Almost every woman today knows what menopause is. All over the world today, menopause is accepted to be the period of every woman’s life where she becomes unable to bear children. This termination of reproduction is attributed to the inability of the ovaries to produce eggs.
As a woman gets older, her reproductive organs go through drastic changes. The reproductive organ constantly changes from puberty to adolescence, pregnancy to menopause. All of these changes do not just happen independently. Instead, they come with their effects on the body. In this article, we’ll be laying more focus on menopause and how its impact on the body.
As stated earlier, menopause is the period of every woman’s life where her ovaries lose the ability to produce eggs, and as such, she becomes unable to bear children. In the United States, the average age for a woman to go into menopause is 51, either in menopause or going through perimenopause (the period leading to menopause).
Like other processes of the body, menopause comes with its stages. There are three stages of menopause; perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause. Let’s look at these stages differently.
It is the stage leading to menopause. You can describe perimenopause as the doorman to menopause. Menopause doesn’t just come suddenly. Instead, it is welcomed by perimenopause. Perimenopause begins several years before menopause and is often plagued by symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, sexual discomforts, etc. It is essential to know that these symptoms aren’t distinct from perimenopause and are generally considered menopausal symptoms.
During perimenopause, the periods become irregular, and hormones like progesterone and estrogen fluctuate. Before a perimenopausal woman can get to menopause, she must go through 12 consecutive months of zero periods. Immediately, the period ceases for a whole year; then, she is in menopause.
Postmenopause is the time immediately after menopause. Unfortunately, getting to this phase means remaining there for the rest of your life; your hormonal level stays low, and your monthly period disappears. As a result, your ovaries lose the ability to release eggs, making it impossible to get pregnant. Generally, menopausal symptoms begin to decline as you go further in age. However, these symptoms can stay as long as a decade.
Understanding Menopausal Symptoms
Unlike many people think, menopause isn’t just the termination of the ability to reproduce. With menopause come symptoms that could vary in severity. These symptoms are known as menopausal symptoms. You may have asked the lingering question; why do these symptoms come, and what causes them? The answer to this question is relatively straightforward.
In a woman’s body, the ovaries are the leading producers of the estrogen hormone. Estrogen is a steroid hormone that functions as a sex hormone responsible for developing secondary sexual characteristics in women. For example, it helps us get curvier and makes our breasts bigger. When the ovaries become inactive, it leads to a deficiency in their estrogen levels. As a result of this, the body begins to experience some complications. These complications are known as menopausal symptoms.
Some common menopausal symptoms include the following.
Experiencing hot flashes was my first symptom. It started as an instant burning sensation in my upper body and then became more severe as it spread to my face. Eventually, my skin reddened, and it felt like I was blushing at some point. Hot flashes are the most common symptoms during menopause, and studies have shown that more than 70% of menopausal women have experienced hot flashes. Hot flashes come in various degrees and usually cause sweating, sometimes intense.
Hot flashes usually precede this. As the body’s temperature increases, you sometimes experience sweating. It is called night sweats because it happens mostly at night, in your bedroom. Even when the temperature is cooked and in your very light pajamas, you are still bound to experience night sweats.
I experienced night sweats during my perimenopausal years. I woke up some days before Christmas with my sheets drenched in moisture. Firstly, it was winter, so I couldn’t comprehend what had happened during the night. Secondly, I left the AC on throughout the night. Everything felt strange until I paid a visit to the doctor. That was when I realized it was all caused by menopause. Yikes!
Vaginal dryness usually comes at the later stage of perimenopause or the earlier stages of menopause. When you experience vaginal dryness, you tend to feel sore or itchy in areas around your vagina. Sometimes, you get the urge to pee more often than usual. Vaginal dryness leads to pain and discomfort during intercourse and can collapse your sex life.
In the form of high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, the hormonal changes caused by menopause can result in increased cardiovascular risk. It is why menopausal women have a higher risk of heart diseases than others on earth.
Sleep disturbances during menopause are caused mainly by hot flashes and night sweats. Although not to all women, most women have complained of sleeping late and waking before dawn during menopause. Generally, we are advised to get up to 7 hours of sleep every day.
While 7 hours is essential, menopause doesn’t think so. So many menopausal women have complained of difficulty getting to sleep, difficulty staying asleep, early morning awakening, depleting quality of sleep, and fatigue during the day. Some independent research has shown that sleep disorders during menopause can be caused by anxiety and depression attributed to menopause.
Mood Swings and Irritability
Hot flashes, night sweats, sleep interruptions, and other things can cause unpredictable sudden mood changes. These mood changes often result in extreme feelings of anxiety, anger, and panic. Sometimes, you get tired of the entire concept of menopause and experience severe and sudden feelings of depression.
Weight Gain and Slow Metabolism
70% of menopausal women are very likely to gain weight during perimenopause or the early stages of menopause. So, instead of the usual fat growing in your hips and thighs, these fats begin to migrate to your abdominal and midsection, causing a lot of complications to your health. So many women, including me, do not fancy the idea of rapid weight gain.
