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Ester Marsh: The joys of being a woman

I was talking to some of my staff this weekend and mentioned that we, as women, have it pretty rough concerning our hormones.

First, we deal with our periods, then for many pregnancy and birth, followed by peri-menopause and menopause. The answer from one of them was: “Eve should not have taken a bite of that apple!”

So true. Whether you are a believer or not, menopause is real. And I am right smack in the middle of it.

Peri-menopause can start at about 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 can be standing around and get “bone cold.” I know what follows — a fire from deep inside my body. Before I know it, I am soaking with sweat.

I am lucky my “change” has happened over time. My sister who had breast cancer had to be “put into menopause” at 36 because of the kind of cancer she had. And it wasn’t gradual, so I can’t complain.

So when does it start? In the mid-30s, hormone production in the ovaries starts to slow down. Symptoms typically start in the mid-40s but more so in the 50s. In the U.S., the average age for menopause is 51. It 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, and you don’t want to have an unplanned pregnancy.

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, the food intake increases and the 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 preventions of 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 running. The Salisbury Rowan Runners website can give you the information for a beginner running class if you are interested.

As always, check with your primary doctor or gynecologist first before you start an exercise program.

Alternative therapies such as reflexology and acupuncture have shown great results in managing menopause symptoms. Also, 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.

Ester H. Marsh is health and fitness director of the J.F. Hurley Family YMCA.

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