbances.
- B vitamins are important for energy production and managing stress.
3. STRESS MANAGEMENT
Stress is often overlooked as a factor contributing to menopausal symptoms. Taken at face value, stress is a good thing. It should go something like this- you encounter a stressful situation (eg. stress stimulus) and your body produces a stress response to overcome and adapt to the stress stimulus. However, when we are continuously overloaded with stress or have a maladaptive stress responses, your body no longer produces healthy stress responses. This is when things like chronic fatigue, inflammation, gut issues, and more arise.
Stress management is so important for this reason. How women handle and cope with stress is extremely individualized. Some of my favorite forms of stress management include hot yoga, daily meditation, writing in my gratitude journal, and taking a walk outside. I often spend multiple sessions just talking about the role of stress on my client’s individual symptoms and coming up with ways to alter their stress response.
Transitioning into menopause doesn't have to be a scary or daunting experience. With knowledge, self-care, and support, you can navigate this phase with grace and ease. Remember that every woman's experience of peri/menopause is unique. By making informed choices and focusing on the list above, you can embrace menopause as a time of growth and empowerment.
To learn more about holistic healing, contact me Activcore Denver.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are based on the opinion of the author, unless otherwise noted, and should not be taken as personal medical advice. The information provided is intended to help readers make their own informed health and wellness decisions.