The journey through menopause into the next act of your life is likely to come with some challenges.
You’re now getting to know a body that’s undergone seismic change without an instruction manual, and that’s no walk in the park.
With your menstruating years behind you, it’s time to use different strategies to optimise your health and wellbeing.
We’re going to look at five of the most beneficial changes you can make to improve your health after menopause.
What we’ll be looking into:
- Nurturing your vagina
- Bone health post-menopause
- How to protect your heart
- Reducing your calorie intake
- Taking care of your mental health
Nurturing your vagina
One of the least pleasant symptoms that usually kicks in at the peri-menopause stage is vaginal dryness.
Many people find that they experience vaginal discomfort, which is due to the falling oestrogen levels.
Another menopause casualty is collagen, which, when it decreases, can impact the skin all over your body, including the vagina and bladder.
In the paper, Estrogens and ageing Skin, author M. Julie Thornton writes, “Skin collagen is thought to decrease by as much as 30% in the first five years after menopause, which parallels the reduction in bone mass observed in post-menopausal women.”
Falling collagen and oestrogen leads to the thinning of the vaginal walls, which can make sex more painful.
How to keep your vagina comfortable
Many people opt to use vaginal moisturisers to combat dryness and improve their comfort levels.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists explain that you can choose between moisturisers that are inserted into the vagina and those that are applied to the vulva.
When you are having sex, you might find you don’t produce as much natural lubrication. So, be sure to use a specifically water-based lubricant to mitigate any pain or discomfort.
For some people, using hormone therapies, including oestrogen creams and tablets or vaginal rings is the right approach.
Seek medical advice to find out which of these options is best for you.
Protect your bones
Post-menopause, the oestrogen levels in your body drop to a much lower level, and that can impact your bone health.
Oestrogen is vital in helping to maintain bone structure, so when that hormone level dips, you may experience bone loss.
How to keep your bones healthy
You can turn to two types of supplements to help with bone health and protect against osteoporosis – Vitamin D and calcium.
Of course, by making sure your diet is rich in vitamins, nutrients, and calcium, you can do a lot of good, but topping up with supplements is a sensible solution.
You’ll improve your vitamin D levels by getting out into the sunshine to be active and try to include weight-bearing exercises in your fitness regime.
Over at My Menopause Centre, they also explain that stepping away from the Zinfandel blush (or your choice of alcoholic tipple) and extinguishing any tobacco habits is also crucial.
Focus on heart health
Osteoporosis isn’t the only danger for the body due to hormonal changes – there’s also a heightened risk of heart disease.
Coronary artery disease risk goes up when your oestrogen level goes down due to the impact it has on cholesterol in the body.
The British Heart Foundation explains that oestrogen can function to regulate cholesterol, helping to protect the artery walls from narrowing due to fatty plaque deposits.
As well as a heightened risk of heart disease, there’s also an increased chance of conditions like high blood pressure, strokes, or vascular dementia.
How to keep your heart healthy
The American Heart Association says that lifestyle choices are pivotal in good heart health.
They advise that you should aim to complete 150 minutes of exercise per week after menopause to get the heart pumping. This is about 20 minutes a day! If this feels daunting, it can be broken down into as many chunks as feels accessible.
It doesn’t have to be high-impact spin classes, gentle exercises like brisk walking, swimming, and cycling are all good choices.
Diet-wise, it’s all about eating a range of nutritious fresh food and if weight loss is a target for you, keeping an eye on your calorie intake will be important.
The American Heart Association also advocates regular screening of your cholesterol, blood pressure and blood glucose levels.
Reduce your calorie intake
You may have heard of the ‘middle age spread’ and how waistlines expand as you age.
The Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust explains that the reason behind weight gain post-menopause is down to the change in the way our bodies store fat.
They write: “We develop ‘insulin resistance’ making our bodies store, rather than burn, calories.
“How the body handles food also changes: For example, if you eat 1000 calories before menopause, you will burn 700 and maybe store 300. After menopause, you will store 700 and burn only 300.”
Muscle mass is another factor in play. As we age, we lose muscle mass and therefore, the calories we burn through metabolically active muscle drops.
What do you need to change, calorie-wise?
Every ‘body’ is different, so there’s no exact science when it comes to calorie consumption.
Some experts will tell you to drop your intake by 200 calories post-menopause, but that might not be enough to mitigate weight gain if you live a sedentary lifestyle. What you need to look at is how much energy you are burning compared to the calories you are consuming.
Concentrate on eating foods with high nutritional value and being mindful around your consumption.
Be sure to keep as active as you can, and doing exercises which increase your heart rate, if you are able.
A combination of a mindful diet and regular exercise will help you to maintain a healthy weight.
Don’t neglect your mind
So far, we’ve focused on physical challenges, but there’s no doubt that our mental wellbeing is just as critical to good post-menopause health.
Any big life change can have an impact on your emotional and mental health, and when you throw in major hormonal change, it’s no wonder many people struggle.
People report a range of mental health issues in the post-menopause years such as:
- Increased irritability
- Low moods
- Fluctuations in energy levels
- Depression and sadness
The Menopause Charity explains that mental health challenges can stem from both the physical impact of this life stage plus a range of other factors.
It’s easy to feel isolated and alone, but help is out there. There is plenty of support which will help you to feel informed, associate lifestyle factors, and ensure you feel self-empowered through this stage.
Knowledge is power, and maintaining or regaining the autonomy you desire will help you to better navigate this stage of your life.
Seeking support for mental health challenges
The most important thing you can do is not suffer in silence and seek support.
You might want to begin with your GP, who can advise on talking therapy options to help you work through those feelings. At most GP practices, different specialities will be present. You can ask for those specialising in Women’s Health and menopause when booking your appointment.
GPs can be quick to prescribe anti-depressants when their patient is experiencing low moods or depressive symptoms. This is not the only solution, and it is your decision whether this is appropriate for you in this moment.
Sometimes, physicians can decide it’s appropriate to address the sex hormone drop by using replacement therapies to relieve both physical and mental symptoms.
The Menopause Charity suggests that you can also look at complementary therapies like aromatherapy and acupuncture to help “with stress, anxiety and low mood”.
Find out what works best for you, and be as kind to yourself as possible.
Embracing this chapter of your life
There’s no doubt that menopause and the ongoing adjustments required can be difficult for many people.
But by making good choices and looking after your health, you can enjoy a wonderful and happy future.
The greatest investment we can make is in our health, so be mindful of what you consume, get moving and practice self-care.
Surround yourself with the people who make you happy and bring positive energy into your world.
This is your next chapter, and it’s down to you to make it an amazing one. At Kari, we’re here to support you in any way we can.
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