Navigating through menopause isn’t always easy. The physical and mental challenges of a changing body come at a time when women face plenty of other challenges: too much work, not enough time, and taking care of everyone—the kids, the job, the aging parents, the community—except yourself. So I regularly give women these top 10 tips to help them stay healthy and happy at this time of their lives:
1. Make some time for yourself
Schedule some time for exercise, friends, and yourself on your calendar. Use that you-time for things like meditation, mindfulness, yoga, prayer, reflection on where you are going in life, or to just enjoy the sunset.
2. Eat healthy and exercise
Because your metabolism slows down at this time, you’ll gain weight unless you change your lifestyle, so eat less, eat healthy—a Mediterranean diet, for example—and schedule time for exercise. This will not only help you avoid heart disease and other health problems but will also help keep your brain healthy. A recent study published in the journal Neurology found that older adults who did not exercise or exercised only lightly experienced a decline in their cognitive function equal to 10 more years of aging compared with those who exercised moderately or intensely. No time for the gym? Try jump-starting your day with 7 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise, and work in exercise in 5- or 10-minute time slots.
3. Sleep at least 7 hours every night
Burning the candle at both ends not only zaps energy but also makes you less focused and less productive and increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
4. Don’t fear hormones
If you are under age 60 or within 10 years of menopause and have bothersome hot flashes, hormones can quell those while also protecting your bones and may benefit your heart and brain as well. But if you are older than age 60, don’t start hormones without a good reason because it may actually increase your risk of heart disease and cognitive problems. Do be afraid of compounded hormones because these are notFDA approved, regulated, or monitored and carry risks of over- or under-dosing or contamination. If you can’t take hormones, you don’t have to tough out the hot flashes. Some tested nonhormonal medications and alternatives can help, such as the FDA-approved low-dose antidepressant paroxetine or other antidepressants, gabapentin, clinical hypnosis, or cognitive behavioral therapy.
5. Keeping your relationship healthy with intimacy
Sexual intimacy with or without intercourse is very important to healthy relationships. Painful intercourse can make you avoid sex, which can put your relationship at risk. So don’t be afraid to discuss painful sex with your partner and healthcare provider, and try lubricants and moisturizers. If those are not enough, low-dose vaginal estrogen has minimal absorption and is safe and effective, despite the warnings on the label, which are really for hormones that get distributed throughout the body (systemic), such as in pill or patch form. In addition, a new oral drug ospemiphene also treats painful sex if neither vaginal nor systemic hormones are right for you.
6. If you just don’t care about sex anymore, talk to your healthcare provider
No longer being interested in sex can be detrimental to your relationship and could be due to medications, stress, overwork, fatigue, or other fixable causes. Medications may help, too, including the new FDA-approved drug flibanserin, which has a positive, although small, effect on desire for women who aren’t yet in menopause.
7. Know your numbers
Know what your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, bone density, and heart disease and breast cancer risks are so you can head off problems with diet, exercise, and other lifestyle changes, or medications.
8. Get regular exams
Keep up with pap smears, including the test for HPV, and mammograms. You can’t treat a problem that you don’t know about.
9. Don’t tough out tough times
Know the signs and symptoms of depression and burnout. If you feel overwhelmed, isolated, guilty, sad, or depressed every day for 2 weeks, gain or lose weight, or sleep too little or too much, seek help. Get outside in the sunshine, try “walk and talk” therapy with friends, or get counseling. If you are depressed, don’t be afraid to take medication to help yourself through a tough time.
10. Don’t take lots of supplements, but do get enough calcium and vitamin D
Get enough calcium and vitamin D from your diet and sunshine or supplements to protect your bones, but don’t take too much calcium, which can increase your risk of clogged arteries.
Work with your healthcare provider on these 10 tips, and if they can’t help you navigate the menopause transition and help improve your health, find someone who will. You can find a NAMS Certified Menopause Practitioner (NCMP) on the NAMS website as well as a wealth of information about women’s health and menopause on our For Women pages. Our Menopause Guidebook, which is the most complete and current discussion of menopause available anywhere, can be purchased through the NAMS store or on Amazon.