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Tips for healthy living

There's a lot out there about how to be healthy - it can be overwhelming. We're going to summarise the most important parts of healthy living during menopause.

Diet

As with most diet advice - it's important to get enough fruit, vegetables and fibre. For fruit and veg - aim for 5 servings a day (more veg than fruit). Wholegrains are a great healthy source of fibre (e.g. rice, barley, quinoa, oats and wholemeal bread). It's recommended that you get at least 25g per day of fibre as a woman - but more than that is good too!

Protein is another important part of the diet for menopausal women. As you age, you loose the ability to build muscle as effeciently as before. You therefore want to optimise on the protein that you consume to ensure your gaining as much muscle mass as possible! Good sources of protein include lean meat, eggs, fish, beans and lentils. A bit of red meat is fine - but try to avoid processed forms like cheap sausages and bacon. These are linked to an increased risk for other health complications, such as CVD.

Sugar and carbohydrates are getting a lot of bad press right now. But remember, everything in moderation! Rice, pasta and potatoes are your typical 'high glycaemic index' carbohydrates - this means the body breaks them down quickly and as a results, releases lots of sugar (or glucose) into the blood. Too much of these types of carbs, and too much sugar in the blood, increases your risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Instead, try replacing these carbs with lower glycemic foods - carbs that are broken down slowly. These 'low glycaemic' carbs include fruits, root vegetables, beans and nuts.

Calcium and vitamin D are crucial for bone health during menopause. For calcium - dairy products are your best source. If you're vegetarian or vegan you can get calcium from leafy green vegetables or Soya beans - such as broccoli, cabbage and okra. Some women also like to eat soy during menopause as it contains natural estrogens (called phytoestrogens) [1].

The best way to get enough vitamin D is by spending time outside and in the sun. Our bodies can efficently make vitamin D from the sun. In the UK you can easily get enough during the summer - but it's difficult in the winter. So it's recommended that you look at taking a supplement during the winter [2]. Fatty fish is also a great source for vitamin D - they are high in your omega-3s, a very important nutrient! If you don't eat fish, you may also want to consider supplementing omega's.

In summary, a balanced diet with lots of fruit and veg is important during your menopause. Avoid highly processed foods which tend to contain unhealthy fats, sugars and excess salt.
Remember - with all supplements you should consult a medical professional before taking them.
Nutrition is very important during your menopause - but can be hard to wrap your head around if not commonly made a priority. Have a read of our Nutrition during your menopause article to learn more about how you can change your diet during this time!

Exercise

Regular exercise is a good thing - there's no doubt about it! It decreases your risk of many cancers, heart disease and diabetes. Exercise also helps with maintaining bone strength - which is commonly at risk for menopausal women!

Even if your weight stays the same through menopause, you tend to lose muscle and increase fat. Focusing on resistance training can help target your muscles. It's really important to maintain muscle with age - as it helps with preventing fractures and staying mobile.

Exercise is also great for mental health symptoms - like anxiety and depression. Even taking a brisk walk can make you feel better. The current exercise recommendation from the World Health Organinsation is 150 minutes of moderate exercise; or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week [3].

Moderate exercises raise the heart rate, and require some effort. They include:

  • Brisk walking
  • Dancing
  • Gardening
  • General housework.

Vigorous exercises will raise the heart rate significantly, and require a lot more effort. They include:

  • Running
  • Aerobics
  • Cycling (quite fast)
  • Swimming
  • Fast walking uphill or hiking.

Smoking and alcohol

It's almost boring advice by now - but try to quit or cut down on smoking. With alcohol - a moderate amount is fine (no more than 2 units per day).
If you're worried about breast cancer risk though, there's evidence that not having any alcohol may be best. Also, if you are on HRT, drinking might increase the risk more - as the Nurses Health Study found an that the risk of breast cancer was doubled for women on HRT who drank.

Keeping your pelvic floor healthy

Pelvic floor exercises can help you to maintain a healthy bladder, uterus and support the whole area to stay strong. If you're suffering from urinary incontinence pelvic floor exercises will be the first thing to try.

Squeezy is an amazing low cost app that reminds us to do pelvic floor exercises. You can find it on the NHS app store. The Elvie trainer is another great tool to help you strengthen your pelvic floor.

Pelvic floor exercises can also help with sexual function (and prevent vaginal prolapse). Pregnancy weakens the pelvic floor the most - so it's wise to start pelvic floor exercises then (and keep them up)!

Preventative screening for diseases

Screening programmes are crucial as you age. Taking this preventative measure enables you to stay on top of health and in tune with your body:

  • Cardiovascular screening (CVD)
  • Cervical screening
  • Breast cancer screening
  • Ovarian cancer screening
  • Colorectal cancer screening

Your GP will offer you these when you visit for a routine appointment, or are concerned about a specific problem. If you think you should be offered screening programmes - don't be afraid to ask your GP about them. They'll often appreciate the reminder!

References:

  1. Hillard, T., Abernathy, K., Hamoda, H., Shaw, I., Everett, M., Ayres, J. and Currie, H., 2017. Management Of The Menopause. 6th ed. British Menopause Society.

  2. nhs.uk. 2017. Vitamins And Minerals. [online]
    Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/ [Accessed 8 October 2019].

  3. nhs.uk. n.d. Exercise. [online]
    Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/ [Accessed 8 October 2019].