6 lifestyle strategies to feel your best during menopause

Hot flashes, mood swings, weight gain, brain fog: Menopause can make you wonder if your body is totally cuckoo. But what many women don’t realize is that they do have some control over these symptoms. Here’s what’s going on, plus six lifestyle strategies to feel your best during menopause

Some symptoms you may or may not experience are:

Bladder:

Due to lower estrogen levels you will not be able to hold your urine for long periods of time. You may have to pee more often, get more bladder infections, and have trouble controlling your bladder as pelvic muscles weaken due to aging.

What can help:

  • Exercises from a pelvic physiotherapist to rehabilitate and prevent stress incontinence (when physical stress — such as coughing, sneezing, or laughing — causes an involuntary loss of urine)

  • A vaginal pessary (a removable device that you insert into the vagina that supports pelvic organs) recommended by your doctor, especially if you have uterine prolapse.

  • Staying hydrated, peeing after sex, and supplementing a simple, safe carbohydrate known as D-mannose dramatically reduces bladder infections

Body Composition:

Changing hormones can lead to a lowering lean mass and your body fat increasing.

What can help:

  • Quality nutrition,

  • regular and consistent exercises

    And if you’re willing, hormone replacement therapy.

    Brain Function:

Hormones can affect thinking, reasoning, perception, and memory. Many women notice “brain fog” or trouble remembering things with declining hormones.

What can help:

  • Quality nutrition

  • Managing stress

  • Regular exercise (as exercise boosts brain function due to the effects of increased blood flow as well as elevated brain chemicals such as BDNF, which is involved in learning and memory)

  • Getting enough sleep, if possible

Breast health

Breasts and nipples may become more lumpy and tender. You’re also now at a higher risk for breast cancer.

What can help:

  • Quality nutrition

  • Regular exercise

  • Limiting alcohol consumption

  • Limiting or discontinuing use of medications that contribute to breast tenderness, like hormone replacement therapy, hormonal birth control, and some types of antidepressants

Digestion and bowel function

We tend to make less of our digestive enzymes and stomach acid as we age. Our smooth muscle tissue and intestinal absorption isn’t as peppy as it used to be.

This means you may notice changes in appetite, digestion, and bowel function. Heartburn, gas, and constipation might become your dinner companions more and more.

You may notice new food intolerances and sensitivities. Red wine?! Avocado? Really??

What can help:

  • Quality nutrition

  • Good bowel habits

Disease risk

“Female hormones” typically lower our risk of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and so on… at least, until they run out. Then, our risk of these chronic diseases becomes greater.

What can help:

  • Quality nutrition

  • Regular exercise

  • Managing stress

  • Hormone replacement therapy, depending on the type of hormones prescribed, what age you start, and other risk factors (HRT also may increase risk for other diseases)

Dizziness / vertigo

Dizziness can occur with changes in how your brain regulates blood pressure (see temperature regulation below).

Women may also notice cyclical benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), a sensation of spinning or dizziness occurring when their head is in particular positions, or when lying down or turning over. While we don’t completely know why this happens, researchers think that declining estrogen weakens the protein matrix that makes up our vestibular (balance) system in our inner ear.

Dizziness can also be related to migraines.

What can help:

  • Staying hydrated, as changes in hydration and sodium levels can affect dizziness and vertigo

  • Discontinuing medications that contribute to dizziness and vertigo, such as sedatives

  • Balance training

  • Two simple exercises: the Epley maneuver, or the half-somersault maneuver designed by Dr. Carol Foster, who created it to treat her own vertigo

Hair

Hair may grow more in some places (like on the face), and less in others (scalp, lower legs, armpits, pubic region).

What the heck, biology?

What can help:

  • Hormone replacement therapy (for hair loss)

  • Unwanted hair is one challenge our society has solved pretty well. To the wax mobile!

Menstrual cycles

Obviously, menstrual cycles change. They may become more or less frequent, heavier or lighter, more or less painful. Sometimes, they may be astonishingly heavy, like “Hahaha, Super Plus tampon, I will take you DOWN” heavy.

While you can’t do much to affect menstrual frequency or duration, nor the eventual end of menstruation, you can often improve related symptoms, like cramps.

What can help:

  • Quality nutrition

  • Regular exercise

Migraines / headaches

Migraines can be stunningly painful or completely painless. For example, with “aura migraines” or ocular migraines, you might see the characteristic sparkling or flashing visuals of a regular migraine without pain. These are typically harmless and resolve in about 20-30 minutes. Other times, a migraine can make you want to submit yourself to a guillotine.

Hormonal fluctuations during perimenopause and menopause can exacerbate headaches and migraines, although these seem to settle after menopause.

What can help:

  • Quality nutrition

  • Keeping a “trigger diary”, which may help you notice that certain things (such as what you eat or your stress levels) make a migraine more likely

  • Hormone replacement therapy or hormonal birth control (for those in perimenopause) may also affect headaches / migraines

Mood and mental health

Mental health covers a wide range of feelings, experiences, and domains, but in general, you might notice:

  • More depression, “blahs”, emotional flatness, trouble “getting motivated”

  • A sense of overwhelm or “it’s all too much”

  • Feeling more irritable or less able to deal with small hassles

  • Feeling more anxious, worried, fearful, or risk-averse

  • Feeling distracted and/or preoccupied, having racing thoughts

  • Crying or other emotional outbursts that happen more often, more unexpectedly, and/or more intensely

  • More mood swings, and/or stronger swings

  • More intense emotions, positive or negative

  • Everyone around you has suddenly turned into a jerk

These mood changes can be attributed to not just variation in hormone levels, but also all the other biopsychosocial shifts that happen during menopause.

