Do hot flashes sneak up on you throughout the day? Have you gained weight? Has sex become uncomfortable or painful? These symptoms — and many others — are common during menopause. But just because they’re common doesn’t mean you have to tolerate them. For women going through “the change,” we have good news: You’re not alone, and you have options.
Enjoying Life at Every Age
“As women, we’re all going to go through menopause at one point or another,” says JoAnn Pinkerton, MD, director of the UVA Midlife Health Center. “It doesn’t have to be something you dread.”
Pinkerton serves as Executive Director for the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), and she’s been recognized as one of U.S. News & World Report’s Best Doctors in America for five years in a row. Pinkerton is passionate about women’s health and believes that menopause can be an enjoyable time in every woman’s life.
“There is so much we can do to alleviate symptoms and take care of ourselves during this time,” she says. “We’ve looked at all the data, and we now know that hormone therapies are safe and effective. With the right information and the willingness to have an honest conversation with your doctor, every woman can get through menopause gracefully.”
Hormone therapy is just one of many tools in the menopause survival kit. Pinkerton recommends taking a holistic approach to menopause and working closely with your doctor to create a care plan that fits your lifestyle. Below are her top 10 tips to nurturing your mind, body and spirit through menopause.
Dr. Pinkerton’s 10 Tips for Managing Menopause*
- Make time for yourself.
Women often find themselves caught between raising a family, seeing children off to college, taking care of aging parents, managing careers and maintaining healthy relationships. To avoid burnout, make self-care a priority and schedule time for exercise, friends and “me time.” Use this time for meditation, mindfulness, yoga, prayer, reflection, or just sitting and enjoying the sunset.
- Eat healthy and exercise.
Because your metabolism slows down at the time of menopause, you’ll gain weight unless you change your lifestyle. So eat less, eat healthy (the Mediterranean diet is a good choice) and schedule time to exercise.No time for the gym? Jump-start your day with 7 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise in the morning. Then, incorporate high-intensity activities throughout the day in 5- to 10-minute bursts.“You might not have time for a 30-minute workout in the evening,” Pinkerton says, “but chances are you can make time for three 10-minute workouts throughout the day. Break it down into what you can do.”
- Sleep at least 7 hours every night.
Burning the candle at both ends not only zaps energy, but it also makes you feel less focused, less productive and increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Don’t fear hormones.
Hormone therapies have come a long way in the past decade. If you’re under 60 or within 10 years of menopause and you have bothersome hot flashes, hormones can quell those symptoms while protecting your bones — and might even benefit heart and brain health.A word of warning: Avoid compounded hormones, as these are not approved by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA).If you want to treat your symptoms naturally, safe and effective non-hormonal alternatives include FDA-approved low-dose antidepressants, clinical hypnosis and cognitive behavioral therapy. Talk to your doctor about your options and ask questions.
- Keep your relationship healthy with intimacy.
Sexual intimacy with or without intercourse is very important to healthy relationships. Painful intercourse can make you avoid sex, which puts your relationship at risk. Have a conversation about painful sex with your partner and your healthcare provider. If lubricants and moisturizers aren’t working, ask your doctor if low-dose vaginal estrogen might be a safe and effective option for you.
- If you just don’t care about sex anymore, talk to your healthcare provider.
No longer being interested in sex can be detrimental to your relationship and could be due to medications, stress, overwork, fatigue or other fixable causes. Make a list of all your concerns and go through each one with your healthcare provider.
- Know your numbers.
Keep track of your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, bone density and risk for heart disease and breast cancer. Knowing your numbers can help you head off potential problems with diet, exercise, lifestyle changes or medications.
- Get regular exams.
Keep up with Pap tests, including the test for human papillomavirus (HPV), and mammograms. The UVA Midlife Health Center brings together specialists in endocrinology, cardiology, mammography and more so that you can get all of the care you need in one convenient location.
- Know the signs of depression.
Seek help if you: feel overwhelmed, isolated, guilty, sad or depressed every day for two weeks; if you gain or lose weight; or if you sleep too little or too much. Try “walk and talk” therapy with friends, or talk to a counselor. Don’t be afraid to take the appropriate medication to help yourself through a tough time.
- Don’t take a lot of supplements, but do get enough calcium and vitamin D.
Eat calcium-rich foods and spend some time in the sunshine to protect your bones. If you have a vitamin D deficiency, talk to your doctor about how much you should supplement. Too much calcium can increase your risk of clogged arteries, so talk to your doctor about how much calcium you should be getting.
Create a Customized Care Plan with UVA Midlife Health Center
“Going through menopause should be something you go through with your doctor so you can make the right decisions along the way,” says Pinkerton. “At the UVA Midlife Health Center, we believe in looking at each woman as an individual, getting the appropriate tests, taking an in-depth look at her symptoms and health risks and creating a customized care plan that is safe and effective for her. We are credentialed menopause specialists, and we’re passionate about helping women stay on track with their health so they can continue to live vibrant, active, happy lives.”
Listen to Dr. Pinkerton’s women’s health podcast here. For an appointment, call the UVA Midlife Health Center at 434.243.4720.
*These tips first appeared in The North American Menopause Society’s blog, MenoPause on March 29, 2016. See the original post here, or visit www.menopause.org for more information about menopause and women’s health.