Menopause is a normal, natural life event that occurs when a woman’s period stops. It commonly happens between the ages of 40 and 58. Smokers can start menopause up to 2 years earlier than non-smokers. Menopause happens because the ovaries naturally stop producing the hormones estrogen and progesterone.
A woman “officially” reaches menopause 12 months after her last period. However, changes and symptoms can begin several years earlier. Some of these symptoms include changes in the monthly cycle and hot flashes. The time from when these changes start to actual menopause is called “perimenopause.”
Perimenopause often starts between age 40-50 and can last several years (4 to up to 14!). It begins with changes to the regular menstrual cycle. During this time the ovaries’ production of estrogen and progesterone decreases.
Perimenopause and menopause are unique to women. However, this stage is often seen as a taboo subject and is not well understood; even though, menopause can be a risk factor for biological and psychological health. As a result, women going through menopause can feel frustrated and isolated. Psychological resilience thus becomes important for perimenopausal and menopausal women as a protective factor against depression and anxiety.
Süss and Ehlert (2020) identified six categories of resilience factors: core resilience, spirituality, control, optimism, emotion, and self-related resilience. These resilience factors help women manage symptoms with less stress and better satisfaction which in turn leads to better psychological health. This perceived self-efficacy correlates with quality of life and general well-being. As perimenopause and menopause can co-occur with other life experiences such as divorce, caring for teenage children, and occupational changes, self-efficacy becomes important to help women through the menopausal transition.
Perimenopause and menopause are times of great transition and the hormonal changes affect women physically and psychologically. Physically, women undergo hot flashes, weight gain, irregular periods, incontinence, bone density loss, and hair loss. The hormone changes can cause mood swings, irritability, memory loss, and even depression. While hormone replacement therapy is helpful, and sometimes necessary, there are additional actions women can take to manage the effects of hormone fluctuation.
Nutrition during menopause is confusing as there are many fad diets that may not be suitable for all people. Understanding how to make small, sustainable changes can help women minimize weight gain, reduce the intensity of hot flashes, and improve mood. Fats, for example, are an important aspect of nutrition; however, not all fats are healthy. The monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in fish, nuts, and avocados are very beneficial to weight loss, vitamin absorption, and protection against disease. In addition, fats may help protect against depression and cognitive decline as a woman ages.
The loss of estrogen is also linked to bone loss in perimenopausal and menopausal women. Exercise during menopause not only can help slow weight gain, it can also help moderate mood and help slow the rate of bone loss. However, the type and duration of exercise is important to moderate cortisol levels. Adjusting to less cardio and incorporating strength training exercises helps women burn fat without adding stress to their system. An added benefit of strength training is it helps build muscle mass, which increases the metabolism and reduces fat.
Weight training for women is also important as it helps build bone mass. As women age, they need not only calcium rich foods, but also weight training to help prevent osteoporosis. Estrogen helps protect bones; however, estrogen drops during perimenopause, making perimenopause and menopause risk factors for osteoporosis.
Understanding hormones, nutrition, and exercise during this period can help women reduce risk for injury and disease. If you have questions about how you can more naturally manage the symptoms of perimenopause or menopause, drop me a comment below. Or, if you are on social media, come follow my Facebook page or Instagram account. I also have some limited availability for one-on-one virtual trainings. You can sign up for a complementary initial consultation by clicking here.