Before menopause, I was pretty active in my exercises and physical activities. When I step on the scale and notice a slight gain in weight, I find it easy to hop on the treadmill and burn some fats. However, I have noticed that since getting to menopause, losing weight has become more complex, and gaining weight is relatively easy.
In just a full day of binge-watching my favorite series, the pointer of my scale is already going further than it did three days before. Hormone fluctuations, irregular sleep, and the natural aging process are the significant reasons menopausal women gain weight.
Osteoporosis is the weakening of the bones. Research has shown a significant speed in bone loss and osteoporosis during menopause. In addition, with estrogen deficiency being the leading cause of osteoporosis, menopausal women are twice more likely to be diagnosed with this disease than others.
Solutions to Menopausal Symptoms
Even with the symptoms caused or linked to menopause, it is essential to know that menopause is not a disease. Instead, it is a natural transition that every woman must go through. It means no one can treat menopause; instead, we can treat the symptoms that come with it.
The most effective way of managing the symptoms of menopause is to opt for lifestyle changes, including exercise and diet changes. Although some medical options are available, lifestyle changes remain the best treatment option. However, before we look at these lifestyle changes, let’s briefly discuss the primary medical treatment option for menopausal symptoms; Hormone Replacement Therapy.
Hormone Replacement Therapy
Abbreviated as HRT, this treatment option involves relieving symptoms of menopause by simply replacing hormones at lower levels. Hormone replacement therapy is typically taken to reduce the effects of menopausal symptoms on women going through menopause. HRT helps replace hormones that have become low as a result of menopause. There tends to be some hormonal balance in the body with this.
The fluctuations of vital hormones in the body of menopausal women are the main reasons for so many uncomfortable menopausal symptoms. With HRT, symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, reduced sex drive, vaginal dryness, and mood swings can be relieved. HRT can also help with osteoporosis problems, which are very common in the postmenopausal phase of life.
HRT is very beneficial to menopausal women. Living with menopause can sometimes be difficult, but you could go through a smooth menopausal transition without experiencing complications with this treatment option.
While the benefits of Hormone Replacement Therapy are known to outweigh the risks, HRT can cause problems as severe as cancer, heart diseases, blood clots, and stroke. Before they uncovered the dangers of HRT, many women took this treatment option to alleviate the problems of menopausal symptoms. However, the number of women taking HRT has significantly dropped since researchers linked it to breast cancer.
Generally, there are two types of Hormone Replacement Therapy, including estrogen-only HRT and combination HRT. While the former contains the estrogen and progesterone hormone, the latter has only estrogen.
Estrogen-only HRT will only increase your risks of developing breast cancer when used for as much as ten years. On the other hand, combination HRT can increase your risk of developing cancer by as much as 75%. Even if this HRT is used for a short time, the bets still stand. Also, there is a high chance that combination HRT will increase the likelihood of breast cancer being diagnosed at an advanced stage. It also increases the probability of death from breast cancer.
Exercises to Help Reduce the Impact of Menopause on Your Life
Many women today see menopause as a period of rest and retirement. With this, they tend to be good friends with the couch, lying there all day and being sedentary. I’m afraid that’s not right and must be abstained. Even with symptoms like mood swings and sleep problems, staying on the couch all day will not make things better for you. Instead, it will only aggravate the symptoms. As women, we should help ourselves during menopause by engaging in exercises and more physical activities.
Exercises help you stay fit and maintain healthy living, and it also helps cushion the effects of menopause on you. However, it is essential to know that exercise is not a proven way of eradicating menopausal symptoms. What exercise does is that it helps you relieve stress, maintain a healthy weight, and improve your quality of life. All of these will, in turn, help you manage menopausal symptoms more effectively.
Some joint exercises important for menopausal women include:
Cardio exercises are essential in maintaining a healthy heart. Menopausal women are advised to engage in activities that improve the heart’s health owing to the effects of menopause on the heart. We should engage in cardiovascular exercises.
While cardio exercises are considered discreet and specific, you can engage in them in the comfort of your house. Music to my ears! Some examples of cardio exercises include
As an alternative to jogging, jump rope can be used to groom a healthy heart. It is important to stand with both feet, swing the rope over your body, and repeatedly jump up and down at a spot.
Besides the cardiovascular fitness of the heart, this exercise targets major muscle groups and strengthens bones which is essential for dealing with the problems of fatigue and osteoporosis during menopause. To perform this exercise, you should begin with both feet apart and arms down. The components are then raised to the sides while jumping out with the feet apart. Repeat this process until you feel satisfied with your progress.
I’m sorry to tell you this, but please stop using the elevator all the time. While it is very easy, comforting, and shiny, it makes you more passive. It will help if you take the stairs. And by taking the stairs, I mean using two feet at a time instead of one. Also, hopping from one level to another on the staircase will help strengthen your cardiovascular system and leg muscles. With this, try going up and down your stairs for several rounds.
Marching/Jogging in Place
Owing to the simplicity of this routine, you can teach this in your workout sessions as a warm-up exercise. Then, you can increase the intensity by increasing the speed.
Try standing on one foot while brushing your teeth or making a phone call. It will help the abdominal muscles. To increase the intensity, you can lift one leg higher.
