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How to eat, sleep and exercise your way through menopause

Deborah Hutton

Life during and after menopause has to start with the basics

Credit: nib health insurance

Forget the tired old clichés about menopause; I prefer to think of it as a wonderful opportunity reboot, revive and get on with the rest of your life. Now more than ever, it’s time to take a step back and make a plan for the new you.

I’ve spoken to many experts over the past few years, and have come to realise that life during and after menopause has to start with the basics – food, exercise and sleep.

Dr Wendy Sweet, founder of My Menopause Transformation, has a PhD on the healthy ageing of women and the role of exercise during menopause.

Similar to many women she spoke to throughout her studies, Wendy was exercising daily, not sleeping, having incredible hot flushes and feeling exhausted all the time.

“My cholesterol levels were increasing, as was my weight, and I experienced heart palpitations too,” Wendy explains. “My doctor was at a loss as to why this was, and started talking statins. But I had been fit, active and healthy all my life. So, what was going on?”

That’s when Wendy realised she was part of the first generation of women to go through menopause in the context of the modern fitness industry. She noticed mainstream exercise and nutrition messages weren’t targeted to women going through this transition.

With that in mind, Wendy created My Menopause Transformation, an online program that helps women improve their health, energy and vitality during the transition. Here are some of her top tips for not just surviving, but thriving through menopause.

1. Soak up the sun

There is a natural decline of oestrogen levels during menopause, which can impact how much vitamin D you absorb. When your vitamin D levels are low, it can have a negative impact on some of your hormones, including your sleep hormone (melatonin) as well as your thyroid and blood-sugar regulation hormones, which help to control your metabolism. On the other hand, adequate vitamin D levels can help you maintain your weight and sleep better, so take a walk in the sunshine when you get the chance.

2. Slow down your exercise

It’s understandable that for a generation of women used to heading to the gym and pounding the pavement to burn calories, the first thing we think we should do to lose weight is even more exercise.

“I used to think this way too, especially after more than 30 years in the fitness industry,” Margie says. “However, as we know from sports science research, when you aren’t sleeping well, you aren’t able to recover from training. What’s worse for women during menopause, is that a lack of sleep and increasing weight gain causes hot flushes and night sweats.”

There’s a fine balance between working out too much or not enough, which is why Margie recommends the following:

  • Walking or slow jogging

  • Core and pelvic floor exercises

  • Strength-based workouts at least twice a week

  • Taking time to be mindful through daily meditation

Portrait of a smiling Deborah Hutton wearing a visor

3. Eat your veggies

Your liver and gall bladder has a crucial role to play in weight management, bloating and fat burning. A healthy liver and gallbladder means you’ll be better able to clear oestrogen (which your body is trying to reduce as you go through menopause) and environmental toxins more readily. When this is achieved, your liver is better able to absorb healthy fats and crucial B vitamins, all of which are necessary to give you more energy in your day.

“To have a healthier liver, you need to change your diet to have lots of deep green and purple veggies and vegetables juices,” Margie says. “Opt for healthy proteins with omega 3 fats and reduce dairy products, meat, nuts, chicken and eggs.”

4. Prioritise sleep

We need sleep to build and retain muscle. It also allows our bodies to recover from bouts of exercise. When we aren’t sleeping well and our growth hormone is low, our blood sugar hormone (insulin) remains high. So too does our chronic stress hormone (cortisol).

This powerful combination of high insulin and high cortisol competes with your sleep hormone (melatonin) which is already low not only due to changing levels of oestrogen, but also because we’re ageing. The lower your melatonin is before you go to bed, the lower it stays overnight and the more awake you feel. The more awake you feel, the busier your brain and the more hot flushes you have. Over time, your brain and hormones start to read this as your ‘new normal’.

This is why women going through menopause need to make their sleep a priority. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Maintain a consistent sleep schedule, going to bed at the same time each night

  • Ensure your room is dark and quiet

  • Try to avoid caffeine and alcohol, especially before bed

  • Reduce pre-sleep stress with a meditation app

Deborah Hutton

Deborah Hutton standing on her deck smiling

Deborah Hutton

Deborah Hutton is a television presenter, former magazine editor, entrepreneur, author, speaker and Australian media personality. Facing 50 and the shock of being diagnosed with a serious skin cancer, Deborah spent more than a year assessing and redefining herself and realised along the way, women not only needed support but also wanted to connect and talk. As a result, she launched her digital media community ‘Balance by Deborah Hutton’ in 2011.

For more from Deborah Hutton, check out The Check Up’s dedicated section.