Health experts share how women can stay well throughout this important time in their lives.
Some women approach menopause as simply another stage of life and the effects are slight. For others, the symptoms can be overwhelming, yet they often don’t realise they are associated with menopause. It’s something that’s not discussed with friends, or even health providers – and we think it’s time that changed.
At Oxford Women’s Health, we want to talk about it. At our recent Christchurch menopause event, we asked four of our experts to share their advice on how women can stay well throughout this important time in a their lives.
Lasting on average for up to eight years, menopause symptoms can affect many parts of the body, according to endocrinologist Anna Fenton. These may include hot flushes, joint pain, sleep disturbance, weight changes and reduced muscle mass. The good news is there are now many safe treatments available. “Menopause can be considered a negative experience, but perhaps we should think of it more as a bridge to the next phase of our lives,” Anna says. “For many women who’ve had awful periods with pain and other symptoms, life beyond menopause is a very positive thing.”
We should think of it more as a bridge to the next phase of our lives.
Gynaecologist Richard Dover says changes in oestrogen levels during menopause may lead to altered bleeding patterns and vaginal skin changes and dryness, which can contribute to frequent urinary tract infections and painful sex. Treatment options for these uncomfortable side effects include vaginal lubricants and topical oestrogen, as well as MonaLisa Touch treatment, which uses laser therapy to encourage the production of healthy, hydrated cells in the vagina.
When it comes to maintaining health and wellbeing, movement is medicine, says physiotherapist Julee Binns. She recommends women increase their aerobic exercise by introducing walking, cycling and swimming into their daily routine, alongside resistance or strength training, as well as stability, balance and stretching exercises. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week, and up to three strength training sessions weekly (20 to 30 minutes).
By exercising regularly, we increase blood flow, which boosts oxygen and nutrient flow to joints and soft tissues. Julee says staying hydrated can reduce joint pain and other menopausal symptoms, and breathing correctly helps calm the nervous system and improve the connection to our pelvic floor muscles.
When women come to see our dietitian Sara Widdowson around the time of menopause, her key advice is to limit the intake of sugary foods and refined carbohydrates. This helps to keep insulin levels down, which can rise during perimenopause and are associated with weight gain and an increased risk of developing high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes.
As the amount of oestrogen in our bodies drops, Sara says its protective effect is lost, leading to an increased risk of heart disease. Her top tips for good heart health are to increase fibre intake (introduce lentils, chickpeas, pulses and eat eight servings of vegetables daily), reduce saturated fat (eat dairy if you can, so you’re getting enough calcium), use healthy fats (olive oil, oily fish, nuts, seeds), and reduce your sugar and alcohol intake.
“Make sure you’re getting enough calcium, sunlight and exercise to keep your bones strong, as lower oestrogen levels in perimenopause can also increase your risk of bone disease,” Sara says. “Limiting your intake of caffeine, spicy foods and alcohol may help reduce hot flushes. And consider taking a magnesium supplement – it may improve your mood, sleep and bone health.”
THIS ARTICLE IS SPONSORED BY OXFORD WOMEN’S HEALTH
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