Balance and Flexibility
These routines can ensure stability and flexibility as you get older and can also be used to relax effectively and for meditation. In these exercises, you can manage menopausal symptoms like anxiety, depression, stress, and anger.
Some examples of exercises for balance and flexibility include:
Purposeful breathing and positions called asanas could help you combat symptoms like insomnia and stress. In addition, yoga is known to help relieve stress and improve emotional health. For menopausal women, yoga has an added advantage in helping to boost our sex lives. Yes, I said that. Research has proven that women at the mid-stages of their lives can experience increased sexual function when they engage in yoga.
Yes! Dancing is a good form of exercise. Not only will dancing help to brighten your mood, but it can also help you lower the cholesterol levels in the body, improving fitness. All of these can, in turn, help reduce the effects of hot flashes on you. So, why not stand up and dance to that favorite song’s rhythm rather than sit and tap your foot on the floor? It’ll help you stay fit.
This Chinese martial art can be used as an exercise for menopause. Tai chi can help improve sleep and lower blood pressure. Tai chi means meditating while making slow movements. For example, you can get on both feet while making a circular shape with your hands at a prolonged rate. It will help you concentrate and also deal with the emotional effects of menopause.
These routines develop the muscles to become stronger and more rigid. Exercises like this usually involve subjecting the bones and muscles to equipment with high weight to strengthen the muscles. Sometimes, menopause can cause detrimental effects on our musculoskeletal health due to osteoporosis. Muscle strengthening exercises are crucial to groom a strong and healthy musculoskeletal system, trigger proper immune system functioning, and burn body fat.
Some muscle strengthening exercises include the following.
Push-ups and Pull-ups
This routine helps in strengthening the muscles of the hand and abdomen. Practicing this routine might help reduce the occurrences and the effects of hot flashes on your system. Also, this procedure can be used to burn calories and body fats. Excess fats in the body of a menopausal woman will increase her risk of heart-related problems.
This routine is essential. The simplicity of this routine cannot be overemphasized. You can engage in your sitting room or your yard in it. In pushing, get down on the floor on all fours, with your hands slightly wider than the shoulders. Gradually lower your body until your chest nearly touches the floor; pause, and push yourself back to how you started.
Repeat the procedure until you cannot go any further. On the other hand, pull-ups implies grabbing a firm bar and then pulling yourself towards the bar until your chest gets to the same level as it and then repeating. These routines are usually draining but are very effective in staying fit, especially during menopause.
According to research, lifting slightly heavy weights can help postmenopausal women reduce the amount of body fat in them and increase muscle mass. You don’t have to register for a gym program or purchase highly complicated weights; a moderately heavy dumbbell will do the trick.
You can try lifting dumbbells repeatedly and adding extra weights when you feel comfortable with the one you’ve used. Doing this will help you manage the problem of osteoporosis resulting from menopause. This procedure builds your bones and muscles to carry heavier weights, thereby maintaining a healthier musculoskeletal system.
You aren’t too old to go cycling. This recreational activity is used to develop healthier hearts and stronger bones. Going two laps from your apartment to the next block will go a long way in helping you manage menopausal problems. While this activity hasn’t been proven to reduce hot flashes, it wouldn’t hurt to try it out. You can start by purchasing or renting a bicycle. So, cycling instead of driving will help your overall well-being stay solid when going for short distances.
These activities will help us in our journey through menopause, but they will also help in our journey through life. So from this moment, try walking more and sitting less. Sometimes, opt for the stairs instead of the elevator, cycle to the park instead of driving there, and go to your lawn and do some digging once in a while. All of these will help you properly manage the symptoms of menopause.
Foods that Will Help You during Menopause
Just like exercises help with menopausal symptoms, certain foods can also help cushion these symptoms. Some of these foods include fruits and veggies like spinach, kale, and collard greens, foods rich in Calcium and Vitamin D like milk, cheese, yogurt, tofu, sardines, beans, cereals, fish, eggs, and cod liver oil, foods rich in phytoestrogens like flaxseeds, soybeans, sesame seeds, tempeh, and linseeds, protein-rich foods like meat, nuts, and legumes.
Also, supplements like black cohosh, phytoestrogens, and probiotics can reduce the symptoms of menopause. After seeing my doctor, I was given a brochure containing everything I needed to know on dietary changes to deal with menopausal problems. I have stuck to these options, and I must say, I’ve complained of fewer symptoms than many menopausal women I have met lately.
Foods to Avoid During Menopause
These foods trigger vasomotor symptoms (hot flashes and night sweats) and other menopausal symptoms like vaginal dryness and irregular sleep.
These foods include caffeine, spicy, processed, alcohol, fast, and fatty meats. These food products are known to trigger vasomotor symptoms. However, these foods and drinks can be specific to some people. So, if you feel a particular type of food or drink triggers or aggravates your vasomotor symptoms, limiting or cutting your intake will be wise.
Getting to menopause is not the body’s way of communicating retirement. Instead, it gives you a fresh outlook on life. On getting to menopause, so many women today have decided to hang up their boots and stay at home full-time. They tend to complain of symptoms that can be easily managed or even eradicated. As menopausal women, we should take our bodies seriously and do whatever will make us healthier.