Staying Healthy After Menopause

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While this change of life called menopause was once a life stage dreaded by many women, today's woman has an abundance of medical knowledge and resources available to her as she experiences menopause. The key to staying youthful and active is good nutrition and regular physical exercise.

Nutritional needs after menopause

As a person ages, nutritional requirements change. A premenopausal woman should consume about 1,000 mg of calcium daily. Women after menopause should consume 1,200 mg of calcium per day, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

Vitamin D is also very important for calcium absorption and bone formation. According to a 1992 study, women with postmenopausal osteoporosis who took vitamin D for three years significantly reduced their risk of spinal fractures. This issue is controversial, however, as vitamin D can cause kidney stones, constipation, or abdominal pain, especially in women with kidney problems.

Other nutritional guidelines recommended by the National Research Council of the National Institutes of Health include:

  • Choose foods low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol. Fat intake should be less than 30 percent of daily calorie intake.

  • Eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grain cereal products, especially those high in vitamin C and beta carotene. People of all ages should consume 20 to 30 grams of fiber daily.

  • Avoid foods and drinks with processed sugar, as many of these products contain empty calories and promote weight gain.

  • Avoid salt-cured and smoked foods, such as sausages, smoked fish, ham, bacon, bologna, and hot dogs. These foods are high in sodium, which can lead to high blood pressure, a serious risk for aging women.

The importance of exercise after menopause

Menopausal women often experience weight gain, possibly because of declining estrogen levels. Raising your activity level will help to avoid this weight gain. Exercise becomes particularly important as a woman ages. Regular exercise benefits the heart and bones, helps regulate weight, and can be a mood enhancer, creating a better sense of well-being. Women who are physically inactive are more likely to suffer from coronary heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and osteoporosis. Sedentary women may also suffer from chronic back pain, insomnia, poor circulation, weak muscles, loss of bone mass, and depression.

Aerobic activities, such as walking, jogging, swimming, biking, and dancing, help prevent some of these problems and also help raise HDL cholesterol levels, commonly referred to as the "good" cholesterol. Weight-bearing exercises, such as walking and running, as well as moderate weight training, help increase bone mass. In postmenopausal women, moderate exercise helps preserve bone mass in the spine and prevents fractures.

Exercise also has a mood-enhancing quality, due to hormones, called endorphins, which are released in the brain. The mood-heightening quality of these endorphins can last for several hours and helps the body fight stress.

Always consult your doctor before starting an exercise program, particularly if you have been sedentary. Your doctor can recommend the appropriate exercise program for you.

Sex after menopause

Sexual activity may decrease for some women during and after menopause. The symptoms of menopause, such as drier genital tissues and lower estrogen levels, may contribute to a decreased interest in sex. However, estrogen creams and estrogen pills can restore elasticity and secretions in the genital area, and soluble lubricants may also help make sexual intercourse more pleasurable.

It is important to note that women who still experience sporadic menstruation during perimenopause need to continue using some form of birth control. Consult your doctor regarding which form of birth control may be best for you.

Staying healthy after menopause

The following tips will help to provide healthy living after menopause. Consult your doctor for more information:

  • If you are considering hormone replacement therapy, the decision to start should be made only after you and your doctor have evaluated the risk versus benefit ratio based on your individual medical history.

  • Eat a low-fat, high-fiber diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Reduce consumption of saturated fats.

  • Do not smoke. Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease.

  • Exercise regularly. Even moderate exercise, such as walking a half-hour three times a week is beneficial.

  • Maintain a healthy weight.

  • Take medication for high blood pressure or to reduce your cholesterol, if prescribed by your doctor. This will help minimize your risk for heart disease.

  • Reduce stress in your life through relaxation techniques or regular exercise.