Prepping for the perimenopause: what every 30-something needs to know.
It might seem a little premature to be thinking about the menopause in your thirties but, trust me, it pays to think ahead. While it’s true the average age for menopause (the time when your periods officially stop) is 51, the lead up (perimenopause) can last up to 12 years. And the more insight you have into your health now, the better equipped you’ll be to handle changes later down the line.
TRACK: If you’re not already, start tuning into your periods. Tracking apps chart your cycle, mood, diet, sleep and symptoms. Uncovering your unique hormonal patterns and having data about your monthly experiences will prove majorly helpful when it comes to understanding and managing perimenopause. As with most things health related, knowledge is power.
RELAX: Cortisol is your ‘fight or flight’ stress response hormone which is crucial in an emergency but if mobilised long term can throw sex hormones (oestrogen. progesterone and testosterone) out of whack. Being in a constant state of red alert - often the case when you’re juggling work, relationships, family, exercise and late nights - can also deplete thyroid hormone production, which in turn impacts weight, energy, mood, skin and hair. It’s important to build in time to rest, recover and slow down now and then.
How: Meditation, yoga, reclaiming your lunch hour, exercise, The Stress Solution by Dr Chatterjee.
SLEEP: Sleep really is our superpower. It’s essential for serotonin and dopamine, which are crucial to good mental, emotional, physical and hormonal health. It also reduces excess cortisol production (see above). Tiredness increases ghrelin (your hunger hormone) which means you often eat more when you’re sleep deprived. On top of all this poor sleep can also affect blood sugar regulation. A good night’s kip is the most powerful performance enhancer known to us, make it a priority when possible.
LIMIT: Long-term high alcohol intake can throw your cycle off-kilter. Drinking during the second half of your cycle (the luteal phase) can increase feelings of depression and anxiety and many studies show drinking increases oestrogen (and sometimes testosterone) levels. Alcohol can also disturb your sleep (see importance of sleep above).
STOP: Smokers have been found to go through the menopause earlier, often have more severe symptoms (especially hot flushes) than non-smokers and are at a higher risk of heart disease and breast cancers after menopause. It’s never too late to quit.
How: Talk to your GP.
EAT: Focus on getting some calcium reserves in the bank as women start losing bone mass after the age of 30. The recommended daily intake is 700mg daily (rising to 1,200mg in your 50s) from a variety of sources, including: dairy, kale, watercress, broccoli, cooked spinach, tofu (check on the label that it’s calcium set), dried figs, almonds and fortified plant milks. Make an effort to include phytooestrogen foods like tofu, chickpeas and edamame beans into your diet. And don’t be scared of fats, you need them to synthesize hormones - think healthy sources like sardines, salmon, avocados, extra virgin olive oil, eggs, nuts and seeds.
How: Increase the number of plantbased foods you consume by eating the rainbow. If you’re vegan look at supplementing B12. Think about talking to a registered nutrition professional to help optimise your diet.
EXERCISE: One of the best ways of warding off osteoporosis and investing in future bone health is through a combination of weight bearing exercise – walking, dancing, skipping and running – and resistance training. Carry your shopping, get a personal trainer on board or start lifting at the gym – your bones will thank you. And remember: muscle mass burns calories - the more you have, the higher your resting metabolism will be.
How: Most gyms/classes offer taster sessions, keep trying different disciplines until you find something you like. Don’t forget YouTube if you prefer working out at home.