Perimenopause is a natural, unavoidable, and sometimes unpleasant phase that people go through as they approach menopause. It can last from 2 to 8 years with the average length being 4 years and normally starts in a person’s mid-40s but there have been many cases of it beginning as early as mid-30s or as late as mid-50s.
Each person’s experience of perimenopause is unique and we recommend the best people to ask about what to expect are the women who have gone before you – mums, grandmothers, aunts, older sisters, and cousins.
Some general symptoms include:
- Irregular periods: Changes in menstrual cycle length and duration are common during perimenopause. Periods may become shorter or longer, lighter or heavier, or more or less frequent.
- Hot flashes and night sweats: Many women experience sudden feelings of heat, sweating, and flushing during perimenopause, particularly at night.
- Mood changes: Hormonal fluctuations during perimenopause can lead to mood swings, irritability, and depression.
- Sleep disturbances: Changes in hormone levels can also affect sleep quality, leading to insomnia, night sweats, and daytime fatigue.
- Vaginal dryness and discomfort: Decreased estrogen levels can lead to vaginal dryness, itching, and discomfort during intercourse.
- Decreased libido: Hormonal changes during perimenopause can also lead to a decreased sex drive and reduced sexual pleasure.
- Fatigue: Many women in perimenopause experience fatigue and decreased energy levels.
There is so much we do not know about our bodies and these natural processes that occur, so we decided to dig deeper and look to some experts for wisdom.
In her book “Perimenopause,” author Maisie Hill highlights the impact of perimenopause on fitness. Hill explains that hormonal changes during perimenopause can lead to a decrease in muscle mass and bone density. This, in turn, can lead to a loss of strength and an increased risk of osteoporosis.
Additionally, Hill notes that women in perimenopause may experience a decrease in energy levels, making it more challenging to maintain an active lifestyle. This can be due to changes in estrogen and progesterone levels, which can affect sleep quality and mood.
Maisie Hill’s toolkit for peri- and postmenopause
Track your cycle
“In many ways, tracking and working with your cycle during perimenopause is where you can get the most out of it. You can use any of the tracker apps available on your smart device or good ol pen and paper. You’ll get a sense of your personal patterns, powers, and pitfalls, and be able to make adjustments here and there to improve your experience of your cycle and make use of each phase,” Hill writes in her book.
“Building bone density and doing resistance and weight-bearing exercises is hugely important. Even if you’re already in your 40s it’s still really important to start to protect against things like osteoporosis.”
“Eating a varied diet of lots of nutrients goes a long way. Make sure you’re not skipping meals, eat regularly and sufficiently – so often my clients just aren’t eating enough.”
“Sleep gets more and more important as we age but can get more challenging as we age.”
Limit alcohol or cut it out
“Alcohol increases body temperature (hello hot flushes and night sweats) and raises your resting heart rate (hello hot flushes and palpitations). It also disrupts your production of melatonin and screws up your circadian rhythm,” she writes.
Consider holistic options
“Some people find things like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), acupuncture and taking certain herbs can be supportive through perimenopause, just make sure you’re consulting with a qualified health professional to make sure what you’re taking is safe and appropriate, particularly if you’re also taking HRT (as some should not be combined with HRT).”
Not only does Maisie Hill recommend lifting weights but Barbell Beauties, an online fitness community for women, also highlights the impact of perimenopause on fitness in a recent article and how we can take the edge off some of the harsher symptoms.
“Hormonal changes experienced during menopause involve, in particular, estrogen and estradiol levels. The estrogen made in the body protects mostly our heart and bones. Estradiol is the most potent estrogen hormone. We know that it regulates the menstrual cycle and is responsible for female sexual characteristics. Also, our skeletal muscle has specific estradiol receptors that respond to estrogenic hormone production. Estradiol can also limit inflammatory stress damage on skeletal muscle. So, estradiol can promote muscle regeneration, strength and contribute to muscle health. Luckily, hormone therapy, physical activity and nutritional plans, can counteract this risk.
Also, diminishing hormones are known to accelerate the aging process. Throughout the body, as we get older, hormones that build muscle and bone are on the decline, while those that break down tissue increase. The result is that our cells experience more wear and tear with less access to repair. The skin gets more wrinkly, the hair turns more dry and bones become weaker.”
This may sound alarming but there is good news. You can have a positive impact on some of these changes and one way is through weight lifting and resistance training. Not only does it have an incredible impact on mental health, but you can also expect to see these side effects:
- Increases bone density: Weight lifting and resistance training can help maintain and even increase bone density, which can help reduce the risk of osteoporosis, a condition that is more common in women after menopause.
- Reduces hot flashes: Exercise has been shown to reduce the frequency and intensity of hot flashes and night sweats.
- Improves mood: Regular exercise can help improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety that can be associated with menopause.
- Boosts metabolism: Resistance training can help increase muscle mass, which can in turn increase metabolism and help manage weight gain that is common during menopause.
- Improves overall health: Resistance training can help improve overall health, including cardiovascular health, and reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, which are more common in women after menopause.
In essence, perimenopause and menopause are unavoidable but this period does not have to be as difficult as it may seem. With the right tools and lifestyle changes, you can alleviate some of the symptoms and side effects and even enjoy this period of transition.