It doesn’t take many cobra poses or pickup games of basketball with your kids to realize that, as we age, we can’t do the things we were once accustomed to doing.
As a woman at the threshold of 40, it takes a little longer to catch my breath, to bend down to pick up a ball, or to recover from a particularly physical game. This week, I played a casual game of soccer with my family and was sore for three days. Even my 3-year-old was in better shape than I was.
One of the main concerns I have as I age is menopause. I have had friends enter this stage as early as 40 and as late as 55, and I have noticed many physical and emotional changes that accompany this very real condition. So, I sat down with Dr. David Young, an OBGYN and menopause specialist, to help demystify this part of the aging process.
What is menopause?
Menopause, very simply, is the time in a woman's life when menstruation stops and she is no longer able to become pregnant. During this time our estrogen levels decrease.
“Ovaries tend to stop producing estrogen,” explained Dr. Young. “As the production of estrogen begins to decrease, it can affect our cardiovascular health and the way we feel. All of the hormones in our bodies are interrelated, so if one hormone has an issue the other hormones can be affected negatively.”
Although the average age for this gradual change is around 50 to 52 years of age, many women in their early 40s experience symptoms of peri-menopause and early signs of the menopause.
What are the symptoms of menopause?
Experts say that technically, menopause is confirmed when a woman has not had a menstrual period for one year. However, the symptoms and signs of menopause generally appear long before the one-year period ends. Symptoms include hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, feminine dryness, weight gain and irritability, among others.
How can I manage the effects of menopause?
This is a natural process in the life of every woman. However, there are ways to control the lingering effects of menopause. Dr. Young is a big supporter of preventative care, particularly in preparing a woman for this often uncomfortable and discombobulating physical transformation.
He advocates regular checkups with your healthcare provider. “Seek regular mammograms starting at 40 or sooner if you have a history of breast cancer or other diseases in your family,” said Young. Incorporating regular exercise in your daily routine is also important.
Young suggests considering taking a supplement, as well. “When we are in our modern-day, fast-paced life, we don’t eat as well, we don’t eat healthy, and we eat out a lot. So supplementing with a brand that contains good vitamins and minerals is very important.”
Although few women openly discuss the onset of menopause with their peers, it is important to track the changes in your body. “Taking care of things before they become a problem is important. If you have something that you are concerned about, have it evaluated and don’t ignore it,” said Young.
By being proactive in eating right, getting regular exercise, quitting smoking and other harmful habits, and considering supplements, the process of menopause need not be the dreaded phase Grandma warned you about. Instead, it can be a transformative time where women say hello to a new life filled with newly defined freedoms and opportunities just waiting to be discovered.