Dr Louise Newson
GP, medical writer & editor, specialising in the perimenopause and menopause.
Symptoms of the menopause really vary between women and can change with time.
Although the majority of women experience vasomotor symptoms, such as hot flushes and night sweats, it is usually the psychological symptoms of the menopause which have the most detrimental affect on the quality of women’s lives.
Low levels of hormones can lead to low mood, anxiety, reduced concentration, memory problems and fatigue. Similarly, joint pains, muscle pains and reduced stamina can affect women’s ability to exercise.
Reduced libido is very common. Around half of women I see in my menopause clinic tell me that they have not had sexual intercourse with their partner for at least a year.
There is evidence that healthy lifestyle changes and behaviours such as stopping smoking, healthy weight loss and undertaking regular exercise can improve some symptoms of the menopause. In addition, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has been shown to have a beneficial effect in some women.
While no two women experience the same menopause – all symptoms are exacerbated by stress and tiredness. Making simple changes to your lifestyle can often really help.
Here are a few simple, practical tips to help.
Know your triggers
Do you know what triggers a hot flush or palpitations? For some it may be red wine, a cappuccino or chocolate. Trying to reduce or even cut out alcohol can have numerous health benefits. For example, alcohol contains many “hidden” calories that can easily be cut out. Drinking herbal teas instead of caffeinated drinks can be beneficial as a preventative measure too.
Watch what you eat
It is very common for women who are perimenopausal or menopausal to find that they have some extra weight creeping on which is harder to shift. Some women comfort eat – lots of women tell me that they are eating more than they should as their menopausal symptoms are having such a negative effect on them.
Keep in mind that foods rich in protein and will keep you full for longer. Vegetables such as carrots, sprouts, peas, red cabbage, beetroot are all healthy too. If you want a snack in between meals, reach for raw vegetables, seeds or nuts, which are far better than the empty calories of a biscuit or cake.
Improve your gut health
There is increasing evidence that our gut microbes have very beneficial effects on both our physical and mental health. Fruit, vegetables, pulses, nuts and wholegrains feed healthy bacteria. Eat a wide range of plant-based foods and eat more fibre. Taking a good quality probiotic can be beneficial.
Consider doing yoga regularly
Yoga is a fantastic exercise for the entire body. It can also improve some of the symptoms of the menopause, including sleep disturbance, fatigue, low mood and anxiety. Muscle tone and bone density reduce during the perimenopause and menopause, so doing regular yoga practice can also be beneficial for these. Some women find it helps reduce hot flushes too.
Core muscle strength improves, including pelvic floor muscles, which often weaken as hormone levels reduce. Pain threshold is often altered so people who do yoga regularly often can cope with muscle and joint pains more easily. Yoga controls breathing, in which can then reduce anxiety levels. Many people find they are much calmer when they practice yoga regularly and can then deal with stressful situations in a more positive and relaxed way.
Have time for yourself
The menopause often occurs at a time when people are very busy in their lives, either with their families or with work. It is important to have time to yourself to improve mental health and well-being. Some women find meditation can be beneficial. Alternatively, just having a few quiet moments each day to have time just for yourself and block out everything around you, both in physically and mentally, can be very empowering and enriching.
Talk to others
The menopause can be very isolating and scary for many women. Speaking with family, close friends and even work colleagues can open up conversations and often help you realise that you are not alone. Partners can often feel confused and helpless so it is very important to include them in conversations too.