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FIT FOR MENOPAUSE: WHAT WE ALL NEED TO KNOW

The topic of perimenopause and menopause is not just for middle-aged women. Experts say women (and men) of all ages will benefit from knowing more – and learning some simple ways to prepare for this time of hormonal turbulence.


The hormonal changes and challenges many women face during mid-life are all-too-often pushed under the carpet, but experts are unanimous: that needs to change.


“Perimenopause and menopause is not a deficiency or disease and there’s nothing scary or taboo about it,” says Niki Bezzant, an author who has spent years researching the complexities of menopause and speaking to hundreds about their experiences. She says the number of women who suffer in silence, feeling isolated and like they are the only ones struggling with the changes, is sad and surprising. “While no one has the same experiences of menopause, there are many things in common, and we can share a lot to help others.”


Read on to discover helpful tips and advice.

“I don’t want future generations to be like my generation – we’re just reaching menopause without a clue about what to expect.” Niki Bezzant

How can exercise transform your menopause experience?

Niki Bezzant (NB): Throughout my research, exercise came up again and again as being beneficial for dealing with many of the symptoms of perimenopause and menopause. Firstly, exercise is beneficial for your mental health. It’s a great mood-booster and there’s good research showing how it can help alleviate things like anxiety and depression, which can regularly crop up in mid-life and in perimenopause. Exercise is also a good sleep booster, and sleep is so very important. If you’re not sleeping – which happens a lot to women during this time of their life – it can really be a downward spiral that makes everything worse. And exercise is really good for helping to alleviate hot flushes; there’s evidence showing how more active women have fewer and less severe hot flushes.


Why is strength training so important?

NB: There’s a strong hormonal link between oestrogen and muscle mass. Oestrogen helps protect our muscles and keep them strong. As oestrogen drops over the transition, we tend to lose muscle mass, and we lose it at a faster rate than men do. It’s really important for us to do strength training at this time and keep it up as we age. Strength training is what we need to maintain muscle mass, and that does lots of good things. It protects our bones and joints, and it helps us to maintain lean body mass and manage weight.


What types of exercise will help through perimenopause and menopause?

NB: A mix is important. Doing activities to get your heart rate up is good, doing strength training works well, and then doing some more relaxing activities helps as well. It’s also the perfect time to get into the habit of doing a bit of balance and stability-based movement – because if we don't train things like balance, we tend to lose it as we age.


MOVING THROUGH MENOPAUSE

Master the change and take control of your destiny with workouts shaped to help you feel your best during perimenopause and menopause. SEE THE WORKOUTS


How can you manage your weight during menopause?

NB: A bit of weight gain and weight redistribution is common during menopause. Weight gain is not necessarily caused by menopause, but weight redistribution (where we get more fat around the mid-section) is driven by our changing hormones. To a certain degree it can’t be avoided, but keeping your muscle mass up as much as possible can help manage it.


There are lots of diets marketed at women in menopause, and I think we need to be wary of these. While in some cases weight loss may be good for your health, dieting can be quite stressful and we don’t want to be stressing ourselves unnecessarily, because there’s an association between stress and worse menopause symptoms.


Instead, we can use perimenopause and menopause as a window of opportunity to establish great habits that help us to be healthy and vibrant as we get older. We’ve got 30-50 percent of our lives left after this transition, so it’s really important to take action to start some really good habits that will leave us feeling great for that second half of our lives.


It’s all about quality food over quantity. Keep an eye on your portions, prioritise whole foods, eat healthy vegetables and plants … all of the things that we know, but tend to forget. It's an important time to make sure we get good quality protein (because it helps with our muscles). You don’t have to go crazy with shakes and bars and stuff, just eat plenty of healthy, protein-rich foods. And fibre is also really important for us women as we get older, particularly for our gut health. And if you’re prioritising fibre then you’ll naturally be eating lots of plants, so that’s a win-win.

“Whatever your age, I encourage you to take action to really look after your health now … The healthier you are going into menopause, in most cases the better the experience you’re going to have.” Niki Bezzant

What should you cut from your diet during menopause?

NB: Alcohol is not our friend during this time of life (or at any time really). As we age, we lose the ability to metabolise alcohol, and it’s also thought that declining oestrogen contributes to this too. This means alcohol affects us much more severely and we have worse hangovers (I have personal experience of this and have now become a very moderate drinker because alcohol just doesn't agree with me). Alcohol also exacerbates all those symptoms of menopause. It’s bad for sleep, it’s bad for hot flushes, it’s bad for your mental health. With this in mind, reducing your alcohol intake really is a good thing to try. Cutting back on caffeine and reducing sugar is also a wise move. And cutting out ultra- and highly-processed foods is a no-brainer.


Beyond exercise and healthy eating what else can help?

NB: Exercise can help remarkably, but it won’t cure everything. If you’re struggling with severe symptoms and it’s interfering with your quality of life then that’s the time to seek professional help. In the past, many doctors were reluctant to prescribe HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy), saying it's bad for you, but such thinking is not based on the most up-to-date information. Many women I’ve spoken to say HRT has been life-changing. It’s shown to be a really useful treatment for a lot of things – especially hot flushes, mood disturbances, plus vulva and vagina discomfort.


And listening to your body is so important. Not all issues can be pinned on perimenopause or menopause, so don’t skip straight to assuming any weird changes are down to menopause. Anything weird – get it checked!


What should women in their 20s, 30s, 40s do to prepare for menopause?

NB: I don’t want future generations to be like my generation – I’m Gen X and we’re just reaching menopause without a clue about what to expect. For Millennials and younger, now’s your opportunity to learn about it. I truly believe that knowledge is power and if you know what to expect, you feel more empowered.


Whatever your age, I encourage you to take action to really look after your health now. My impression is, the healthier you are going into menopause, in most cases the better the experience you’re going to have. When you are already eating well, have a good exercise habit, are looking after your mental health, not getting too stressed, sleeping well, and not drinking too much… then when things start to go wonky during menopause, you’re going to be able to cope better.


And it’s not just women who need to be taking action?

NB:It’s not just a women thing, everyone needs to understand perimenopause and menopause. I’d love to see more people in the fitness industry on top of the latest insights too. I know it’s often not easy for a mid-life woman to open up to a young male trainer and say: “Hey, I’m a perimenopausal woman and I need you to understand what my body can do and what it can’t do.” We may need a bit of extra care, attention, and tailoring of things so that we can perform to our best – and enjoy our exercise. So it would be great for people of all ages and genders to have an understanding of this stage of life.


WATCH: DR JACKIE MILLS: PERIMENOPAUSE AND MENOPAUSE OVERVIEW

Dr. Jackie Mills explains what to expect during the different phases of menopause and the actions you can take to help soothe hormonal change. Get insights about the best foods to eat, discover the best type of exercise, and learn how to master the change and take control of your destiny. WATCH NOW



MOVING THROUGH MENOPAUSE

Master the change and take control of your destiny with workouts shaped to help you feel your best during perimenopause and menopause. SEE THE WORKOUTS


You can learn more by reading Niki Bezzant’s book Changes Everything: the honest guide to menopause and perimenopause. Niki is a multi-award-winning writer, speaker, thinker and commentator. Specializing in health, wellness and nutrition, Niki has built a reputation for translating complex science into simple, accessible messages everyone can understand.


Thanks to Les Mills Asia Pacific one of our sponsors for this article.

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