Sherrie Hebert

This week I will be at my peak. The peak? I will no longer be in my low 50s and yet to see the other-side-of-the-hill 50s — I am in the middle, so I am at my peak for this decade! What is odd, however, is that I have become exceptionally hot at times. I don’t blush or embarrass easily, so I am not sure why, but it is definitely not menopause or the menopausal transition. If it was, my peak would be more of a small hill.

NOTE for MEN: Understanding what those special ladies in your life experience during the menopausal years will allow you to support them through their emotional and challenging times showing that you do care, so please keep reading.

Menopause is the point where a woman has not had a menstrual cycle for one year. Transitional menopause, also known as perimenopause, begins when estrogen levels start declining. When the transition begins, some common symptoms include insomnia, mood swings, fatigue, depression, irritability, racing heart, headaches, personal changes and ... hot flashes. The symptoms can last an average of four years but may be up to 10. That means if a woman averages two hot flashes per day over four years, she is looking at about 3,000 moments of intense heat. Definitely not something to look forward to, but with healthy food and regular exercise, you may find temporary relief.

When approaching menopause, our metabolism, which is the process of breaking down food and transforming it into energy, slows and our weight will begin to climb, causing more fat storage and muscle mass loss. Much of the fat will settle on the belly as visceral fat which builds within the abdominal cavity near the vital organs including the liver, stomach and intestines. The jiggly fat beneath our skin is called subcutaneous fat and is relatively harmless. With declining estrogen, calcium levels decrease causing bones to weaken and may lead to osteoporosis, which can increase the risk of fractures, primarily in the hip, spine and wrist.

Coping with slower metabolism, weight gain, muscle loss, declining bone density, mood swings, poor sleep, fatigue,depression, personal changes...and hot flashes is challenging and maddening, but don’t give up and and try some of these suggestions.

Drink water. Drinking a glass of water every hour or so throughout the day will help curb your hot flashes and when one does hit, nail it with another glass of cool water.

Eating well is always your best defense for overall health and menopause is no exception.

Menopausal women should eat approximately 0.65 grams of protein per pound per day. For example, a 150-pound menopausal woman should get about 98 grams of protein each day and, as a reference, a skinless chicken breast provides approximately 50 grams. Dairy products not only provide extra protein, but are rich in calcium, vitamin D, potassium and phosphorus, all necessary for your bone health. (PubMed.gov)

Whole grains provide prolonged energy needed to push through tough days, are heart healthy and can reduce the risk of diabetes. Whole grains mean 100 percent whole grain, so read your labels. If they don’t state 100 percent, leave them behind, and remember that multi-grain does not mean all whole grains, it indicates there is a variety of grains. Avoid “white grains” that rapidly break down causing blood sugar spikes, so instead go for the “browns” including oats, brown rice, barley and quinoa. Whole wheat is indeed a whole grain, yet the gluten in it may cause digestive troubles and inflammation for some, so it might be helpful to limit your intake.

Fruits and veggies are loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants to maintain a healthy weight, and research indicates they may reduce hot flashes. Healthy fats may also reduce hot flashes, but more importantly, they are good for your heart, lowering bad cholesterol, LDL, and increasing your good cholesterol, HDL.

When it comes to spicy hot and heat hot foods and drinks, it is a no-brainer — hot stuff makes you hot.

Avoid sugary foods to prevent inflammation, weight gain and blood sugar spikes. The word is still out on caffeine and alcohol; some research says it increases hot flashes while others say it doesn’t. If you notice more hot flashes, avoid those beverages, otherwise enjoy them.

Get your exercise! The standard is 30 minutes of exercise every day, but if possible, do 30-minute workouts with short bursts of intense exercise, where the peaks will require extreme energy and burn more fat. Keep your bones strong with weight-bearing and resistance exercise to prevent or slow osteoporosis. Doing anything upright is weight-bearing, such as walking, climbing stairs, golfing and gardening. Resistance training is working against a force, which can be your body, such as in push-ups and squats, or lifting weights.

But exercise isn’t just a fat burner for a healthy cardiovascular system and building strong bones, it releases endorphins becoming a natural mood enhancer. Exercise may also help you sleep better as it may reduce anxiety and depression.

Menopause, the change, transition, whatever you call it, it is a trying time for all women that can last for years. There are no magic pills, foods or activities that will end it, but there are things you can do to make it not quite so challenging. Your best bet is accepting it and finding the support from friends and those special men in your life.

I still don’t think my blushing and moments of intense heat are symptoms of my transition. And so what if I put my head in the freezer — everyone does it at times, right?

Sherrie Hebert is a certified personal trainer and Pilates mat and equipment instructor. She teaches and trains at Performance Pilates and Gold’s Gym of Pocatello. Contact her at 208-317-5685 o r sherriehebert@gmail.com for all your he alth and wellness needs.