What is the Menopause?
Menopause is when the ovaries stop releasing eggs and menstruation comes to an end.
Officially, menopause has been entered when it has been exactly 1 year (365 days) from the last menstruation.
However, the transition into menopause/ perimenopausal phase happens gradually and sees hormones begin to fluctuate. Symptoms begin and although there are commonalities in these symptoms, everyone is different.
Everyone’s experience of menopause will be unique to them, so remember that when you are reading this blog.
Some of this may really resonate with you, and hopefully, some of it might be helpful.
However, please do not panic if you think ‘I have never experienced this!’ If you are ever worried about your health or unsure if what is happening is okay, please seek advice from your GP or a Women’s Health Specialist.
Although there is no rhyme or reason as to how your hormones will fluctuate during this time, the decline in oestrogen is inevitable and keeping track of what you’re experiencing can help you identify triggers.
- Drinking alcohol
- Consuming caffeine
- Smoking/being exposed to cigarette smoke
- Eating spicy foods
- Feeling stressed/anxious
- Lack of sleep
Keep track of things you are doing and eating to see if they are acting as a trigger for some of your symptoms, especially hot flushes!
The Role of Exercise in Managing your Perimenopause/Menopause Symptoms:
There is an abundance of research that shows how exercising can be beneficial for those entering the perimenopausal/menopause phase.
Any form of movement from walking to yoga, weight lifting to swimming, will likely have a positive impact on your symptoms.
At The Barn Bootcamp, we take you through resistance and cardiovascular training so these are the types of exercise we are going to focus on.
Resistance training simply means adding resistance to muscular contractions to build strength, aerobic capacity and skeletal muscle. This could come from adding weights (e.g.dumbbells/kettlebells/barbells), doing bodyweight movements (e.g. squats and push-ups), with or without the addition of resistance bands or using the cable machine.
Strength training helps increase bone mass, which can help offset the decline of bone mineral density and help reduce the risk of osteoporosis, something which those going through menopause are at an increased risk of developing.
Regular exercise increases cardiorespiratory function, which can reduce the metabolic risk associated with declining oestrogen.
The associated drop in oestrogen causes your metabolism to slow which is why some may experience weight gain before/during menopause. Increasing your output (exercise) can help to minimize this weight gain as it helps you to sit in a calorie deficit (see Energy Expenditure Explained to understand a calorie deficit).
It helps increase HDL (high-density lipoprotein – ‘good’ cholesterol), which can help lower your risk for heart disease and stroke. Similarly, it helps reduce LDL (low-density lipoprotein – ‘bad’ cholesterol), where high amounts can increase your risk for heart disease and stroke.
Something which is relevant throughout life, but especially so during this phase, is that exercise is a great tool for stress management and improving mood!
Think about how many times have you turned up to a bootcamp or PT session feeling pretty deflated, low in mood and generally a little bit rubbish.
Now think about how many times you have felt better after completing your session.
It is widely documented that exercise releases endorphins, the happy hormone, therefore it can help you feel less stressed, more alert and in a better mood!
Some may see a reduction in hot flushes, especially those who are postmenopausal.
Is your Diet Heightening your Menopause Symptoms?
Diet plays a very important role when looking at mitigating and managing perimenopausal/menopause symptoms.
Eating the right foods helps strengthen your bones, improves your overall health, supports a healthy cardiovascular system and regulates your mood.
Paired with exercise (as mentioned above), a well-balanced diet can help maintain a healthy weight and reduce the weight gain which comes from the slowing of your metabolism as your body responds to falling oestrogen levels by building up a reserve in your fat cells.
Nutrients to Increase:
- Fibre helps to aid digestion, prevents constipation, helps us feel fuller and encourages the growth of good bacteria in the gut.
- 30g per day of dietary fibre is the recommended UK guidance.
- When increasing your fibre intake it is important to do it slowly but surely, as suddenly introducing large amounts of fibre can cause uncomfortable bloating and digestion issues.
- Examples: beans, lentils, wholewheat/granary bread, fruits and vegetables.
- Calcium is an important mineral throughout our whole lives but even more so during menopause/post-menopause, as a lack of oestrogen increases the risk of osteoporosis.
- Calcium helps to build and maintain our bones, 99 per cent of the calcium in our bodies is stored in our bones.
- Examples: dairy foods, leafy greens (e.g. kale), Soya drinks with added calcium, baked goods made with fortified flour.
- Vitamin D helps aid calcium absorption, so it supports strong bones!
- There are relatively few naturally rich sources of vitamin D in our food, so we get most of our dose through the sun.
- In the UK it is recommended that everyone above the age of four takes a supplement between September and March, due to the lack of sunny weather.
- Our body uses this mineral to help convert the food we eat into energy
- Helps balance our blood glucose levels.
- Promotes relaxation, regulates mood, aids sleep and can reduce headaches and migraines in some.
- 270mg is the recommended daily guideline for magnesium intake
- Magnesium can be found in green leafy veg, nuts and seeds, squash, whole grains, legumes and pulses.
- Something to bear in mind is that alcohol, caffeinated drinks and medication such as antibiotics can affect magnesium absorption.
- Omega-3 is a family of fatty acids.
- There are 3 main types:
- ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) cannot be made in the human body, so we need this from our food alone.
- EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) & DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) both can be made from ALA in our bodies and are found in foods.
- Omega-3 has various benefits – improved mood, blood circulation and is anti-inflammatory.
- The recommended guideline suggests eating at least one portion of oily fish per week (e.g. salmon, mackerel). If you don’t eat fish, nuts such as walnuts, pecans and hazelnuts, green leafy vegetables, rapeseed and flaxseed are all good sources.
