Self-Care Habits for Perimenopause
Most of us have heard of menopause – a phase in a woman’s life when the period stops. However, what is less talked about is the stage right before menstruation ends for good. Perimenopause is when a woman’s period cycles begin to wind down, and it usually starts in the 40’s, but can also start in the 30’s. So what is going on here? Let’s look into it further and explore some good habits to follow during this hormone transition phase….
During perimenopause, estrogen, the main female hormone produced by the ovaries, begins to drop. The phase typically lasts for four years but can last for as little as a few months or as long as ten years. It is only when a woman has not had her period for a full year, that she is officially in the menopause stage. While some symptoms of perimenopause and menopause do overlap, women in perimenopause may typically face one, a few or even all of the following:
- Irregular period
- Periods that are heavier or lighter than normal
- Worse premenstrual syndrome (PMS) before periods
- Breast tenderness
- Weight gain
- Hair changes
- Heart palpitations
- Loss of sex drive
- Concentration difficulties
- Muscle aches
- Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- Fertility issues if trying to conceive
- Hot flashes
- Dry vagina
Many women don’t necessarily need to see a doctor to obtain a perimenopause or menopause diagnosis. In fact, not all women even experience perimenopause symptoms. However, if symptoms become unbearable (severe enough to interfere with daily life), or if women experience unusual regular symptoms (such as spotting after the period, blood clots during the period or bleeding after sex), then it is recommended to consult the obstetrician-gynecologist for advice and for any treatment.
Now let’s look at some of the diet and lifestyle habits which can help women during this phase and even minimize the bothersome side effects of this natural transition:
Make the Right Food Choices
Our bodies go through various changes during perimenopause. During this phase, muscle mass begins to decrease and the hormones are imbalanced. Furthermore, we may feel moody and irritable and even start to gain weight faster. This is why it is so important to boost nutrients and to add protein, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and calcium to your diet. Go for plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. If you consume dairy, then opt for the low fat kind. Protein can help in regulating appetite and blood sugar levels. Omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to decrease in depression, which is something women may experience in perimenopause. Fiber will help us feel ‘full’ longer and curb cravings. Calcium is important to keep our bone health check in place (when we hit perimenopause, the risk of osteoporosis increases).
Try to limit food that is high in saturated fats and avoid highly refined carbohydrates, to avoid sugar spikes and constant cravings. You will also want to limit caffeine, sugar and alcohol as they can enhance hormone symptoms, not to mention reducing them is better for overall health! Remember, if you are getting hot flashes, cut out spicy foods as well.
We cannot stress enough the importance of drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated. This is especially important during the perimenopause and menopause phases. Drinking sufficient water throughout the day can help decrease hormonal bloating and replenish dry skin and tissues. Aim for anywhere from eight to twelve glasses of water a day. If you are waking up from night sweats, drinking water can offer quick relief, so make sure you keep a fresh glass of water by your bed at night.
Practice Meditation and Mindfulness
Perimenopause can come with brain fog, agitation and sleep issues. Not to mention the stress we are facing lately with both the pandemic and the financial crisis in Lebanon. Stress alone is a contributor to hormone imbalance, raising our levels of cortisol and adrenaline in the body. All of this can make us feel overwhelmed and mentally exhausted. To help us cope with anxiety and stress, daily meditation and mindfulness activities are very helpful. When we meditate, there is a decrease in brain cell volume in amygdala (the area responsible for fear, anxiety and stress). If you don’t already practice meditation in your daily routine, commit to just two minutes a day. In fact, make it a daily habit like brushing your teeth or cleansing your face.
If you don’t want to join a class or explore on-line meditation courses just yet, practice some meditative quiet time everyday. Sit comfortably in a quiet place, close your eyes, focus on your breath and allow any thoughts to pass without judgment. You can follow the 4-7-8 breathing method several times or more (breath in for 4 seconds, hold it for 7 seconds and breath out for 8 seconds) that is aimed to reduce anxiety and help people get to sleep. Eventually your heart rate will begin to lower, allowing you to increase your self control and focus. Although the symptoms of perimenopause will not necessarily go away with this two-minute exercise, it can make you feel better in order to handle them!
If you are not exercising regularly, during perimenopause is probably the time to start! Getting fit can help prevent weight gain and can strengthen our joints and bones and lower the risk of fractures and osteoporosis which increases with age. Women tend to lose muscle mass and gain abdominal fat around this time (between perimenopause and menopause), so physical exercise can help a lot. Also, regular exercise can counter the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes that come with weight gain. Furthermore, regular exercise helps to boost our mood and may even help relieve hot flashes.
You can add aerobic and strength/resistance training workouts into your exercise regime to help maintain and increase muscle mass that you may naturally lose through age. You can also get fit doing something you enjoy, such as jogging, swimming, yoga, brisk walking, cycling, tennis, dancing or anything else cardio. It’s ideal to do at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week or longer intervals a few days of the week. For most healthy women (up to age 65), the World Health Organization and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend at least 150-300 minutes of moderate exercise or 75-150 of vigorous aerobic exercise a week.
Be Outside and Get Some Sun
Spend time outdoors in nature, whether to exercise, such as going on a hike, or to just bask under the sun. While you are outside soaking up rays, your body is busy making Vitamin D, which plays an important role in women’s health. As we age, we don’t absorb vitamin D well, and we produce less. This is why it is imperative to make up for it. Of course, taking supplements and eating food rich in Vitamin D helps too. As summer is approaching, sunny days are bountiful, especially in Lebanon. And midday (12 pm) is the best time to get sunlight. It can be just 30 minutes per day. Just make sure you are taking the appropriate safety measures for you and your skin type. Opt for frequent and moderate sun exposure and avoid prolonged exposure, which can be dangerous (too much sun exposure can burn the skin and potentially lead to skin cancer).
A good night’s sleep is imperative for our health and well-being. However, many women experience sleep problems during perimenopause. Women in this stage of their life should aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night but again it’s not a ‘one size fits all’ rule as some adults need more sleep than others. Earlier we mentioned getting regular exercise as it can help menopausal women fall and stay asleep. Other lifestyle habits to promote sleep include going to bed at the same time every night, not watching television or using an electronic device, such as your cell phone, before sleeping (for at least an hour). We recently wrote about natural ways that can help promote better sleep that you can also follow: https://thewellnessproject.me/2021/04/27/12-natural-ways-to-enhance-sleep/.
Hope you got some useful information about perimenopause and on how to manage it by making some important diet and lifestyle changes. Of course, some women may need supplements (herbal or otherwise) or other remedies to cope with their symptoms, which I have not mentioned here. If you are truly struggling during your perimenopause stage, be sure to consult with your professional health practitioner who will be able to advise you accordingly. Remember that health is wealth, so take good care of yourself no matter what stage you are in life. Getting good sleep, sun, exercise, eating healthy whole foods and having peace of mind is priceless. So please look after yourself and always try to keep a positive mindset! Bye for now.
First Picture Credit: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/29/well/perimenopause-women.html