Once you’ve blown out the candles at your 50th birthday, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be taking a ride on the hormonal roller coaster. While you’re likely more self-assured and ready to live life to the fullest, this can really throw you off track if it’s not managed the right way.
Typically perimenopause begins around 40, followed by a decade of fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone which occurs until eventually, your menstrual periods halt altogether. Before and during this time it’s more important than ever to manage your health as the hormone shifts affect nearly every system in your body.
When you have an imbalance of progesterone and estrogen, just some of the symptoms that can occur include fatigue, weight gain, brain fog, hot flashes, diminished sex drive, and the list goes on and on. There are also some more serious problems that can develop, as you have a higher risk of heart disease, colorectal cancer, and a weaker immune system. You may also experience some decreased brain functioning, especially related to memory and your ability to recall places, events and so on.
So what should you do to stay healthy and enjoy the highest quality of life possible? Read on.
Schedule in Regular Exercise
While you might be busier than ever, it’s even more important now to schedule in regular exercise. Physical activity isn’t just to help prevent weight gain or to lose stubborn pounds. It can help to battle inflammation, make your bones stronger, balance hormones and help you sleep better too. It’s also great for your brain, in fact, experts say that the amount of exercise you get is one of the best predictors of how well your brain works as you get older. In fact, studies have found that the more active you are when you’re older, the more dramatically your risk of developing cognitive decline is reduced.
You can do just about anything, no matter what you do, just move. The more enjoyable it is to you, the more likely you are to keep it up. So walk, hike, run, bike, swim, garden, dance, spin or jump rope, it all counts. It doesn’t have to be done in long periods either, you can squeeze it in in short bursts too.
Get Plenty of Rest
When you don’t get enough sleep it can affect just about everything in your body. People who get 7 to 8 hours of quality rest each night have been found to live the longest in numerous studies focused on sleep and aging. In fact, some, including research out of UC Berkeley, have found that deep sleep in our older years may be considered a “fountain of youth.”
When you don’t get sufficient sleep, the body interprets that as stress and triggers hormones that can cause weight gain, weaken immunity and make you more likely to get sick. With proper rest, you’ll be in a better mood, the brain will have a greater ability to store memories, and it can also promote a higher level of human growth hormone which has a role in building muscle and bone mass – all especially important as we age.
If you struggle to fall asleep or wake up frequently during the night there are a number of things you can do to help encourage longer, better rest such as keeping your room cooler, and turning all lights off, even the little lights from an LED display can prevent you from dozing off as they stimulate the brain. If noise is a problem, use earplugs too.
To help you fall asleep faster, sip an herbal tea like chamomile just before bedtime, enjoy a warm bath, perform gentle stretching exercises or deep breathing, and/or use essential oils in a diffuser or on a tissue placed under your pillow. Lavender, clary sage, chamomile, and sandalwood are some of the best essential oils to use for this purpose.
Follow a Healthy Diet
There is no one diet fits all, as everyone is different, some do better on vegan or vegetarian diets, while others do better on a Paleo or another type of diet. The main thing is that you eat as many whole foods as possible while avoiding the “junk,” many sugary and/or highly processed foods like fast food, potato chips, lunch meats, pastries, crackers, frozen meals and so on. While you don’t have to live on kale, the more organic vegetables, in a variety of colors, you eat, the better.
Don’t cut out all fat either, you need healthy fats like coconut and olive oil, as well as protein – foods like wild-caught salmon are ideal. For many, eliminating sugar and gluten can make a big difference, especially after 50. It helps to reduce inflammation, eliminate bloating, prevent weight gain and even address fatigue. While eating should be enjoyable when you think of your food as “medicine” you’ll fuel your mind and body with what it needs.
While you should get as many nutrients as you can by eating a wide variety of healthy foods, you may want to cover your bases by taking a multivitamin that includes iron, zinc, folic acid, beta-carotene, vitamins B6 and B12, as well as C, D, and E. There are a number of herbs that can help keep hormones more balanced naturally too.
Black cohosh is one of the best-studied and most well-known herbs when it comes to treating perimenopause and menopause symptoms as it’s believed to support and help maintain proper hormonal levels. Many women have reported it to be highly effective and the University of Maryland Medical Center notes that a number of studies have confirmed this as well. Research from Germany showed that the herb helped to improve both psychological and physical symptoms like night sweats and hot flashes, anxiety and vaginal dryness.
A 2007 study of 120 women suffering from menopausal symptoms revealed that black cohosh was even more effective at relieving night sweats and hot flashes than the antidepressant Prozac. Other herbs to consider include maca root, sea buckthorn, and evening primrose oil. The maca plant grows high in the Peruvian Andes and has long been used by the indigenous people. The women who live in this region and consume it regularly are said to experience very few menopausal symptoms as it’s believed to aid in balancing hormones as well as improving energy levels. While there are only limited studies on it, the majority of women who’ve used it swear by it for relief.