Let’s talk Perimenopause/Menopause—A healthy lifestyle to the rescue!
It’s strange enough when we hit puberty and our body starts changing; talk about drama wrapped in the explanation of it being a normal stage of life. But what about the other change, the one we aren’t really prepared for that no one talks about enough—perimenopause!
The best way to empower ourselves is through knowledge, so let’s talk about it.
We know in general exercise helps us to maintain a healthy weight, relieves stress and improves our quality of life. So, can this also extend to the symptoms of perimenopause?
First, let’s get technical; menopause itself refers to a point in time, more specifically the 12 months after a woman’s last period. The time before that is known as perimenopause—it’s a period of transition for the body where women experience a series of physical reactions owing to changes in their body’s production of estrogen and progesterone. Usually this happens between the ages of 44 and 55; however, if a women experiences uterus health issues, then changes in the natural production of estrogen can be caused to fluctuate earlier.
The symptoms of perimenopause are triggered by erratic fluctuations in estrogen levels, which cause changes in women’s menstrual cycle, leads to hot flashes, disturbances in sleep patterns, brain fog, hair loss, weight gain—especially visceral fat, risk of vaginal and bladder issues, and increased chances of health risks. Although these are some of the most commonly shared symptoms, we are all different, so everyone’s body reacts differently in this time, and there are factors like lifestyle, smoking habits, age at which the symptoms begin, race and ethnicity that come into play and shape a woman’s experience of symptoms during perimenopause.
Also realistically, I should state I’m not a medical expert; I train in fitness and wellness and know bodies. However, when it comes to perimenopause and menopause, one thing I’m certain about is that to a large extent, it’s an unpredictable time. Nonetheless, one that is important to talk about.
Perimenopause can last for up to 10 years. A decline in estrogen production can already begin to occur for women in their 30s and 40s. However, according to Cleveland Clinic, the average length of perimenopause is about four years. The effects of symptoms can be quite hard to deal with, especially if you’re one of those women who is experiencing hot flashes daily. And although there are over the counter prescriptions (e.g., estrogen therapy, vaginal creams, antidepressants, birth control pills and gabapentin) and homeopathic remedies (e.g., Lachesis) to ease the symptoms, they only really stop when we enter menopause, so, when it’s been over 12 months since your last period.
After menopause, women are at greater risk of having a heart disease, having a stroke, and suffering from osteoporosis; a common cause being the loss of protection previously offered by estrogen generated by women’s ovaries and weight gain. With age, we gain more visceral fat that lodges itself around our internal organs and heart. In reality, whether we see it happening or not, we get at a point in life where age, tiredness, lack of activity, and increased stress from added responsibilities makes it that we award less time to taking care of ourselves through exercise, but that’s a mistake. We can’t control when we start perimenopause, how severely we will experience symptoms, or when we will officially be in menopause, but we can take control of the areas in our life that will influence our comfort and health during those stages. For one, we must prioritize time to move our body to get the most from life by improving our quality of life—healthy is where it’s at!
The foods we eat can have an impact on decreasing the severity of our symptoms during perimenopause. Foods to avoid that could have a negative impact on the body and how we experience symptoms include saturated fats, highly refined carbohydrates, and caffeine.
Thankfully, there are way more foods we can eat that help! Foods to add more of to your diet include protein, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and calcium. In more details, increasing your daily intake of protein will help with maintaining muscle mass, which starts to decrease during this time. Eating more omega-3 fatty acids is key to decreasing inflammation in the body and it contributes to improving moods. Also, fiber is a big one, as it decreases risk for heart diseases and it will keep you feeling full longer, which can curb cravings and help with sticking to portion-controlled eating practices. Lastly, calcium consumptions is important to increase for bone health and to lessen the risk of issues like osteoporosis.
Good news is that adopting healthy habits now will have a long-term impact on our health and how we experience and mitigate how we experience the symptoms of perimenopause. For one, exercise combined with eating portion-controlled meals will help with maintaining a healthy weight, it also relieves stress, and improves our quality of sleep—all of which combined enhances our quality of life.
The Department of Health and Human Services recommends, in general, for women to undertake moderate aerobic activity for at least 150 minutes a week or vigorous aerobic activity for at least 75 minutes a week. That’s in addition to doing strength training exercises at least twice a week. Good thing Barre Fit Warriors offers On Demand classes and a full weekly schedule of real-time Barre Fitness classes to cover strength training and moderate aerobic exercise needs, while also improving your stability and balance by helping strengthen your core.
At all stages of life, regular exercise done right—with proper form and a routine tailored to our abilities and needs—is important for our overall wellbeing and development. Exercise does more than work our physical body, it’s a mental challenge as we learn how to push ourselves while also respecting our bodies.
Exercise during peri-and-post menopause helps with managing weight, when hormones change dramatically it can be expected to experience a shift in weight. Hence, why it’s important to remain consistent in our eating and exercise habits for everything to balance out. Also, a key benefit of regular exercise is an improved mood! I wouldn’t give someone an e-gift card for Barre Fit Warriors’ classes saying, “I hope it improves your mood”, but here’s a secret, it will!
It’s proven that physically active adults are at a lower risk for depression and cognitive decline; exercise and following routines, like the ones we go through in class, makes us think and work our mind, and our mind-body connection.
All women know that going through perimenopause is something our body will eventually experience, but it also a reality that serves as a good reminder to take good care of ourselves every single day.
Change can be uncomfortable, even scary, but you are not alone!