Menopause and midlife happen around the same time. But what about after menopause? What does it mean to be post-menopausal?
Well, to put it into perspective: you will be in post-menopause for the rest of your life. And what does that entail? You see, we are living longer than ever before.
➡️ The life expectancy for women in the 1920s was 54 years. Today it is 82 years. That’s three whole decades! And in some parts of Europe, the average life expectancy for women is 90 years.
With those numbers in mind, since menopause is experienced around 51 years of age, women can live 40% of their lives in the post-menopause stage.
The problem is that some of our bodies’ physiological functions have not “caught up” to our modern days and privileges. Our bodies still interpret every stress as a threat and our declining release of eggs by our ovaries as the end of our reproductive lives. And since reproduction was the primary function of biological living and survival of the species, we weren’t meant to live much longer beyond that point. Except that… we are. And since our bodies are adaptive, we are doing a good job!
So, to ensure that we spend our next 30 years (or more) after menopause feeling our best and enjoying a fantastic quality of life, here’s what you need to focus on in terms of longevity and health: You need to take care of yourself NOW so you can prevent conditions related to Bone Health, Heart Health, Metabolic Health, and Brain Health in particular.
And why, you might ask.
Well, let’s look at some statistics:
Why does this happen?
Estrogen has a protective effect on bone health and helps with bone density. With the decline of estrogen levels after menopause, bones start a breakdown process. Genetic factors, low body weight, race, and past eating disorders can increase the breakdown rate.
One of the scariest risks that come with osteoporosis and bone fragility is the chance of falling and breaking important bones like your hip or spine and becoming perpetually disabled, which shortens the span of someone's life by many years. This risk is elevated if it is combined with sarcopenia, which is a condition of progressive loss of muscle mass.
We don't want that.
What can we do to prevent osteoporosis?
🦴 Nutrition is essential: a diet with enough calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D is critical for supporting bone health. Include at least three servings of calcium-rich foods (yogurt, cottage cheese, soymilk, cow's milk, deep green vegetables), whole grains and vegetables, eggs, and legumes.
🦴I recommend supplementing with these nutrients if you don't get them from foods alone. A professional nutrient analysis of your usual food intake can determine if you're getting enough from foods. Food trackers are not good estimators.
🦴 In terms of exercise, impact and weight-bearing exercises are best to stress the bone sufficiently so it can be stimulated to repair itself.
🦴Strength training exercises are a great option as it helps bone density and builds muscle mass (also preventing muscle loss due to aging).
Now let's look into some statistics related to heart health:
Why does this happen?
An essential function of estrogen is blood flow promotion and roles in keeping the good cholesterol HDL up while decreasing LDL . Without it, we become more prone to plaque build and blood clots.
Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women in the U.S., and for some reason, most of the women I know are scared of dying from breast cancer, which is scary, too, I have to admit. But the fact that we don't hear about this (at least I didn't before researching women's health) is mind-boggling. Women over 50 are at higher risk for elevated cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure. We must take care of our cardiovascular health, especially if there's a history of disease in the family.
What can we do to prevent heart disease?
Nutrition is an ally of heart health. We need a wholesome diet composed of high-fiber whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and low in saturated fats and processed foods. It would be best if you aimed to get the following:
✔️3-5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day
✔️2 servings of fish per week (including at least one fatty fish like salmon)
✔️At least 25 g of fiber per day
✔️2-5 servings of whole grains per day
✔️natural snacks like seeds, nuts, nut butter
✔️Olive oil is the leading oil
✔️Lean meats as an option for protein
With this, we keep high sugar, sodium, fats, or processed foods to a minimum.
Let's look at the numbers for metabolic health:
Why does this happen?
Many women struggle with weight gain during the menopause transition and after menopause. The changes in our body shape - where we accumulate body fat in our upper body and mid-section areas are due to the lower estrogen levels.
This hormonal change, associated with a more sedentary lifestyle and poor nutrition habits, can lead to weight gain.
Abdominal fat can quickly become visceral fat, associated with other conditions such as diabetes, fatty liver, heart disease, stroke, and metabolic syndrome, which encompasses different health issues such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and elevated blood glucose.
What can we do to manage our weight?
Now, this is a loaded question that, at its most basic level, can be answered by the simple statement: You need a long-term caloric deficit daily for the body to use fat as energy. Now we all know it's not that simple; if it were, millions of women wouldn't be struggling with their weight.
So, what's the best approach? It is a strategy designed to the person's unique needs. That's right. The ideal situation is when a woman can have professional help to guide her through her weight loss journey. Hence, she feels supported and confident in incorporating long-lasting, sustainable habits to keep that weight off. It's not so much about losing weight as it is to maintain a healthy weight... forever.
Nutrition guidance (which can encompass emotional eating support and nutrition education), regular exercise, and stress + sleep management are all critical components for improving metabolic markers.
Some tips for healthy weight loss:
✔️Include 1.5-2g of protein per kg of body weight per day to prevent muscle loss during weight loss
✔️Don't skip breakfast, as it can set you up for intense hunger later in the day
✔️Aim to lose between 0.5 to a maximum of 2 lbs per week, so you're not mainly losing water and muscle tissue
✔️Take supplements to fill in the gaps of the lower caloric intake - consult a licensed nutritionist to determine specific needs
✔️Include strength training 3x/week and HIIT exercises to optimize metabolism and fat loss
And finally, let's look at some numbers related to brain health:
Why does this happen?
We don't know why women are more prone to depression and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's than men. We know that estrogen helps with serotonin (the feel-good hormone) production. And that estrogen could have a protective effect on brain cells. So it might be due to the declining hormones. It might be something else. In the meantime, we must do our part and keep our brains healthy.
Suppose you have struggled with depression before perimenopause. In that case, you're at a higher risk for reencountering it later, not only during perimenopause (when hormones are fluctuating) but also post-menopause, when estrogen and progesterone hormones have flatlined.
If you have a history of Alzheimer's in your family, you're also at a greater risk.
However, there's a lot that can be done to prevent not only depression but cognitive decline, stroke, and dementia.
What can we do to improve our brain health?
🧠 Emotional regulation - with professional health such as mental health providers, learning coping techniques, deep breathing, and stress management
🧠Promoting brain activity - social interactions, mental exercises (reading, learning new skills. games like crosswords and sudoku)
🧠Eating foods that promote brain health - anti-inflammatory and foods high in antioxidants (fruits and vegetables, spices, seasonings), foods rich in omega-3's, legumes, whole grains, avoid processed foods.
🧠 Exercise regularly - that increases blood flow to the brain bringing nutrients and oxygen.
🧠Sleep - Vital to repair and recovery of brain cells. Another reason to prioritize sleep.
🧠Heart health = brain health, so whatever is good for the heart is also good for the brain. Follow-up with annual check-ups to observe bio-markers such as cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure.
Don't let the numbers dim your hope of becoming a healthy, sassy grandmother. You can get there if you take care of yourself and your health starting now.
Remember, it's not only about physical health: factors such as sleep, stress, and emotional well-being are just as important as everything else. But you already know that. I'm just here to remind you.
So, make a commitment now to think about the future, which is just around the corner: a challenging one, but one that you can prepare for.
You can do this for others and for the future self you wish to become.
Let's do it.