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5 Key Pillars for a Healthy Menopause

Menopause has been more and more in the spotlight in recent years - with good cause. Did you know that the average age for women to experience menopause in the UK is 51? So we might spend half of our adult lives post-menopause? In this blog I'm bringing together some of my social media posts on this topic that you may have missed in autumn last year. They were themed around the fact that research has shown that by embracing 5 key concepts we can improve our experience of menopause: Relaxation, Nutrition, Movement, Sleep and Purpose.


Relaxation: This doesn't mean just collapsing in front of the TV to unwind (though sometimes that's all we feel we can manage!). In this context, Relaxation means taking up an active relaxation technique, such as meditation or mindfulness, or taking part in some active self-care such as (you guessed it) Reflexology. Reflexology is a wonderful complementary therapy aimed at promoting a state of deep relaxation to help the body to achieve balance and well-being, exit the "fight-or-flight" state, and enter "rest-and-digest".


There are research studies that support the positive effects of reflexology at this key time of life, demonstrating:

(1) Reflexology is an effective therapy for sleep disorders and hot flushes in menopause ("The effects of reflexology on sleep disorder in menopausal women" - Maryam Asltoghiri, Zahra Ghodsi. Procedia - Social and Behavioural Sciences, Volume 31, 2012, pp242-246)

(2) Reflexology can be effective in decreasing vasomotor problems and increasing quality of life in the menopausal period ("The effects of reflexology applied to women aged between 40 and 60 on vasomotor complaints and quality of life" - Gozuesil E, Baser M. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2016 Aug:24:78-85)

(3) Foot reflexology technique can be effective for reducing women's depression during menopause ("The effects of reflexology on depression during menopause: A randomized controlled clinical trial" - F Mahdavipour et al. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, Volume 47, 2019)


It's another tool to help manage the menopausal transition as smoothly as possible.


Nutrition: The right foods can help us to feel better at any time of life, but there are chemical and hormonal changes occurring during menopause which make it even more helpful to think about what and how we eat.


Oestrogen levels are falling, and our bodies start to become less effective at breaking down carbohydrates - this can lead to a slowdown in metabolism and an increase in fat storage. Many women find that they gain weight during this period and find it harder to reverse that gain. Cholesterol levels can also change, with potential increases in "bad" cholesterol levels.


So what can we do? Generally speaking, a whole food, Mediterranean-style diet with plenty of variety in fruit and vegetables, the inclusion of nuts, seeds, pulses and legumes (such as lentils, beans etc), as well as healthy fats such as olive oil is a good place to start. Minimising processed foods and maximising whole foods is important but a small amount of processing is hard to avoid - even freezing, pasteurising or canning is considered "processing" - so focus on avoiding heavily processed foods such as ready meals, carbonated soft drinks and sweets to start with and see how your body responds.


Hot flushes and night sweats are believed to be exacerbated by caffeine, alcohol and sugary foods, so it can be a good idea to reduce intake if that's a key symptom and see the impact.


These are just some simple suggestions for healthy changes. It's important throughout your menopause journey to stay informed, even more so if you have other underlying medical conditions - do consult your GP and find resources online such as nhs.uk or menopausematters.co.uk.


Movement: Again, movement or exercise is one of the most important things we can do to improve longevity as well as our physical and emotional wellbeing at any time of life. Exercise lowers the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, strengthens muscles, improves flexibility and stability, improves sleep and can support mental health as well (2 other pillars of a health menopause). Especially important during menopause, weight-bearing exercise also helps to maintain bone density to help counteract the risk of developing osteoporosis.


That doesn't mean you need to go straight out and train for a marathon! Ultimately, anything is better than nothing, so start small if you have never exercised actively before. Walking whenever you can, taking the stairs whenever you can are both good ways to start getting more movement into your day. Build up gradually to the recommended "at least 150 minutes a week" of moderate aerobic activity (that sounds a lot but break it down - 30 minutes brisk walking after lunch 5x a week isn't quite so daunting!) and include strength exercises at least 2 times a week to maintain bone density.


As with anything, building exercise into a habit won't happen overnight - make it easier for yourself by training with friends and keeping each other accountable! It may sound obvious, but find something you actually enjoy doing, in a place and atmosphere that you feel comfortable. And again, start small and build from there to make it sustainable.


If you're unsure about anything or have underlying medical conditions do consult your GP as to the best way forward for you - and don't be afraid of consulting fitness professionals or trying out a gym or an exercise class that is new to you - everyone was a beginner once!


Sleep: Too little sleep has negative effects on cognitive function, mental health and cardiac health as well. And in menopause those are already areas we may be facing challenges. To top it off, during menopause sleep disturbance is common (hot flushes and night sweats anyone?). So what can we do?


Reflexology has been shown to help relieve fatigue and promote sleep (certainly I fall asleep when I receive a treatment!), so that's one fantastic thing we can do. But a good bedtime and waking routine also helps: keeping as regular a timetable as you can manage; avoiding screens for an hour before sleep (and perhaps keeping devices out of the bedroom altogether, or at least on airplane mode); not jumping straight onto screens the moment we wake; getting 10 minutes of daylight on your face (eyes) first thing in the morning to help (re)set your circadian rhythm.

There are also some apps that can help with guided meditation or sleep sounds if you're really struggling (download them and put your phone onto flight mode first though!). Or maybe try an audiobook - something you've already read (so you're not trying to stay awake for the next bit) and set the timer to turn it off. Reading is actually a great non-screen activity before bed but I know my eyes are tired by the end of the day so I pop on an audiobook and have a relaxing warm bath before settling in bed and it works a treat!


Purpose: What does this mean? Menopause is often an unsettling time, a time of change in our bodies and sometimes that extends to our family lives (children leaving home?) or working lives as well. It can help if we consider this as an opportunity to be grasped with both hands rather than a challenge to be faced down. This might mean developing new hobbies or habits (exercise routine anyone?). It might mean reconnecting with friends. It might even mean changes in your career (it did for me!).


The concept of purpose also coincides with the Japanese concept of "ikigai" - finding a purpose or meaning for your life - and is linked to longevity and healthy ageing no matter your gender. We can start small - making an extra effort to connect with the ones we love, taking time for self-care so that we are in a position to help others, reaching out to neighbours, or giving back to society through volunteer or community work. Don't put extra pressure on yourself here though - the recipe is simple: If it inspires you, just do it!


To conclude: There's an awful lot there, but at least it's all in one place for reference. Take what you need from this - it's always advisable to start small with changes to lifestyle and embed those before expanding and deepening those changes. As ever, if you have any questions or would be interested in seeing how Reflexology might enhance your own self-care routine, just drop me a line!


Michelle xx



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