Hot flashes, anxiety, irritability, insomnia. Menopause is a natural stage of life, but that doesn’t mean you have to live with the symptoms of hormonal fluctuations and reduced estrogen. The good news is that many of these symptoms can be lessened with diet and exercise.
What is menopause?
Menopause is the termination of menstrual cycles. It generally begins between the ages of 45 to 50 and lasts until the age of 55. When a woman has not menstruated for one full year, she is considered post-menopausal. The cessation of menstrual cycles leads to a hormonal imbalance and causes many side effects.
Menopause is associated with a decrease in bone density and muscle mass and an increase in fat mass. Less muscle mass means less muscular strength, increasing the risk of falls, fractures and a decrease in quality of life. A decrease in bone density increases the risk of osteoporosis. The hormonal changes that accompany menopause cause hot flashes, stress, mood fluctuations, irritability, anxiety, sleep disorders, rapid heartbeat, memory changes and reduced libido. The reduction in estrogen also promotes the accumulation of fat on the stomach and central region and less fat on the hips and extremities. This shift in body fat increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Tips for reducing your risk and your menopausal symptoms
A healthy diet and regular physical activity will reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke by promoting optimal blood pressure, a healthy body weight and lower stress levels.
Decreases in muscle mass and bone density can’t be prevented but they can be slowed and almost halted. Weight-bearing exercise activities such as strength training, heavy household chores or walking can help keep your bones and muscles strong.
Cardiovascular exercise helps improve body composition, which will help decrease the risk of heart disease. Performing regular strength training will also help build or maintain muscle. The more muscle you have, the more fat you will burn and the higher your metabolism will be throughout the day. Increased metabolism will improve body composition and decrease your risk of heart disease.
A diet high in calcium and vitamin D slows the degeneration of bone tissue. Good sources of calcium are low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese, fortified soymilk, almonds, sesame seeds and dark green leafy vegetables such a broccoli and kale. Good sources of vitamin D, which is needed for calcium absorption, are fortified milk and soymilk, margarine and fish oils.
Decreasing your intake of red meat, alcohol, salt and caffeine will also help keep your bones healthy.