‘MENOPAUSE’ from the greek term ‘men’ (to mean “month”) and ‘pausis’ (“cessation”). The actual meaning though is an exact date i.e one full year after the last day of a woman’s last period, so it is fixed retrospectively. At this time a woman is considered a year into‘postmenopause’, & no longer fertile.
However the more common perception of the menopause is actually the years surrounding menopause or the transition years (change of life), this may also be called ‘perimenopause’
It is when the ovaries begin to reduce, then stop the production of estrogen & progesterone.
The only thing that is for certain is that every woman will go through the menopause, it is a natural part of life, what is not pre-determined is either the age it will start or the exact symptoms or their intensity, that a woman will experience. Generally the period will start from mid forties to early fifties, it may last only a few years, or possibly up to 10 or more – everyone is different. The symptoms are many but you may suffer from
night sweats/sleeping problems
fatigue/sore or stiff joints
vaginal dryness/decrease in libido
weakening of bone strength/weight gain
…I left the best (or worst, for last) – however, Fitness can play a very important part in alleviating many of these symptoms. In terms of weight gain, muscle mass decreases as you age, hence changing your body composition – with less muscle mass you will burn less calories so if your diet remains the same you will put weight on. This alone is why you should definitely step up your activity level, if not, you will almost certainly put the pounds on!
Other factors are at play here, including what you may be genetically predisposed to, ethnic background,or even life changing and stressful situations such as divorce, death of a loved one, or simply ‘letting go’ of your fitness.
So, the situation we have is that keeping up your fitness levels is important AT ALL TIMES, however, if you have not done this prior to menopause, you are likely to suffer from either more symptoms or a higher intensity of symptoms. Especially weight gain. This combined with the other factors can be quite a strain mentally as well as physically.
If you have not been active before, you need to start now. Even if you just start with walking more. Your cardio-vascular training should be the foundation for a menopausal exercise program – be aware of moving (or incidental exercise) as much as you can. Organise outings with friends, take up a sport, join a gym – for the classes at least. Exercise will not stop symptoms, but we know that it will increase your endorphin level (feel good hormone), to reduce anxiety & stress, help you sleep better, therefore reducing the chance of the hormone cortisol stalling your weight loss (or maintenance). Also, an increase in weight after menopause will increase the risk of developing breast cancer (up to 20%), highlighting the importance of keeping your weight under control. See my YOGA blog to see the many benefits of practicing … Yoga for peace of mind, strengthening of your core, breathing and flexibility.
Osteoporosis – is also known to increase, especially after menopause and can effect 2 out of 3 women (but also men as well). However it is also known that doing doing resistance exercise (weight lifting) can actually reverse this. By doing weight bearing exercise you can increase your bone density and your lean muscle mass – this in turn assists you to burn more fat naturally and again keep your weight in check.
This is why I believe lifting weights is the most important part of exercise during the menopause transition years.
Diet is of course the other major factor here. Be aware of your calorie intake, because if it remains the same, you are likely to put weight on. IsoWhey can be really helpful here, even just using it to replace one meal a day, or have it as a snack. If you feel yourself really putting on some weight, use it twice a day and follow the recipes on the website for your other meals.
Finally, it should be noted that it is believed that HRT (hormone replacement therapy) does not prevent weight gain. Women are now moving toward a more natural approach to reduce symptoms of menopause. The good news is that there are many natural vitamins, minerals and nutrients such as phytoestrogen that can assist in managing symptoms of menopause, healthy ageing, bone strength and connective tissue (e.g. D3 and calcium, glucosamine/chondroitin for sore joints, plus fish oil for lubrication). I definitely advise you to consult their healthcare practitioner to find out what may work for you. This combined with the right exercise program can certainly help you though this sometime difficult period.