This piece was originally published on Elektra Health.
Some perimenopause symptoms can look like symptoms of other issues, so it’s always a good idea to check in with your provider to confirm lifestyle changes and/or treatments.
Common perimenopause medications and treatments include temporary low-dose birth control (oral contraceptives) and other hormone therapies. But many providers will suggest lifestyle changes before or in addition to medication. In fact, studies have shown that women with healthy lifestyles experience fewer perimenopause symptoms and are better able to cope with those they do — but it’s still good to know that treatments are available. As with all medications, healthcare providers should factor in risks, benefits, individualized needs, and health history when planning treatment.
Lifestyle changes for perimenopause
We’re all familiar with the tried-and-true healthy lifestyle recommendations — eating plenty of veggies and prioritizing whole foods, getting enough sleep, limiting alcohol, avoiding tobacco, reducing stress, and exercising regularly (both aerobic and weight-bearing). All of these apply here. While striving to live, eat, and exercise healthier, we’d also remind you to be kind to yourself in the process. Any transition is also a moment to re-center what’s important to you and how you can best take care of yourself in the process. It might take a little time to get all the pieces in order.
Building a menopause support team
Start by considering your symptoms, how disruptive they are to you day to day, and prioritizing which to tackle first. You can record all these symptoms (from moods to physical changes) in your Ovia app. Bring this list to your next doctor’s appointment to discuss it.
It’s essential that you have a provider who listens to you and is informed about the menopause journey. And it’s very possible that a provider you have loved isn’t the right fit for this new stage. Evaluate how comfortable you feel asking questions about your symptoms, how confident you feel in the answers, and how you feel leaving appointments.
Do you leave feeling informed and confident about your next steps? If not, or if you don’t feel like your provider is listening to you, then find a new one! Having a provider on your team with deep menopause training and understanding is key to thriving during this period of life.
Finding personal cheerleaders
As you feel comfortable, reach out to your confidants for support. Whether you just need someone to talk to or are looking for more concrete help, start the conversation. We know there is still stigma and misunderstanding around the topic of menopause, but you owe it to yourself to lean on your community rather than experiencing this alone. Who knows, maybe the person you reach out to is going through the same transition.
At any given moment, 50 million or more women in the U.S. are experiencing menopause, and a whopping 16% never discuss it with anyone at all. That needs to change!
Where to start
Take stock of your lifestyle. How much do you move your body? How do you manage stress? Do you sleep well at night? How’s your general eating habits? These four factors can play a huge role in how you feel as you move through the menopause transition, and it’s never too late or too early to start making changes. Dr. Anna Barbieri, Elektra’s founding physician, has these top recommendations.
- Limit, as much as you can, processed foods and added sugars (and processed = anything that comes from a package, made with white flour, or added sugar)
- Diversify your diet with a wide range of whole foods, especially veggies and healthy fats (e.g., olive oil, avocados, nuts like almonds and walnuts, and fatty fish)
- Increase intake of organic whole soy products and flaxseed, both of which boast mild estrogenic effects
- Add on strength training (this can positively impact your bone health)
- Never underestimate the power of a power walk – it’s a great, low-impact exercise that can get you outside and help manage stress
- Move as much as you can, as often as you can, throughout the day
Sleep and Stress
- Aim for at least seven hours of sleep per night.
- Make sleep a priority because it plays such an important role in overall health. If it’s an issue for you, don’t just learn to live with. Consider your sleep hygiene.
- Meditate, get outside, knit, go for a jog, read…do whatever you need to do to manage stress on a daily basis, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
All of these are important, but if this all seems overwhelming and you need to choose an area to focus on first, go with diet. Building healthy eating habits now will help you through menopause and well beyond.
“There isn’t one perfect diet for everyone,” explains Dr. Barbieri. “But the common themes are plant-heavy and whole food, with low refined carbohydrates and sugar. At the end of the day, it’s about balance…I love seeing the tremendously beneficial effect a dietary change can have while being aware that we do not cross over into obsession and rigid patterns.”
Along with lifestyle changes to help manage menopause symptoms, there are integrative options like supplements, prescription medications, and more. Talk to your provider about which option/combination of options is best for you.
For too long, too many of us have entered perimenopause without the tools and resources we need to thrive, which means this 8-10 year journey is experienced in a way that’s deeply isolating, lonely, and scary. Knowledge makes a difference. Community makes a difference. You’ve got this!