- This is similar in structure to the oestrogen that is produced in our body, however, phytoestrogens are plant-based compounds.
- They can be found in a variety of foods including soy, legumes, nuts and seeds.
- The great thing about phytoestrogens is that when they are absorbed into the bloodstream they attach to the oestrogen receptors in our bodies, producing an oestrogen-like effect. This is especially necessary during stages of menopause as oestrogen levels deplete.
- The hormonal change during this period brings with it an increased chance of becoming dehydrated.
- The excessive sweating brought on by hot flushes and night sweats means peri-menopausal and menopausal women need to drink more water to remain hydrated.
- The more hydrated you are, the less likely you will be to suffer from hot flashes and night sweats, so it is a positive cycle to engage in!
Foods to Limit
- Although often the things we crave; cakes, pastries and ready meals are all high in saturated fats, salt and sugar.
- They have little nutritional value – of course, the occasional less nutritional choice is fine but it should come as no surprise that research shows regularly eating ultra-processed food is linked to health risks such as cardiovascular disease and weight gain.
- As mentioned before, writing down how food makes you feel is going to be beneficial in identifying triggers for symptoms, especially hot flushes. Research shows consuming ultra-processed food is a common trigger during menopause.
- Progressing through the stages of menopause results in a loss in the bodies ability to absorb and retain water (as mentioned above).
- Because of this, it is harder for the body to dilute alcohol, meaning it stays in the body for longer.
- An enzyme found in the liver which is responsible for breaking down alcohol also diminishes with age, meaning that headache and nausea the next day might increase.
- Worse hangovers, hot flushes and anxiety are all at risk of increasing due to alcohol consumption.
Are My Sleep Habits Making My Symptoms Worse?
As the body goes through these hormonal changes, getting good quality sleep is more important than ever.
The power of hormones on sleep should never be underestimated.
Simply have a conversation with someone going through a stage of menopause and you will know struggling to sleep is a common problem for many.
Here are some strategies to help get a better nights sleep:
Consistent Sleep Routine:
This means, keep your morning and nighttime routine the same. Try not to catch up on sleep with naps or a significantly earlier night as this is shown to have a negative effect on overall sleep quality.
Instead, nail your routine.
Have bedtime rituals you always follow – limiting screen time, reading a book, having a shower/bath and matching this with a solid morning routine – meditating, a glass of water, stretching, whatever feels good for you and fits your lifestyle.
Reduce Caffeine Intake:
‘Don’t even bother talking to me before I have had my morning coffee!’
It is easy to reach for a coffee first thing to help you feel more human.
And then again mid-morning when the fit hit has worn off.
It makes sense, caffeine is a stimulant.
However, this stimulant will interfere with sleep.
On average, it takes 5-6 hours for nearly half of a caffeine dose to be absorbed (this is known as caffeine ‘half-life).
Reducing your caffeine intake or planning to stop drinking caffeine past mid-afternoon is a great idea, with 8 hours before your bedtime routine begins being a good rule of thumb to follow. E.g. If you are starting to wind down for bed at 10 pm, avoid consuming caffeine after 2 pm.
Remember, it isn’t only coffee to avoid! Green tea, energy drinks, Coca-Cola all contain caffeine and might be disrupting your sleep.
Write Away Your Worries:
Waking up in the middle of the night to a racing mind is a very common psychological menopause symptom.
Not only is this really disruptive to your sleep pattern, but it can lead to feeling overwhelmed and anxious throughout the following days.
Writing your thoughts down on paper can be very beneficial.
A ‘to-do’ list for the next day.
Social life plans.
Writing down your thoughts can change the way you deal with them, even if it’s just acknowledging that they exist.
Try to avoid writing them on your phone as blue light exposure is a known disturbance to sleep.
Meal Size and Alcohol:
Avoid using alcohol as a sleep aid, as this will be having a more detrimental effect than positive for multiple reasons (as mentioned above).
Heavy meals take longer to digest and can be disruptive to your sleep, so try to avoid eating a big meal close to bedtime.
Create an Ideal Sleep Environment:
Having a dimmer light around sleep times can help the relaxation phase begin, with brighter light in the morning. A SAD (Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder) lamp might be a good investment if you struggle to get up to a dull morning.
The temperature of your room will play a big role in how comfortable you sleep. Having a window open or a fan on a low setting can help to keep the room cool, which is going to be beneficial if you suffer from hot flushes at night.
Although tempting when you get the sweats, try to avoid sleeping in the nude.
Choose cotton nightwear and even cotton bedding as this can help to keep you feeling cool.
Stripping off may seem appealing at the time, but doing this will only let the sweat remain on your skin and it will take you longer to cool down.
Treatment For The Menopause
To explore your options regarding treating your symptoms of menopause, please speak to your GP or a Women’s Health Specialist.
Getting support when you are struggling with the symptoms of menopause is nothing to be ashamed of.
A common method for treatment is Hormone Replacement Theory (HRT) and this comes in several forms – tablets, gels, skin patches, implants, vaginal oestrogen and testosterone.
This works by helping to correct the hormone deficiency your body is propelled into during menopause. This results in symptoms feeling less extreme and helps reduce elements such as hot flushes, low libido, mood swings and vaginal dryness.
If you are currently suffering with your symptoms, please do not hesitate to reach out to one of our Trainers.
We are here to support you however we can!
Has menopause prevented you from getting physically active? Click ‘Enquire Now’ to speak to a member of our team.