Co-Head, Division of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Cooper University Hospital
Perimenopause — the five to seven years before menopause — can be a difficult time for some women. Hormonal fluctuations in combination with changes that occur naturally with age can create unexpected, difficult-to-manage, and frustrating symptoms.
Common complaints are vasomotor symptoms (hot flashes and night sweats), weight gain, and an increasing waist size. Vasomotor symptoms can be life-altering, leading to decreased effectiveness at work, lack of sleep, and poor functioning in daily activities. With some proactive strategies and simple lifestyle changes, women can manage their bodies and feel great during what should be a happy and exciting phase of life.
Keep a Diary
Alcohol, caffeine, hot foods, spicy foods and high sugar can trigger vasomotor symptoms. I often tell women to keep a journal of their menstrual cycle, their symptoms and the food they eat. This can help women identify their triggers. Identifying and understanding triggers can significantly help with symptom management. Writing down what you eat is also a proven tool in weight management. A pocket calendar is all you need.
I can’t overstress the importance of exercise. Regular exercise not only will help with weight control, it also can help with the hot flashes, night sweats and flushing that some women experience. If you don’t exercise at all, find a way to add it into your day. If you already exercise regularly, increase what you’re doing. Exercising is not as daunting as it sounds. It can be as simple as walking 20 to 30 minutes a day for three to five days each week, and the 20 or 30 minutes doesn’t have to be completed at once. Walk the dog for 10 minutes a couple of times a day, or spend part of your lunch break walking around the parking lot. A pedometer is a great tool — buy a good one and have a goal of walking 10,000 steps every day.
Change What You Eat
There are numerous health benefits to eating fruits and vegetables. They provide us with fiber, vitamins and minerals, and are naturally low in fat. Did you know that the chemicals in fruits and vegetables may also aid in reducing some of the discomforts of perimenopause? So eat more fruits and vegetables. At the very least, it will help prevent the extra weight from creeping on.
Incorporating these simple lifestyle changes may not completely eliminate all the changes of perimenopause. But they can go a long way in helping to alleviate some of the unpleasant changes that do occur.