For instance, you may have good reasons for those mood swings. Maybe it is all too much, and this is a signal to make some important changes in your life choices, relationships, workload, etc.

What can help:

  • Managing stress

  • Counseling and/or coaching

  • A good social support network

  • In consultation with your doctor, medication like antidepressants

Pain and inflammation

Progesterone and estrogen are linked to pain and inflammation.

As sex hormones decline, you may notice changes in muscle pain, arthritis, other types of joint pain, pelvic pain, or flare-ups of other chronic pain concerns.

What can help:

  • Quality nutrition

  • Regular exercise

  • Limiting alcohol consumption

  • Managing stress

  • Prioritizing sleep and recovery

  • Non-pharmaceutical pain treatments, such as acupuncture, that work by “distracting” nociceptors (pain nerves)

  • Relaxation and mindfulness training, which has been shown to help with how we experience pain

Sexual function

As estrogen and progesterone decline, the vaginal and urethral epithelium (lining) thins and becomes less elastic. Additionally, lubrication decreases, so the vagina will be drier.

This means that penetration can cause burning, itching, and a feeling like sandpaper on a sunburn.

Libido fluctuates. You may feel more liberated and sexy at midlife — many women say they’re having the greatest sex of their life, because they’re so much more confident, experienced, and assertive.

Or, you may feel like you don’t want anyone touching you, and would give up sex for sleep or chocolate 100 percent of the time.

What can help:

  • Managing stress

  • Doctor-prescribed estrogen creams or lubricants that you can apply to the vaginal area in order to reduce chafing, dryness, and tissue thinning

  • For a non-hormonal option, one study showed that a vaginal gel containing hyaluronic acid (a natural compound involved in tissue repair and moisture regulation) was nearly as effective as estrogen cream at reducing symptoms of vaginal dryness

  • Although vaginal tissue atrophies as a result of declining estrogen, the clitoris shows no such signs of stepping down from its position of pleasure glory. Just sayin’.

Skin

You may notice your skin getting drier or oilier as hormones shift. Perhaps you’re even getting some teenage-style acne.

Protein synthesis slows, so you’ll start to wrinkle, heal slower, and have less collagen. You’ll also likely lose fat from your face, and things will start to sag (because, gravity). You may notice changes in skin pigment.

What can help:

  • Quality nutrition

  • Prioritizing recovery and sleep

  • Staying hydrated; not smoking; moderating sun and pollution exposure

Teeth

Your dentist might start making tsk-tsk noises about gum disease, receding gums, dry mouth, and so on.

What can help:

  • Quality nutrition

  • A good oral health routine (Make your dentist happy!)

  • Not smoking

Temperature regulation

Hot flashes are one of the most puzzling and annoying experiences of menopause.

About 85 percent of North American women report having hot flashes during perimenopause and menopause, and 10-15 percent of them say these temperature changes are so severe that they interfere with daily life.

On average, hot flashes persist for 3-5 years.

Most women describe a hot flash as a feeling of extreme warmth, usually in their upper body and face and lasting a few minutes. Night sweats, as the name implies, are hot flashes that happen at night — you wake up flushed and sweaty, often enough to soak through clothes or bed sheets.

Hot flashes and night sweats seem to be triggered by a sudden dips in estrogen levels, rather than declining estrogen overall.

Body temperature can also be affected by changes in the brain’s vasomotor center, which regulates your blood vessels, making them tighter (vasoconstriction) or more open (vasodilation). However, we still don’t know exactly how the change in estrogen levels affects the vasomotor center.

What can help:

  • Quality nutrition

  • Paced breathing exercises. Try it: Breathe in from the belly while slowly counting to 5. Then, release the breath while slowly counting to 5. Practice this every day for 10-15 minutes. When a hot flash hits, start paced breathing and continue it for 5 minutes. Bonus: Paced breathing may also help lower blood pressure, decrease anxiety, and promote relaxation.


Practice these lifestyle strategies to gain control and feel better:

  1. Exercise regularly (do something you 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.)

  2. Focus on quality nutrition (limiting alcohol, sodas and adding more vegetable, protein, healthy fats and complex carbs. 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.)

  3. Manage stress, 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.

  4. Improve quality of sleep by creating sleeping rituals, Sleep is also a key part of recovery. If you have difficulty sleeping, here are some things to try:

    • See what you can do to reduce hot flashes, which can disrupt sleep.

    • Practice 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.

    5. Staying hydrated, Limiting alcohol consumption may help reduce inflammation, as well as your risk of breast cancer and other diseases.

    6. Practice self-compassion, especially when it comes to your body. 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. Be open to stepping into new versions of yourself and new ways of relating.

Reference: Precision Nutrition, Dr. Krista Scott-Dixon, Dr. Helen Kollias, Jennifer Broxterman, MSc, RD, and Pamela Ruhland


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Source: https://www.precisionnutrition.com/feel-yo...