MENOPAUSAL women are dogged by weight gain, anxiety, hot flushes and brain fog – but they can make it The Change for the better with exercise.
Our Menopause Matters campaign has highlighted the struggles women face as hormone levels dwindle.
But a few tweaks to your daily lives can ease physical symptoms and calm the low moods and anxiety.
Chartered physiotherapist and pilates teacher Emily Russell expains: “The perimenopause often begins in the mid to late thirties and is an ideal time to ensure you are preparing your body.
“It’s about being balanced and healthy.
“Exercise alone won’t alleviate symptoms for many, but it can play a big part in keeping you healthy and well.”
Despite the huge shift their bodies go through, 40 per cent of women hadn’t made any lifestyle alterations to cope with The Change, a survey by Fabulous found.
We highlight some simple lifestyle hacks to a healthier menopause.
YOUR ULTIMATE MENOPAUSE WORKOUT
TO help inspire you, Emily has put together a workout to help you manage your menopause and feel healthier and stronger.
The repetitions are just a guide – do fewer if you feel uncomfortable, and add more resistance if it feels easy.
PLACE your elbows under your shoulders. Pull your deep tummy muscles in (as though you’re zipping up your flies) and gently tuck your tailbone under.
Try to hold a strong line from your shoulders to heels. Beginners can start by keeping their knees on the mat. Aim for 20 seconds and build up.
LIE on your tummy and gently tuck your tailbone between your legs by pulling your tummy muscles in (zipping up those flies again).
Keep your back and pelvis still as you float one arm up and reach your opposite leg out behind you, squeezing your glute. Do ten repetitions for each side.
LIFT AND LOWER
LIE on your side and make sure your spine is neutral by checking there is a small gap under your waist. Bring your straight legs slightly in front of you, then lift your top leg to work your glutes.
Make it harder by adding a resistance band around your thighs or ankles. Do 15 repetitions for each side.
KNEELING on the mat, place your hands wide at shoulder level. Keep your chest out and tailbone slightly tucked in as you lower your chest to the mat and slowly return.
Make it harder by coming off your knees into the plank position. Do ten repetitions.
WITH your knees wide on the mat, sink your tailbone back to your heels in order to stretch the lower back and pelvis.
Relax your head, arms and shoulders and take a few breaths. Hold this position for 20 seconds.
ON all fours, keep your back and pelvis neutral and stable. Imagine you are balancing something on your back.
Gently float one arm in front, stretching the opposite leg out behind and work your glutes. Do ten repetitions each side.
KEEP your feet hip-width apart and your weight through your heels and squat down.
Make it harder by adding weight (for example cans of beans) in your hands, or a resistance band around your thighs. Do 15 repetitions.
WITH your feet hip-width apart, step one leg back. Lunge down, lowering your back knee down to the ground.
Add hand weights to make it more challenging. Do ten repetitions each side.
LIE on your back with your spine neutral (keep a small space between it and the mat). With your knee bent, lift one leg up into the table-top position, finishing with your knee above your hip.
Slowly lower it and repeat on the other side. Make it harder by lifting the second leg as you lower the first. Make sure your back doesn’t rock from side to side. Do ten repetitions each side.
LYING with your feet hip-width apart, dig your heels into the mat. Clench your buttocks and allow your tailbone to roll off the mat.
Slowly roll your spine and lift up joint by joint, aiming for a straight line from knees to shoulder. Keep your glutes engaged as you slowly roll back down. Do ten repetitions.
Fabulous Menopause Matters
An estimated one in five of the UK’s population are currently experiencing it.
Yet the menopause is still whispered in hush tones like it’s something to be embarrassed about.
The stigma attached to the transition means women have been suffering in silence for centuries.
The Sun are determined to change that, launching the Fabulous Menopause Matters campaign to give the taboo a long-awaited kick, and get women the support they need.
The campaign has three aims:
- To make HRT free in England
- To get every workplace to have a menopause policy to provide support
- To bust taboos around the menopause
The campaign has been backed by a host of influential figures including Baroness Karren Brady CBE, celebrities Lisa Snowdon, Jane Moore, Michelle Heaton, Zoe Hardman, Saira Khan, Trisha Goddard, as well as Dr Louise Newson, Carolyn Harris MP, Jess Phillips MP, Caroline Nokes MP and Rachel Maclean MP.
Exclusive research commissioned by Fabulous, which surveyed 2,000 British women aged 45-65 who are going through or have been through the menopause, found that 49% of women suffered feelings of depression, while 7% felt suicidal while going through the menopause.
50% of respondents said there is not enough support out there for menopausal women, which is simply not good enough. It’s time to change that.
THE LIFESTYLE HACKS TO BOOST YOUR WELLBEING
STAND ON ONE LEG
THERE are oestrogen receptors all over the body, even in the inner ears, which are key to your sense of balance.
Emily says: “As we age and oestrogen declines, some women struggle to balance, and falls put them at greater risk of broken bones.
“That’s why it’s a good idea to maintain strength and balance to prevent falls.”
She says the best way to do that is to practise standing on one leg. “Try it every day while brushing your teeth,” she suggests.
“Try to stand with your knee ‘soft’, or bent slightly to maximise the benefit, and lightly rest your fingertips on something solid if you need a little extra help.”
GET A SQUATTY POTTY
CONSTIPATION is also a common symptom of perimenopause and menopause.
That’s because the imbalance of both oestrogen and progesterone can slow down your gut, causing your bowel movements to become sluggish, explains Emily’s colleague and fellow chartered physiotherapist Tina Mason.
“Without as much oestrogen, cortisol levels can increase, which can lead to symptoms such as indigestion, acid reflux, trapped wind, flatulence and nausea,” she says.
So how can you combat the gut troubles?
