What I wish I’d known…
Updated: Feb 27
It’s been almost 18 months since I wrote my last blog on perimenopause, the one where I had no idea what was going on and was shocked to discover I was leveling up to the next phase of life…. Brief recap: my sleep was shot, my body rounding, my joints aching, my usual choice of exercise no longer serving me, I was moody, anxious and absent, forgetful and struggling to concentrate! Night sweats were stifling any chance of sleep, and then ongoing fatigue left me feeling flat - not the usual me at all! I thought I was too young to be menopausal but seems I was wrong, google perimenopause symptom checklist and I was ticking the majority of the boxes!
Fast forward to today - I have experienced a couple of additional symptoms, but for the most part, feel like I’m in control. I’ve made some changes, listened to my body, and honored its requests, and things seem to be ticking along ok. When I re-read my original blog "So this is Perimenopause" (Link below) I realized how much I have implemented since then: I started educating myself, listening to podcasts, reading books and undertook more study, I hired a coach, came off oral contraception and started tracking my cycle, I stopped drinking alcohol, I started listening to my body and using an oura ring to really help me focus on the recovery element of my daily life. And, I’m pleased to say I’ve made progress, I’m certainly sleeping better, my mood is more stable and night sweats have abated. My body is still changing, but it’s stronger than it’s ever been and I’m thankful for what it does for me, this has been a big shift of mindset for me. For too long I looked at my rounded edges and felt my body was rebelling against me, but in reality, its just responding differently thanks to the aging process and the inevitable change in hormone ratios.
Now that I’ve done some study around menopause, have a better understanding of what's going on, and have experienced first hand many of the symptoms, I thought I’d write another wee blog about the things I wish I’d known before it hit me, because hit me it did and I was so unprepared. I’m not going to get sciencey because its a minefield, so I’ll try and keep things basic.
Perimenopause can start as young as mid 30’s (shocked - I was having babies in my mid 30’s!) but usually begins around 45 and typically involves an inconsistent menstrual cycle. As your body produces less of the hormones that help you ovulate, your periods can become irregular. Think shorter/longer cycles, and heavier or lighter bleeds, you may miss periods altogether or have heavy, prolonged periods.
The hormonal fluctuations that affect the menstrual cycle can last up to 10 years, but are generally felt most during the 4-5 years before your period stops for good.
That one day in time, when a year has passed since your last period is Menopause, every day of your life thereafter is post menopause.
Perimenopause is essentially a Hormone SOS - the hormonal fluctuations result in symptoms (e.g. poor sleep, night sweats, hot flushes, mood swings, poor insulin sensitivity, body composition changes and poor energy levels) and these symptoms are the bodies way of asking for help.
The good thing is there are things we can do to help mitigate these! It’s all a bit of a scientific minefield but for me has boiled down to a few essentials.
Quality sleep - Its taken me a long time, but, touch wood, I have been sleeping better, I nod off better thanks to reading rather than screens, I sleep longer and deeper and most of the time wake up more rested, the difference is now, if I wake up exhausted I pay attention to what that is telling me and what it requires. My oura ring and tracking my cycle have really helped with this. Interestingly I’ve discovered I can no longer drink red wine, even one glass elevates my heart rate and body temperature and results in a sleepless night usually involving night sweats! (Link to Sober momentum blog below) The oura ring has really helped me see the science behind how I’m feeling and the majority of the time it backs up my gut feeling.
Adequate recovery - there is the recovery that occurs during sleep, the deep sleep which allows muscle recovery and restoration, and there is rest, I struggled with both, but when I made a concerted effort to rest more, my sleep began to improve too. I’ve been so used to exercising at least 5 days a week, and if I’m honest, even a walk on my ‘rest day’ would often turn into more than it was meant to be, that when I started giving myself a “recovery day” between exercise days, it made both my exercise and my recovery more intentional. Maybe it was as simple as changing the word rest to recovery, which made it more appealing to my ‘be busy’ body, maybe it was listening to my body or the insights from my oura ring, but a lot of it was in choosing the right kind of exercise.
The right kind of exercise - I used to be all about HIIT sessions or smash myself cardio classes (not always the intention of the class - but my go to). I rarely ventured beyond the weights I was comfortable lifting, so there was no adaptation happening. I knew this of course, but I loved what I was doing, I wasn’t doing it to lose weight or to get stronger, I was just doing it because it made me feel great and that was enough, until it didn’t make me feel great anymore and I’d had enough! All too often I was starting a class fatigued (and under fueled - but that’s another story), going hard to get the endorphin hit and then after the buzz of that wore off, I was toast. It’s like a drug, you can’t get enough of that endorphin high so you do it again the following day even though your body hasn’t recovered. It took lockdown for me to see that I was over training. (That’s another blog - Lockdown lessons - link below) And then all the weird shit started happening and in hindsight I realize that perhaps the burnout I was experiencing from over training was also the start of my next level journey.
When I started studying perimenopause I discovered that actually this was the time in my life that I needed to focus on recovery ⬆️ and move away from cardio/HIIT and onto lifting a heavier weight, to start working on progressive overload and focus on getting stronger. I’ve always thought of resistance training as future proofing my body, but as we enter menopause the requirements shift a little more. The term Lift Heavy Shit gets bandied around for this stage of life, but let me assure you, heavy is a relative term - it’s personal to you, and this is no time for comparison. You do you, for you! I hired a coach, a female health and performance coach, to take the programming element out of the equation and give me the accountability I find so helpful. This has been GOLD! I’m lucky that I have my PT studio and the motivation to workout solo (I actually love it) but for those that need company or a coach, watch this space as I have something in the pipeline.
Now I workout no more than 4 times a week, my focus is on strength training, I still get my huffy puffy work but the intervals are more controlled - working at a prescribed level of exertion and with adequate recovery times to be able to hit the same intensity on repeat.
Stress management - first off stress isn’t always a bad thing, it's our bodies way of responding to a demand or a threat and we are built to handle some stress. During menopause we experience higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol in our system as a result of hormone fluctuations, this can result in a whole raft of symptoms - insomnia, an increase in body fat, frequent colds, cravings, digestive issues, low mood and irritability, anxiety and depression, and if chronic and long term, can lead to serious health issues. That is why we need to actively seek out relaxation through activities like walking, yoga, meditation or mindfulness. We need to make the most of the good stress e.g. the right kind of exercise ⬆️⬆️ and then lap up the recovery days ⬆️
Be kind to yourself - perimenopause made me realise that if you’re not going to start being kind to yourself now, when are you ever going to? Do it, you’re worth it. For so long we put everyone else’s needs first thinking its selfish to put ourselves first. But we need looking after more than ever through this phase of life. It’s a mindset in many ways, but it means checking in and thinking: what do I need today? Maybe I don’t need to go to that thing, I just need to go home, put my feet up and read a book. Just be gentle to yourself.
It’s all a juggle, each of these things plays into the others, but putting some thought, time and effort into each of them has helped me and I hope it might help others through this journey. If you have any questions or I can help you get started with exercise, or help you make exercise work better for you and your changing needs, please reach out.
Health and happiness