Ester Marsh column: The onset of menopause

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 4, 2017

Happy Labor Day! And yes, the YMCA is closed today.

Lets talk about hot! Hot, as in perimenopause followed by menopause.

My sister Christell, who is a breast cancer survivor, has been dealing with this since she was 37. She is 48, and 11 years ago she had breast cancer. Her cancer was “estrogen fed,” so part of her treatment besides chemo was stopping the hormones. As a result, she had full-blown menopause — at 37. At 51, I am still perimenopausal. Changes were happening gradually at first but now seem to have taken things to a whole new level. Perimenopause can start around the age of 40, and you are considered to be in “real” menopause when you have not had a period for 12 months.

The hardest part for me are the hot flashes. I am just standing there minding my own business and the fire starts from deep within my body. Before I know it, I am soaking wet with sweat. At least my hormone change is a slow process, unlike that of my sister and other cancer survivors. So I am not complaining. Just when you see me standing there soaking wet do not worry! I am just having a hot flash.

So when does it start? In the U.S., the average age for menopause is 51. During a woman’s mid-30s, hormone production in the ovaries starts to slow down. Symptoms typically start in the mid-40s, but in the 50s hormone production slows down more until it totally stops. Symptoms of these changes can be:

 Hot flashes

• Depression, stress and anxiety

• Sleep disorders

• Irritability

• Osteoporosis

• Cardiovascular disease

Before you are in total menopause, you could skip one or two months, even more, and start again. And yes, in these times you are still fertile — you don’t want to get an unplanned pregnancy. I hear it too often!

Going through menopause has some other side effects, such as possible weight gain, particularly around the belly and the waistline.

What some research shows is that when the hormones drop, food intake increases and physical activity decreases. So with the hormone drop you are doing less and eating more, a big reason for weight gain. With age, your muscle mass already quickly disappears when you don’t use it, so your metabolism plummets even more and it becomes a snowball effect.

Check with your gynecologist about what treatments are available, what you can do to minimize the effects and what steps you need to take to maintain a healthy weight.

And once again research shows that exercise is one of the best prevention measures for the negative side effects of menopause such as osteoporosis, muscle loss and cardiovascular disease.

Strength training can lower the risk for osteoporosis. Exercise also can prevent cardiovascular disease, keep the joints and muscles strong, relieve depression and anxiety and of course improve overall health.

Strength training during and after menopause is highly recommended to increase muscle tone and improve metabolism. Low-impact aerobic exercise can help your cardiovascular health. And of course water exercise or swimming is great to improve your overall health.

I know many women who started running and have had great results with it. Thursday, Sept. 7, a new beginning runner class is starting at Novant Health. You can go to the Salisbury Rowan Runners’ website ( for more information or call David Freeze at 704-310-6741.

As always, check with your primary doctor or gynecologist before you start a new exercise program. Alternative therapies such as reflexology — my dear friend Cindy Hill showed me pressure points which actually help decrease the fire burning from within — and acupuncture have shown great results in managing menopausal symptoms. And as we all know, a healthy diet is crucial. Stay away from processed foods and start logging your food intake. You will be surprised how many calories you actually eat. Try to avoid eating late; typically the choices aren’t the best ones late in the evening.

Check with your gynecologist, create a plan and see what your options are. And most of all, embrace getting older. My sister had to deal with menopause way too young but she survived breast cancer and she has embraced menopause, but foremost life. And look at a hot flash as you being “hot,” a hot body not a hot flash!

Ester H. Marsh is health & fitness director for the JF Hurley family YMCA.