Tina suggests using a fold-up step or “stool stool”, such as a Squatty Potty, to put your feet on when going for a number two. It helps to open the bowels for an easier passage.
Tina also adds: “Having fibre in your diet is essential to a healthy gut, along with drinking lots of water.
Other diet tips are to avoid alcohol, and foods high in sugar, refined carbs and hydrogenated fats — all of which can cause levels of the stress hormone cortisol to spike.
FLEX GREEN FINGERS
DURING the menopause the decline in muscle size and function speeds up. And midlife weight gain is made worse by the drop in hormone levels, raising the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke or heart attack.
“Oestrogen and progesterone help protect the function of the nerves, which control our muscles, so when they fluctuate it is harder for our muscles to work effectively,” Emily explains.
But the stronger you are at menopause, the more likely you are to remain strong, she adds.
Emily and Tina recommend three 30-minute, full-body strength training sessions each week. “You need to do enough to raise your heart rate and be out of breath, but still able to hold a conversation,” says Tina.
This doesn’t mean tough sessions in the gym, Emily adds. “Gardening, a brisk walk or a jog are great options,” she says.
“You could try Pilates, using resistance bands or a simple routine using body weight exercises such as squats, lunges and press-ups.”
SQUEEZE AND HOLD
ONE set of muscles that weakens as oestrogen levels fall is your pelvic floor.
They are the muscles around your bladder, bottom and vagina, and keeping them strong can prevent urinary incontinence — and boost your sex life.
Signs your pelvic floor is weakened are greater urgency to go to the toilet, inability to control flatulence, and even faecal leakage.
Pelvic organ prolapse is also a common complication. This is a feeling of heaviness or dragging in the vagina, caused by a decrease in support of the pelvic organs.
Emily says: “You can improve strength of here by doing kegel exercises. Squeeze the muscles from back to front passage, as if you’re stopping wind and then urine.
“Hold for ten seconds, ten times and then try to squeeze for ten short bursts.
“We should be doing these exercises three times a day and it takes about three months to notice an increase in strength of the pelvic floor, so stick with it.”
OESTROGEN helps to protect your bones, so post-menopausal women are at greater risk of osteoporosis, increasing the risk of fractures.
Tina says: “Osteoporosis is common, affecting almost 25 per cent of women aged 60 to 64 and almost 40 per cent aged 70 to 75, Skipping is a great weight-bearing exercise that could protect your bone health.
“Walking, jogging, jumping activities, tennis or anything where you are moving about with your feet on the ground is great for improving bone density.
Again, strength training twice a week is great, as working the muscles helps strengthen bones.”
GET NEW PJs
IT’S a vicious circle — hot flushes improve if you sleep better, but make it harder to drift off.
The optimum sleeping temperature is 16C to 18C, says Baz Moffat, women’s health coach and founder of women’s health site The Well.
She says: “It’s better to have a cool room and a duvet with blankets you can strip back, as opposed to a hot room. Sleep in cotton pyjamas and sheets to reduce sweating, and stick to a routine that helps you drift off.
“That might mean avoiding heavy workouts in the evening, eating dinner earlier or reading before bed. Your body can recognise the clues that it’s time for bed.”
KNOW YOUR LIMIT
NOTICED you can’t handle drink like you used to? It might be down to the menopause.
“Our bodies become more sensitive to alcohol, caffeine and sugar,” explains Baz. “And all can exacerbate your symptoms.
“Reducing alcohol or coffee intake, or cutting out sugary foods, could make a real difference to menopause symptoms.
It might be just one glass of wine a night but it could be that one drink is making hot flushes, insomnia or anxiety worse.”
BLUE SKY THINKING
“WHETHER you are someone totally debilitated by the symptoms or somebody who breezes through it, your body is still in a state of stress,” Baz says.
“Anything you can do to help your body relax will be a benefit.”
She suggests mindfulness. “Focus on the present to prevent you worrying about the future or dwelling on the past.
“Clock up as many mindful moments as you can throughout the day. Go for a walk and have a look at the sky. Meditation, yoga and colouring are also great ways of being mindful.”
GRAB A SARNIE
YOU might be tempted to ditch carbs if you’ve put on weight but they might be what you need to ease anxiety and low moods.
Nutritionist Amanda Ursell says: “Evidence suggests wholemeal carbs such as oats, wholemeal bread, pitta, wraps, brown rice and pasta and lean protein, such as beans, nuts and seeds, can ward off low moods and, in some cases, depression.
“Wholegrains, lean plant proteins and lots of vegetables and fruit may also help the effects of diminishing oestrogen on our skin.”
Our 3 aims
- Make HRT free for ALL women on the NHS.
- Ensure that every workplace has a menopause policy that supports staff.
- Get both women and men talking more openly about the menopause, to shatter the taboo around it.
What is the menopause and what age does it usually start?
Menopause is a natural part of ageing, which usually happens when a woman is between the age of 45 and 55.
In the UK, the average age for a woman to go through menopause is 51.
It occurs when oestrogen levels in the body start to decline.
During this time periods become less frequent or they can suddenly stop, and after menopause occurs women will be unable to become pregnant naturally.
Around one in 100 women experience menopause before the age of 40, and this is known as premature ovarian insufficiency or premature menopause.
Many celebrities have spoken out about their own experiences, including Lisa Snowdon, Davina McCall, Michelle Heaton and Zoe Hardman.
What are the symptoms?
Menopausal symptoms can start months or years before your periods stop, and can last until four years or longer after your last period.
- Hot flushes
- Changing or irregular periods
- Difficulty in sleeping
- Anxiety and loss of confidence
- Low mood, irritability and depression
- Night sweats
- Vaginal dryness or discomfort during sex
- Reduced libido (sex drive)
- Problems with concentration or memory
- Weight gain
- Bladder control