In this 2-part series, we look at the latest medical thinking on menopause treatment – and how a healthy lifestyle can help manage your symptoms.

Two important tools for women managing menopause symptoms are hormone therapy (HT) and lifestyle changes. Part 1 of this 2-part series covered HT and hot-flash management. Now, let’s focus on healthy lifestyle and how paying attention to diet, exercise and stress levels can mitigate other symptoms.

Moderating mood swings

According to the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada (SOGC), irritability, tearfulness, anxiety, depression, lack of motivation and weak concentration are among the changes women may experience at this time of life. An accumulation of nights with poor sleep can also cause mood changes. Lifestyle changes can help (see list below), but serious mood disorders may need treatment with antidepressants, sometimes in combination with hormone therapy (HT). Talk to your doctor about your options.

Slaying sleep problems

Women may find themselves waking up repeatedly with hot flashes and then having difficulty going back to sleep. Non-prescription therapies such as valerian, phytoestrogens and St. John’s wort are some options for treatment. Getting enough exercise can also be a big help.

The truth about weight gain

Time to bust a myth: While added pounds are typical for many women going through menopause, weight gain isn’t because of menopause.

“There is no connection between hormone fluctuation and weight gain,” says Dr. Shawna Johnston, an obstetrician/gynaecologist and associate professor in the Faculty of Medicine at Queen’s University Hospital in Kingston, Ont. “You gain weight because you’re getting older and weight accumulates over time. Weight gain is associated with menopause because the body is simply aging.” One thing that’s different between older and younger women, Dr. Johnston adds, is that older women tend to gain weight more in the central abdomen, rather than in the hips and buttocks as younger women tend to do.

As we age, the rate at which our bodies burn energy and fat – our metabolism – declines. While following a healthy lifestyle can help you maintain a healthy weight, that slower metabolism may mean you’ll need fewer calories to hold your weight steady. According to the Mayo Clinic, you might need about 200 fewer calories a day in your 50s than you did in your 30s and 40s just to maintain your existing weight – and fewer still to lose any excess pounds. The SOGC recommends you consult your doctor to discuss weight management strategies. Let her know if you experience persistent weight gain leading up to or after menopause.

Managing menopause: a checklist

Following these suggestions can help alleviate menopause symptoms and help you maintain a healthy weight, have more energy, sleep better and reduce stress:

  1. Follow a well-balanced diet based on the Canada Food Guide.
  2. Quit smoking and limit alcohol consumption.
  3. Check your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels regularly.
  4. Get regular exercise. Aim for 30 minutes 3 times per week or more.
  5. Do weight-bearing activities such as weight training or low-impact aerobics to help build bone mass and reduce your risk of osteoporosis.
  6. Keep muscles limber and toned with stretching and strengthening exercises. Yoga is a good choice, as it has the added benefit of helping you relax.

For more information and resources on menopause, visit the SOGC’s site, 

Dry skin, brittle hair?

The same principle as the weight-gain myth applies here, says Dr. Shawna Johnston: Your hair and skin don’t become drier because of menopause, but due to the simple fact of aging. “These things are genetically predetermined for us all,” she says, adding that HT can help decrease fine wrinkles, as it helps limit your skin’s collagen loss.

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