Tips For Preparing Yourself For Menopause

We often think of menopause as the beginning of new unwanted symptoms when it is usually the end. According to the National Institute of Aging, menopause occurs after you have not had a period for a year, but the effects of menopause, scientifically referred to as "the menopausal transition" or "perimenopause," can start even before your period goes away and last for over a decade.

If you are a woman entering middle age, menopause is likely on your mind. We often attribute menopause with hot flashes, but those experiencing perimenopause can also experience several symptoms you aren't prepared for, like dry skin and interrupted or lack of sleep, changes in your mood, and even uncomfortable or painful sex. But menopause doesn't have to be all bad. In fact, if you prepare for it, you can transition from perimenopause to postmenopause (this is the term for those on the other side of menopause) simply and easily. Here's how to do it.

Understand what is happening to your body

Menopause occurs in women when they are about 45 to 55 years old. During this time, not only are you experiencing outward symptoms, your body is changing inside as well. Once you reach that age, you will likely begin experiencing symptoms, like irregular periods, for quite some time before you actually enter the official phase of menopause. But this time is extremely important, as the way you treat your body during perimenopause will affect the way you handle menopause when it comes.

If you haven't been to the doctor in quite some time, schedule a physical with your primary to ensure that your body is healthy. You want to get into the mindset of overall health, not just focusing on weight, but on your mind as well. Donna Klassen, LCSW, co-founder of the nonprofit Let's Talk Menopause recommends finding a provider who specializes in later-in-life changes or has a focus on menopause, via Very Well Health. This ensures that you have a partner in preparing for it and will help you not be so worried or scared about life on the other side of menstruation.

Consider your current diet

When you start to make the transition into menopause, the first noticeable difference is often your metabolism. Those who once had a fast metabolism may notice a sudden shift and inability to lose, or even maintain their weight. Dr. Sharon D. Allison-Ottey, a geriatric specialist, told Healthy Women that women entering menopause should pay more attention to their diet, choosing more protein, fruits, and vegetables over carbs and logging their caloric intake. If you start to focus on your diet now, your metabolism will not be as affected and you can enter perimenopause already knowing how to care for your body.

Overall, the most important thing for a woman entering menopause is to not only get to a healthy weight, but know how to maintain it. Those who are a bit overweight may notice even more weight gain as their hormones change and estrogen increases, and those who are underweight are more prone to health issues during menopause, so both camps should try their best to get to a weight that is healthy for their specific bodies.

Make exercise part of your routine

Beyond trying to maintain a good weight, exercise has double the benefit when it comes to menopause. As we get closer to middle age and beyond, the changing hormone levels in our bodies directly affect the health of our bones as well. A higher risk of lost bone density is common among menopausal and premenopausal women and if you can't stomach drinking whole milk routinely, the best thing you can do is exercise.

According to Carrie Karvonen-Gutierrez, PhD, MPH, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan and an expert on women's health and aging, when it comes to working out, you want to try and focus on your muscle strength, via VeryWell Health. This means incorporating strength and resistance training into your workout routine and making lifting weights a daily occurrence. Doing this will build muscle mass and help your body stay strong even through all the changes. If you are in need of weight loss as well, Stephanie Faubion, MD, FACP, medical director of the North American Menopause Society says the best thing you can do is walk.

Practice good sleep habits

If you are worried about lack of sleep in your future, start preparing now. Menopause often brings about sleep disorders and with hot flashes and things like restless leg syndrome suddenly appearing, many women often say the worst part of menopause is that they find themselves awake all night unable to get comfortable. Dr. Allison-Ottey recommends setting yourself up for success by creating certain sleep habits that will help you overcome your symptoms and continue to get a good night's sleep, via Healthy Women.

Good sleep habits are mostly tailored to things you do throughout the day. Avoiding midday naps and that 4pm cup of coffee can help you sleep longer at night. You also may want to try and exercise in the mornings as doing so at night can lead you to have too much energy when trying to fall asleep. When you are ready to get in bed, turn the TV off, put your fan on, and practice some meditation and breathing skills. You also want to work on going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, which can help set your circadian rhythm and avoid unwanted sleep changes.

Look at the positive aspects of menopause

When talking about menopause, there is a huge focus on the negative. Yes, even with preparation, you are likely to feel the effects and find yourself running to the freezer to cool off after a hot flash. But if you change your mindset a bit, you'll realize that menopause isn't all bad. In fact, Dr. Faubion encourages her patients to look at this as an "empowering time of transition" rather than the end of your young self. Not having to worry about getting pregnant or your period interrupting your life each month is a huge weight off a woman's shoulders. If you suffer from awful cramps or unwanted mood swings around menstruation, you can say farewell to those things forever and get back a week of your life.

If you truly understand what is happening with your body, you will be better able to accept the changes and quite possibly, love the new you. Menopause, if handled right, is the start of a brand new beginning and the second half of your life–embrace it and enjoy it. The best is yet to come.