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The menopause brings new health challenges — how can you combat unpleasant symptoms and potential risks through lifestyle changes?

The menopause is sometimes called "the change" with good reason — you've got a lot going on at this time! How can you stop simply letting your body decide what changes, and take proactive steps that promote overall wellbeing? We don't blame you if "hormone replacement therapy!" was your first thought, but these seven lifestyle changes will help you combat menopause symptoms and help you live a healthier life than ever before. 

A diet and exercise program for better health — and a weight you're happy with

It's no secret that many women find that the menopause makes it easy to pile on the pounds, and hard to shed them — you're especially likely to be, ehm, rounder in the abdominal region. Why? (Or "God, why!!?????") Some of this stuff is unfortunately down to factors beyond your control — ever-dwindling estrogen levels and the natural loss of muscle that can come with age. Two important things that you can do something about, exercise and diet, also play a role, however, so:

  • Eat a healthy and balanced diet that contains plenty of vegetables — you knew this was important all along, but now's the time to re-examine the real state of your diet, including caloric intake. 
  • Exercise regularly, not just to maintain a healthy weight, but also to lower your risk of osteoporosis (brittle bones). This means cardio but also weight training — even walking just four hours every week lowers your risk of a hip fracture significantly. 
Combined, these two steps will help keep that pesky abdominal fat (also called "central obesity) at bay. Not only will this probably make you feel happy, it also reduces your risk of cardiovascular vascular disease and brittle bones. 

Be sane about your alcohol intake — and lower your risk of breast cancer and sleep disturbances

Research has found that drinking three or more alcoholic beverages a day increases your risk of breast cancer 1.5 times, while drinking more only adds to that risk. While drinking any amount of alcohol at all actually has a small impact on your risk of developing cancer, moderate alcohol consumption has also been shown to benefit your heart health. All this means, in short, that you're probably fine if you're an occasional recreational drinker — no more than seven drinks a week. If you've been hitting the booze more heavily, however, it might be time to cut way back. This is especially true if you happen to be on hormone replacement therapy. 

The menopause is also well-known to often mess with your sleep, something alcohol does too. If you have found that you're sleeping badly already, consider lowering your alcohol intake. 

A note to those who are still smoking: It can trigger hot flashes!

So yeah, smoking kills. We all know that. It also places women at risk of an earlier menopause, but that won't mean much to you if you're already (peri)menopausal. The fact that smoking has been shown to make it more likely that you'll experiences hot flashes — bad ones, and lots of them — may finally convince you to lay down the smokes. 

Do you need vitamin D and calcium supplements to prevent osteoporosis?

Your risk of osteoporosis increases after the menopause, so bone health should be on your mind at this time. Strong bones require protein, calcium, and vitamin D. The calcium's there to make your bones more robust, while vitamin D plays a role in the absorption of this important mineral. You may have heard the advice to use nutritional supplements to use both. You can, especially if you're found to be deficient, but you can also choose to focus on getting enough of these key nutrients through a healthy diet. 

You'll find calcium in:

  • Leafy green veggies like spinach and kale
  • Legumes and white beans
  • Dairy products
  • Salmon and sardines
  • Fortified products, like many cereals and juices — which is a bit like taking a supplement, but tastier

Vitamin D, meanwhile, is present in:

  • Eggs
  • Many fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, and tuna are examples), as well as cod liver oil
  • Beef liver
  • Fortified proucts — dairy, cereals, and orange juice

Better sleep helps reduce your risk of depression, anxiety, mood swings, and headaches: How can you get it?

Poor sleep and mood problems are extremely likely to "feed each other" — if you're not sleeping well, you're likely to feel bad, and if you're feeling bad, it's hard to get a good night's sleep. This becomes especially relevant durint the menopause, when you're more at risk of both poor sleep and various mood issues, including:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Mood swings

Women who have already struggled with bouts of depression or anxiety seem to be more likely to have these problems again when they go through the menopause. This, in turn, leads to poor sleep. 

Whether or not you're already finding it hard to sleep, try improving your sleep hygiene by:

  • Maintaining a regular bedtime schedule
  • Keeping your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool (this last one may help with night sweats too)
  • Steering clear of caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and big heavy meals in the hours before you go to bed
  • Winding down with a relaxing routine before bed — think reading, a nice shower, or some quiet music
  • Saying no to screens, both in your bedroom and around the time before you go to bed

Kegels to fight urinary 'leaks'

Your risk of urinary incontinence goes up, unfortunately, with age. Yes, panty liners can "save you" from small leaks, but Kegel exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles may make for a more permanent solution. You probably know the drill — tense the muscles you use when you hold your urine in, hold them for a few seconds, and then relax and repeat. You're generally recommended to do 10 of these five times a day. Unlike other forms of exercise, however, you can do Kegels wherever you are, and nobody will even know.

Did you know the menopause increases your risk of gum disease? Here's how to fight that

Perhaps surprisingly, your oral health is closely linked to your hormone levels. As you approach the menopause and come out the other side, your risk of gingivitis (inflamed gums) and periodontitis (gum disease) rises significantly, in part due to a greater accumulation of plaque. Some women also have a dry mouth, which increases the risk of tooth decay, and burning sensations in their mouths. 

Now is not the time to skip your dental appointments or lose sight of your oral health, then — especially once you consider that gum disease has been linked to heart disease, while losing teeth may indicate osteoporosis. You want any dental problems spotted early, so see your dentist twice a year. Between visits, continue maintaining your oral health by brushing and flossing twice daily and letting your dentist know if you notice any changes within your teeth or gums. 

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