Most of us feel pretty invincible in our 20s and 30s. But as we roll through the decades, there’s a definite shift in what we need to stay fit and healthy. The most significant physical milestone for women as we age is menopause; one way or another, it affects us all. Conversations around menopause are increasing, yet there’s still not enough education about what to expect, or how to navigate the natural changes. Because menopause affects everyone differently, we don’t know exactly how we’ll feel until it happens. Although that doesn’t mean we should leave it to chance.
Lots of studies show how important healthy eating, exercise, and lifestyle are in the lead-up. We also know that a steep drop in estrogen, alongside other hormonal fluctuations, increases the risk of heart disease, insulin resistance, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, weight gain, and osteoporosis. So, it makes sense to control what you can. Like anything, the longer you wait, the harder it will be. Take the time to educate yourself and build healthy habits now, and your body will thank you in the long run.
The four main areas to stay on top of are:
Focus on nutrient-rich food and ditch things that can contribute to common health issues. Culprits include sugar, simple carbohydrates, excess calories, processed foods, alcohol, caffeine, and dairy. Certain foods might not have caused problems before, but as hormone levels change, they can affect us differently.
Crucially, food supplies the building blocks to make hormones. Eating good fats is essential for hormone production – think olive oil, flaxseed oil, avocado oil, raw unsalted nuts or seeds, nut butter, and avocados.
Food also increases levels of hormones like insulin and alters how others are metabolised. It can even stimulate the release of testosterone, which is essential for energy and sex drive. Some of the best nutrients to increase testosterone levels are zinc, magnesium, B vitamins, omega 3, onions, ginger, green leafy vegetables, pomegranates, olive oil, eggs, almonds, and pumpkin seeds. While Vitamin D, vitamin C, and magnesium, found in things like fatty fish, mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, spinach, and avocados, can elevate your love hormone oxytocin.
Too much sugar is never a good thing at any age. Remove processed carbs and sugars as much as possible. This includes high-starch foods like rice, pasta, bread, cereals, and potatoes. Make sure to replace them with low-glycemic foods to give you energy and encourage a steady flow of glucose into your bloodstream.
There are many reasons why physical activity tends to drop off as we age, from busy lifestyles to an increase in injuries, aches, and pains (caused in part by inflammation). The issue is the less exercise we do, the more we lose strength and it becomes a vicious circle. Our bone density mineral peaks in the late 20s and 30s, reversing from 35 onwards. Regular exercise can mitigate bone loss, lowering the risk of fractures and osteoporosis. There are many other pros too. Exercise helps to keep weight under control, plus it plays a big part in managing mental health, which can also take a hit from hormonal changes. Resistance training is great for maintaining muscle mass and building strength. While cardio is crucial for heart health. Find a mix of activities you enjoy and, most importantly, that you’ll stick to.
We’ve become accustomed to being stressed and used to operating in fight or flight, even enjoying the ‘oomph’ it gives us. That doesn’t mean it’s healthy, in fact, it’s the opposite, especially as we get older. When we’re stressed, our cortisol levels are higher. Cortisol stays in the blood stream making us even more vulnerable to inflammation. Excess cortisol also adversely affects liver function, and the production of progesterone, adrenal and thyroid hormones. While a certain level of cortisol is beneficial, the key is finding a balance and looking after the limbic system as a whole. One of the most effective ways to manage stress is to hack our happy hormones – dopamine, serotonin, oxytocins and endorphins. Food plays a role, as does exercise, self-care, laughter, relationships, sun exposure and spending time in nature.
Sleep is fundamental to how we think and feel. A healthy bedtime routine can boost your immune system and sharpen your cognitive thinking. It’s important not only to maintain your energy levels, but also for your waistline. Going back to stress, high cortisol levels play havoc with our sleep hormone melatonin, dampening its production and resulting in trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep. Sleep can be an issue for many women during menopause, so trying to lessen your stress and establish a good routine early could help reduce your number of sleepless nights.
Don’t eat too late and avoid sugar and carbs after 3pm as they can inhibit melatonin production.
Calm your mind and body before bedtime.
Breathe deeply before going to sleep. This lowers your heart rate and blood pressure, reducing stress
Sleep in a dark, cool room.
Switch off all devices one hour before bed.
If you are having trouble sleeping, take magnesium one hour before bedtime.
Expose your eyes to morning light to wake yourself up and increase serotonin.