As Molly struggled to get rid of the extra weight around her midsection, she wished she had better prepared for menopause.
“I didn’t know how much my metabolism was going to slow down, and I had to be more careful about my weight. It really stressed me out,” said Molly, 59.
Molly is far from being alone. Failure to prepare for menopause can lead to anxiety and stress in women, explained Dr. Sharon D. Allison-Ottey, geriatrics specialist and member of the HealthyWomen Women’s Health Advisory Council, in an email.
Women can also confuse menopausal symptoms with serious health problems such as cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.
“This would lead to delayed diagnosis and possible complications / poor results,” Allison-Ottey wrote. “This is a process and every woman is different. However, as you prepare, it is important to find good information and have a dialogue with your healthcare professional.”
With that in mind, Allison-Ottey says there are a few steps you can take to help ease your transition into perimenopause and menopause.
Maintain a healthy weight
“It is important to enter menopause at a healthy weight because we know that as we age, our risk of heart disease increases, the risk of diabetes increases, and being overweight / obese increases the risk of certain cancers and other diseases,” wrote Allison-Ottey.
Extra pounds can be attributed to changes in estrogen levels that can contribute to weight gain, especially in the midsection. But weighing too little can also cause problems.
“I don’t want to ignore women who are below their ideal weight during menopause. This can be problematic as it can increase your risk of osteoporosis and other diet-related and protein / nutrient-deficient diseases,” Allison-Ottey wrote.
Change your diet
Before menopause, Molly often indulged in extra candy, but managed to maintain a healthy weight due to her high metabolism.
“Menopause changed all of that,” she recalled. “I wish I had started eating healthier sooner.”
Make sure your meals contain more fruits and vegetables than starches and empty carbohydrates. Consider eating chicken or fish for protein, recommends Allison-Ottey.
“Most of us underestimate the amount of calories we ingest. A food log helps and [it’s also a good idea to] Take pictures of your meals as you begin your weight loss or weight maintenance journey, “she suggests.
A change in diet alone is not enough.
“The battle for the fork is important, but to get your metabolism going and prevent perimenopausal or menopausal weight gain, you need to increase your activity through exercise, but not just look at it in the traditional sense,” Allison-Ottey wrote. “Find exercises that you actually enjoy doing … if you hate the gym, why? Find other things to do.”
She added that dancing to music while cleaning the house and parking further from the grocery store entrance are great ways to add a lot of exercise to your daily routine.
It’s also important to lift weights and use resistance bands or other forms of strength training to keep your bones strong.
Lower risk of osteoporosis
Another risk for women going through menopause is developing osteoporosis, which, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, causes one in two women over 50 to break a bone due to the condition.
Again, estrogen is to blame. The hormone plays a role in bone density, and since the body makes less estrogen, the bones are less protected.
Weight training can help protect your bones, but getting the right calcium and vitamin D intake is also important. “Now increase the calcium and vitamin D in your foods. No matter how old you are or where you are in perimenopause or menopause,” advised Allison-Ottey. Women should focus on eating foods rich in calcium, such as milk, cheese and yogurt, beans / lentils, sardines, and leafy green vegetables.
She added that if you increase your calcium, you need vitamin D. “If we consider calcium to be the essential passenger needed to get to our bones, vitamin D is the means to get it there,” Allison-Ottey wrote.
According to the Mayo Clinic, women aged 51 and over should take between 1,200 and 2,000 mg of calcium daily. It is also recommended that people up to the age of 70 take 600 international units of vitamin D per day and those over 70,800 international units per day.
Practice good sleep hygiene
Another aspect of menopause that Molly struggled with was hot flashes, which caused her to lose sleep.
“I kept throwing and spinning,” she recalled.
Sleep disorders, including obstructive sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome, are common in menopausal women, according to a 2019 study.
Allison-Ottey recommends developing good sleeping habits, such as: For example, maintain a cool room temperature, avoid exercising too close to bed, avoid caffeine 12 hours before bed, and avoid napping during the day. It’s also a good idea to turn off the TV in favor of breathing exercise or other calming activity to help you get to sleep and keep a regular sleeping schedule.
“After all, you know your body and your patterns. Pay attention to them and when [trouble sleeping] becomes life changing, talk to your doctor about therapies, “wrote Allison-Ottey.
Take care of your sanity
Menopause can also lead to an increase in anxiety and depression.
“Most hormonal changes during menopause are temporary, and so are your mood swings and other mental health problems,” Allison-Ottey wrote. “If you have had depression or anxiety disorders in the past, they may come back during this time.”
As with other menopausal symptoms, if your anxiety or depression is no longer manageable, talk to your doctor about treatment options.
And try not to be too hard on your body or yourself during this time.
“This is simply your body going through a period of change. Hug it and you may like this time of the year better than the seasons before!” Allison-Ottey wrote.
Molly asked us not to use her last name to protect her privacy.