Some women dread menopause, and some can’t wait to say goodbye to their periods. But just about every woman could do without menopause symptoms. And they may not know that some of their daily activities can be making their menopause symptoms worse.
Behaviors that exacerbate menopause symptoms are often behaviors that are generally unhealthy. That means that smoking, not exercising, eating an unbalanced diet, and maintaining an unhealthy body weight may all be making your symptoms worse. Chronic stress can also be a factor. For these reasons, women of all ages should look to lead a healthier, more balanced life.
Each year, 1.5 million women go through menopause, as their bodies transition out of their reproductive ages. 1
You are officially in menopause when you have missed 12 straight months of your monthly cycle, assuming these missed periods are unrelated to other issues like illness, pregnancy, or breastfeeding. This typically occurs in your early 50s.
Hot flashes are the most notorious of all menopause symptoms. During a hot flash, you might have a sudden feeling of warmth spreading through your chest, neck and face that may also give the appearance of red, blotchy skin. Your heart may begin to beat rapidly, accompanied by perspiration and anxiety. After the flash is over, you may also experience body chills. 2
Hot flashes typically last only between 30 seconds and five minutes. As you get used to understanding how they feel, you can prepare for them better. Many women like to dress in layers so they can easily remove items to cool down. Having a fan near your bed is another great idea.
Menopausal hot flashes affect about 80% of women, impacting their sleep and their lives in general. 3
Changes in hormones that occur during menopause also affect vaginal tissues, leading to vaginal symptoms. These changes include narrowing and shortening of the vagina, as well as increased vaginal dryness. Whereas hot flashes tend to go away after the transition to menopause is over, vaginal symptoms tend to persist. However, vaginal dryness can be addressed with menopausal hormone therapy.4 Hormone therapy is often used to replace the lack of estrogen formerly being produced. 5
Women may also choose to use vagina moisturizers that can be applied topically, or vaginal suppositories, ranging from options from your nearest drug store to natural options such as grapeseed, olive or other natural oils.
Finally, menopausal women may also experience difficulty sleeping and changes in mood.
To learn more about these symptoms of menopause, as well as medical interventions that can be used to help manage them, please see here.
Thankfully, there are also many lifestyle choices you can make to help manage your menopause symptoms.
In fact, according to some researchers, “the cardiovascular events, hypertension, diabetes, hyperlipidemia, breast cancer risk, osteoporosis or urinary incontinence [associated with menopause] strongly depend on body weight, nutrition, physical activity and lifestyle decisions.” 6
Menopause Symptoms, Diet & Exercise
Hot flashers, take heart! Diet interventions may help with these menopausal symptoms.
Specifically, one study found that maintaining stable blood glucose levels may help reduce hot flashes. Note that eating also gives you an average of 90-minutes of a hot flash-free window. 7
This same study also found that exercise may also help stabilize blood glucose, although more study is needed. 8
Exercise may also help with sleep difficulty. Specifically, walking around 7,000 steps a day has been shown to increase sleep in middle-aged women. 9
Note that there is also a link between pelvic pain and sleep. Sleep is so important for our overall health, which is why everyone should follow good sleep hygiene, like going to bed at the same time every night and sleeping in a cool, dark room without excessive clothing or blankets.
Weight gain, especially abdominal weight gain, is also a concern with menopause. In fact, obesity and metabolic syndrome are three times more common in women after menopause than before. 10
We need more studies in this area, but the current research suggests that “exercise or both exercise and caloric reduction interventions may be able to disrupt the process and patterns of weight gain and change in body fat distribution during the menopause transition stage.” 11
High calorie, high fat diets that include alcohol but less fiber and micronutrients are linked to a greater risk of abdominal obesity and metabolic syndrome during menopause. On the other hand, eliminating fast foods and eating a calorie-restricted diet rich in sea fish, fruits and vegetables can protect against these same issues. Researchers therefore recommend menopausal and postmenopausal women enjoy a balanced, low-calorie diet, rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. They also suggest limiting the amount of fats and carbohydrates. 12
Smoking & Menopause Symptoms
As if you needed another reason to quit smoking (or hopefully not start in the first place!).
According to one study, “(c)igarette smoking and menopause have overlapping negative health consequences and may act synergistically to contribute to worse health outcomes in this population.” The study authors also suggest that peri- and postmenopausal women may face ‘unique challenges’ when trying to quit smoking. 13
Another study found that smokers had a younger age of natural menopause and are at greater risk of early menopause. This is worth nothing, because a younger age at menopause can lead to higher morbidity and mortality for many diseases. 14
Finally, chronic stress isn’t good for anyone, and that includes women going through menopause. And stress can make your existing symptoms more severe. 15
The following lifestyle choices and behaviors can contribute to depression during menopause: 16
- Stressful life events
- Higher body mass index (BMI)
- Lack of employment
- Difficulty sleeping
Women who experience depression during menopause are usually treated with the same types of therapies as anyone else with depression. These interventions include psychotherapy, antidepressants, or a combination of the two. If you have suffered from depression before menopause, many of the same approaches that were successful for you can be applied again through the help of a physician.
Clearly, there’s no ‘cure’ for menopause. That said, leading a healthier lifestyle and taking care of your mental, physical and emotional health can help improve your symptoms. If you need help managing your symptoms, be sure to speak to your doctor, or use our Physician Finder to find a pelvic health specialist in your area.