One of my clients went to her doctor complaining of hot flashes and night sweats. Her doctor told her she was experiencing peri-menopause and that she should ‘embrace’ it. She wanted to kill him with her battery-operated mini fan. Let’s talk about menopause symptoms!
It’s difficult to admit that we are aging and many women feel like their bodies are betraying them with constant reminders that the glory days are gone! Does menopause mean the beginning of the end? It doesn’t have to. As a personal trainer I am constantly reminded of the positive effects exercise and lifestyle can have on what we thought were the unavoidable pitfalls of aging.
Many of my clients have gone through or are in the process of going through menopause. Their complaints are not uncommon but unfortunately many of these women feel isolated, embarrassed, ashamed or afraid because they don’t know what to expect or how to deal with their symptoms.
Menopause is commonly referred to as the change of life. Simply put, it is the stage of life when a woman stops menstruating and hormonal changes occur that can cause a myriad of physical and mental symptoms. Typically the peri- or pre-menopause stage hosts the most hormonal disturbances. The average age for menopause is 51, but women can experience changes as early as 40 or as late as 60.
What can we expect to experience? Well, let’s give you the bad news first. Hot flashes/sweats, mood swings, osteoporosis, skin sensitivity, sleep disturbances, weight fluctuation, and even memory changes are just some of the common complaints.
Want some good news? Exercise is the most effective alternative therapy available for women suffering menopausal symptoms. It allows women to manage both their physical and emotional symptoms. When you exercise, your adrenal glands are stimulated to convert the male hormone androstenedione into estrogen. Just four 30-minute exercise sessions per week are enough to keep estrogen levels topped off.
Weight bearing exercise can help to strengthen bones, thus reducing incidence and/or severity of osteoporosis. Weight gain commonly associated with hormonal changes can be controlled through cardiovascular exercise. Recent studies indicate that many women were able to avoid hormone replacement therapy through participation in a regular exercise program. This meant that hot flashes were controlled and in many cases avoided altogether!
Physical activity increases the level of endorphins in the blood which aids in stress reduction and mood swings. Another study of postmenopausal women who were physically active indicated that severe hot flashes and night sweats were only half as common.
Your diet is very important. Eating the right foods not only provides the body with essential nutrients, but it may also aid in balancing hormones and improve mood and brain chemistry. Try to eat a healthy diet that includes unprocessed, unrefined foods like lean meats, soy products, beans and legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy products and healthy fats. Try to avoid or limit alcohol and caffeine as they can contribute to the intensity of hot flashes. Also, there are several minerals and vitamins that can affect the health of menopausal women. If you are unsure about your nutritional requirements, think about seeing a nutritionist or dietician for professional advice.
Your exercise program should include daily sessions of aerobic activity to help manage your weight and maintain or improve cardiovascular function. New exercises can start with as little as 10 minutes per day and gradually add minutes over weeks and months. Resistance or strength training should be included twice to three times per week to help delay loss of bone and muscle tissue. You should stretch daily to improve and maintain flexibility.
If you feel you may be starting or perhaps are in the process of menopause, talk to your doctor to discuss your symptoms and possible treatment options. Gather information and talk to other women who have started or gone through menopause so you will know what to expect. Sometimes the unknown is frightening and many of the so-called ‘normal’ symptoms can be very unsettling. Physical activity and healthy nutrition can really alleviate a multitude of symptoms and help you feel better.