During your late 30s or early 40s, the ovaries decline in hormone production. This accelerates as you age. When you reach your 50s, your periods usually cease. This isn't all. You also have extreme mood swings, irritability, depression, and hot flashes, as your constant companions when you are heading towards menopause.
Hormonal changes bring about several changes in your body. Some of them may last for a short while, while some others may last longer.
The changes you may be experiencing, or may experience, are as follows:
- Hot flashes
- Depression, stress and anxiety
- Mood swings
- Sleep disorders
- Altered lipid profile
- Heart disease
- Weight gain.
Weight gain prior to menopause or stubborn weight loss is something most women face without realising its significance. Suddenly, losing even a kilo for some women is equivalent to moving a mountain. Your cravings are out of control and seem to rule you. Your shapely figure is a thing of the past. Several women find that they have suddenly gained a lot of weight, especially around the waist and feel bloated due to water retention.
This bloated feeling may often subside and reappear again to play havoc with the way you look, including the fitting of your clothes. While this does not sound like a big problem, it can play havoc with your self-esteem.
Exercise to the rescue
You can diet all your life and be careful about what you eat, but if your hormones are out of sync your weight goes haywire. There is also a paradox. While following a low-fat diet rich in minerals, vitamins, fibre and high-quality protein is a must, food alone cannot help you combat the effects of menopause.
Certain alterations in your dietary habits can sure lead to positive changes, as also cutting down your salt intake. Increasing your water intake can reduce water retention. Also, avoiding high-fat food and increasing your fibre intake can keep your cholesterol levels in check.
You would do well to combine a healthy food pattern with exercise. This can provide you several, cumulative benefits.
- A Swedish study says that regular physical exercise decreased the frequency and severity of hot flashes in peri-menopausal women who spent less than 3.5 hours per week on exercise
- Regular exercise can help you maintain your weight. Even though losing weight during menopause may be difficult, if you keep exercising it can help you prevent any further weight gain brought about by hormonal changes
- Exercise will help to keep your blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels in check [which may go higher than normal limits due to hormonal changes]. This has a cardio-protective effect
- Exercise releases the feel-good hormones known as endorphins, which help to lift your spirits and put you in a more positive frame of mind. Exercise also helps menopausal women to deal better with depression, stress and anxiety. What's more, exercising regularly helps you to also sleep well. Sleeplessness, a common complaint during menopause.
- Exercise can be beneficial for your bone health too. With disuse and hormonal changes, bones decrease in size and strength over a period of time. Menopausal women are often prone to osteoporosis [increased brittleness of bones]. However, you can work on increasing the strength of bones by exercising. In fact, research studies have shown that bone tissue lost from lack of use can be rebuilt with weight-bearing activity. In post-menopausal women, moderate exercise preserves bone mass in the spine. This helps to reduce the risk of fracture
- Doing light-to-moderate weights in the gym will not just give you a better shape, but also help in preserving and strengthening your bones in the long-run
- Most importantly, exercise keeps you mentally agile. It increases the supply of oxygen to your brain cells and helps you process information and respond quickly. It also increases your chances for living a long, healthy life.
There are other benefits that regular exercises can provide for:
- Better bowel activity
- Improved metabolism. This controls your weight
- Reduced risk of heart disease
- Improved lung function
- Lower blood sugar levels and decreased risk of adult onset diabetes
- Reduced joint stiffness, arthritis, and low-back pain
- Increased HDL, or good cholesterol levels
- Reduce body fat.
What is good enough
Working-out just three-four times a week for an hour can give you dramatic results and bring positive changes to your health and appearance, and also the way you feel about yourself.
While cardiovascular exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes 3-4 times a week is a must for a healthy heart, including a set, or two, of weight-bearing exercises as part of your routine is now a much-recommended practice worldwide.
Start with light-to-moderately heavy weights and perform two sets of 15-20 repetitions for each part of your body at least three times a week to see tangible results.
Healing the Ayurveda Way
Symptoms: nervousness, anxiety, panic, mood swings, vaginal dryness, loss of skin tone, feeling cold, irregular periods, insomnia, mild or variable hot flashes, constipation, palpitations, bloating and joint aches and pains.
- Diet: increase warm food and drinks, regular meals; use spices such as fennel and cumin. Decrease caffeine and other stimulants, refined sugar, cold drinks, salads
- Lifestyle: early bed-time, oil massage using almond and olive oil, meditation, yoga, Regular exercise like walking
- Anti-vata herbs include ashwagandha, arjuna, astragalus, cardamom, comfrey root, garlic, ginseng, guggul, hawthorn berries, licorice, myrrh, rehmannia, sandalwood and zizphus
Symptoms: prone to hot temper, anger, irritability, feeling hot, hot flashes, night sweats, heavy periods, excessive bleeding, urinary tract infections, skin rashes and acne.
- Diet: increase cooling foods, water intake, sweet juicy fruits [grapes, pears, plums, mango, melons, apples] zucchini, yellow squash, cucumber, organic foods. Use spices such as cinnamon, cardamom and fennel. Avoid hot spicy foods, hot drinks and alcohol; no eating late at night.
- Lifestyle: go to bed before 10 pm, oil massage using coconut and sesame oil. Use meditation and other techniques to reduce anger, hatred and resentment.
- Exercise and exposure to the sun should be limited
- Anti-pitta herbs to be used include aloe vera, arjuna, barberry, golden seal, gotu kola, saffron, sandalwood and shatavari
Symptoms: weight gain, sluggishness, lethargy, fluid retention, yeast infections, lazy, depressed, lacking motivation, slow digestion.
- Diet: prefer light, dry and warm food. Consume fruits, whole grains, legumes, vegetables. Use spices such as black pepper, turmeric and ginger. Avoid meat, cheese, sugar, cold foods and drinks. Weekly fasting is helpful. Most or all of the daily food should be consumed before 6 pm
- Lifestyle: get up early [by 6 am]. Mustard oil and linseed oil are often recommended for massage.
- Anti-kapha herbs include bayberry, cayenne, cinnamon, guggul, motherwort, mustard and myrrh.
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