What you need to know about staying healthy post-menopause
Some of the changes women’s bodies go through during menopause can leave them vulnerable to illness. Here’s how you can protect your health afterwards
The years before your periods stop completely is the perimenopause – your hormones are in flux, causing symptoms such as hot flushes – and the menopause is technically your last period. Once you’ve gone 12 months with no periods, you’re officially postmenopausal.
For many women, this can be very liberating: not only are you free from periods and any issues you had with them, most perimenopausal symptoms usually vanish too. This means you may feel healthier and more energetic than you have for some time. However, there are some specific health issues that may now appear on the horizon.
Oestrogen tells bone cells to stop breaking down, so your bones can become more fragile after the menopause, during which oestrogen levels drop. The average woman loses 25% of her bone density between menopause and the age of 60, and it continues to decline throughout your life.
How you can stay healthy
Exercise, particularly weight-bearing exercise such as walking and dancing, helps maintain bone density. It’s important to keep your levels of bone-protective calcium topped up too, by eating plenty of green leafy veg, dairy, nuts and seeds. Vitamin D is also important, as it helps your body use calcium. The government recommends that all adults take a 10mcg vitamin D supplement every day.
As oestrogen helps protect your heart and blood vessels, after menopause your risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), including heart disease, increases. You may be more at risk of developing circulatory disorders such as high blood pressure and stroke, too.
How you can stay healthy
Eating a healthy diet, staying active and stopping/avoiding smoking are the best ways to reduce your risk of CVD. Your GP can assess your risk and offer tailored advice, while HRT may be beneficial for certain women who have a particular risk of developing CVD.
Changes to your weight and shape
Many older women blame the menopause for putting on weight, but there’s not a lot of evidence that hormone changes lead directly to weight gain. Experts think it’s more likely due to the ageing process, a slowing metabolism, and being less active.
That said, research suggests menopause may cause fat to be redistributed around your stomach, meaning many women change from a pear shape to an apple shape. However, carrying extra weight around the middle is known to increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and CVD.
How you can stay healthy
Use this time of life to get to a healthy weight. You may need fewer calories in your 50s and beyond, so focus on a fresh whole food diet and cut down on sweet or fatty treats and alcohol. Exercise can also help you maintain muscle mass, which keeps your body burning calories more efficiently.
By Charlotte Haigh
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