Though everyone will have her own unique path through menopause, the following interventions are useful across the board.
Strength training is vital here. Women and men both experience muscle loss, or sarcopenia, over time, so maintenance is key.
“We’ve got to preserve the muscle we have, and to do that we’ve got to take action,” says Amanda Thebe, a certified personal trainer who focuses on menopause and health. She suggests starting a strength-training regimen that builds up to 30 to 40 minutes, three times a week. It’s OK to start small and build up over time.
In addition to this, Thebe recommends daily movement. “It’s so important for our overall health, and the easiest way to do this is to pop on your sneakers and get outside for a walk.”
Functional-medicine physician Sara Gottfried, MD, author of The Hormone Cure, notes that a regular yoga practice can help offset specific menopause symptoms, such as hot flashes and moodiness.
2. Protect Your Sleep
Sleep is vital to general health and mood regulation. Make it a priority, and resist the temptation to skimp.
Get serious about sleep hygiene: no phones or TV in the bedroom, keep the room dark and cool, practice a wind-down routine during the last hour of the day. Keep herbs like valerian root on hand for difficult sleep phases. (For more sleep tips, see “5 Evening Routines for Better Sleep“.)
3. Focus on Diet and Gut Health
A whole-food, vegetable-centric, easy-on-the-sugar diet helps regulate blood sugar, supports weight stability, and provides enough fiber to keep the microbiome happy and humming — which is good news for the gut–brain connection. “The gut–brain axis puts gut function at the center of any mood, weight, and energy issue that a woman faces,” notes Gottfried.
Romm emphasizes the importance of getting “plenty of fiber, both for micronutrients and gut health.” She recommends following the Mediterranean diet, which is heavy on vegetables and light on animal protein. Any of the many traditional diets that emphasize vegetables, healthy fats, and legumes will do. (Learn more about these benefits at “5 Heritage Diets and Their Health Benefits“.)
She also suggests limiting simple carbohydrates and sticking mainly to nongrain seeds, such as buck-wheat, millet, and quinoa. “Another great go-to is flaxseeds,” she adds. “Use them in your oatmeal and your smoothies. They help with estrogen and progesterone levels, and are a phenomenal fiber, so you get all the great gut benefits.” She recommends a tablespoon or so per day.
4. Go Easy on Coffee and Booze
Coffee can offer some neuroprotective effects, says Aviva Romm, MD, an integrative-medicine physician, women’s-health specialist, and author of Hormone Intelligence, but caffeine can amplify anxiety; one cup a day is plenty.
Meanwhile, wine can worsen reflux (increased reflux is part of aging) and disrupt sleep. Relinquishing your nightly glass will be worth the rewards. Save it for special occasions. For the occasional cocktail, Romm suggests vodka — it’s the least sleep-disruptive. Just keep it to one drink.
5. Try Herbal-Supplement Support
Many women find that certain herbs help downshift menopause symptoms. Maca root, for example, can raise estradiol levels in menopausal women, mitigating a variety of symptoms, including vaginal dryness and memory loss, Gottfried notes. Just add a teaspoon of maca-root powder to a smoothie or yogurt.
Romm is a fan of the plant chasteberry. “It can help improve both estrogen and progesterone levels and is shown to help with hot flashes, mood shifts, and sleep.”
She suggests a different approach for women with a history of estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer. “If that’s the case, use black cohosh, which also has a lot of benefits but doesn’t increase estrogen levels.”
Both herbs are available in tincture and capsule form.
6. Talk to Your Friends
One of the most comforting resources during the menopause transition is other people — those who’ve gone through it, or who are going through it too. “It’s so normalizing to talk to other women about it,” says Romm.
It’s also helpful to share the positive changes that accompany menopause, even as you process what you’re letting go. “It’s natural to mourn a phase that has passed, like when you marry, you might mourn your single life,” offers Romm. “But it’s important to remember that you will spend the next 30 to 40 years in menopause. This is a new phase.
“What is this going to look like? How are we going to embrace this? This is a chance to feel liberated from the expectations of others and embrace what it is that we are here to do,” she says. “We are old enough now to do what we want.”
This was excerpted from “What You Should Know About Menopause” which was published in the October 2022 issue of Experience Life.