When talking about menopause among friends and family I have heard some women say “I never went through menopause”.
This is like saying “I never went through puberty”.
What they actually mean is that they didn’t experience some of the more common signs of menopause, such as hot flushes and night sweats, which alert women to being in perimenopause. But just because they didn’t experience these signs doesn’t mean they didn’t go through menopause.
Menopause, consisting of perimenopause, menopause and postmenopause is a life stage that every woman who lives beyond the age of 40 will go through. It’s not an option, it’s a reality. And what’s more, it’s truly a gift. Yes, I know it doesn’t feel like it, but the way I look at it, menopause is the gift of healthy living.
The most obvious reason for this gift is being able to say goodbye to our child bearing years. I know that many of us mourn the passing of our fertility. But imagine the alternative, if we didn’t have menopause – we would continue to menstruate and have children until our bodies could no longer hold out. Menopause closes that door and opens another – the doorway to healthy ageing.
Nothing sexy about the concept of healthy ageing you may be muttering, but with women living well into their 80’s these days, we can expect to live more than 30 years in postmenopause. So best we live them in good health!
Compared to our grandmothers we are so less equipped to do this. We lead such sedentary lives – compare how their daily household chores must have looked compared to ours today with our automatic everything! Even when their first TV set arrived they still had to get up from their seat to turn it off! Throw in our increased exposure to stress and it’s no wonder so many of us are ill-prepared for a healthy life post menopause.
Perimenopause is our body’s alarm clock telling us it’s time for us to be more mindful of our health. During our 20’s and 30’s we may have been able to get away without optimal nutrition or any exercise, but not so in our 40’s and 50’s and beyond. This is the time for regular health checks and adopting a preventative health plan. Literally, your life depends upon it.
For those of you in the sandwich generation, caught between raising children and caring for elderly parents, while holding down a full-time job, this is not easy. It’s often the time in your life when exercise goes out the door and your nutrition suffers. On top of that, you may be entering perimenopause and life gets even tougher. Remember, perimenopause is your personal gift – telling you that its time to proactively look after your body and your health. And here’s why…
The wellbeing of your 40 or 50 year old body is under threat from:
Cardiovascular disease including heart attack and stroke.
Globally, cardiovascular disease, often thought to be a ‘male’ problem, is the number one killer of women. In 2013, 2920 women died of heart disease in New Zealand. That’s eight women a day – or about 55 each week.
As you age your metabolism slows, making weight gain an issue even as early as age 35 or 40. Excess weight increases your risk of cancer, strains your heart and joints and puts you at risk of developing diabetes.
Obesity and diabetes are rapidly growing concerns. A recent healthy study in New Zealand showed 31% of adults are obese and another 35% overweight. The onset of Type 2 diabetes is linked to obesity and is a huge factor in heart disease and heart attacks.
Rapid bone thinning occurs early in postmenopause when estrogen levels plummet. This puts your bones at risk of fracture, and a serious fracture, such as that of the hip, can put you at risk of pneumonia and other complications of being bed-bound.
Your risk of breast cancer continues to increase every year of your life until you reach roughly 80 years old, while the risk of other cancers such as colon increase from age 50 and beyond.
The good news is, that often these can be prevented. Your independence and quality of life in the last third of your life can be maintained. Lives can be saved. But only if you take a proactive approach to your health – visit your doctor and work with them to prevent disease or catch a problem early, assess your diet, set an exercise plan, understand how to control stress and don’t fall in to the trap of assuming that because you feel fine you must be healthy.
As we go through our 30’s and 40’s we aren’t thinking about these health concerns – they are for when we get old! And in the busyness of our lives, working, caring for family, and running a household, we cross the unmarked line into the stage of our lives when we need to start taking care of ourselves.
Perimenopause is your red flag telling you that line has been crossed. Look for the signs. Embrace them and act – now.