Menopause, sometimes referred to as the change of life, is a normal, natural part of the aging process — not a disease or medical condition. Menopause refers the end of a woman’s reproductive fertility when a woman’s ovaries cease to produce viable eggs and is marked as having occurred 12 months after her final menstrual period. Women can prepare for the change by starting a healthy exercise, diet and lifestyle routine.
Most women enter menopause during their early 50s, usually around age 51 according to the National Institute on Aging. In menopause, a woman’s menstrual cycle ceases and her reproductive hormone levels drop. The hormonal fluctuations may cause a variety of unpleasant symptoms including hot flashes, night sweats, loss of fullness in the breasts, increased abdominal weight, mood swings, irregular periods and changes in sexual appetite.
Menopause is not in itself a medical condition, but it may exacerbate a few medical conditions. Many women experience an acceleration of osteoporosis symptoms following the onset of menopause due to decreased levels of estrogen, a female hormone that helps control bone loss. Heart disease is also more prevalent among post-menopausal women. The National Institute on Aging notes that decreased estrogen levels may play a part in contributing to heart disease, but other lifestyle factors, such as diet and exercise routines, are also involved.
No diet fits all women. Women have different dietary needs at different stages of life, but eating a balanced diet of healthy food is important at every stage of life, including after menopause. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends post-menopausal women eat a balanced diet that includes a variety of green and orange vegetables, whole grains, fruits, dairy products and meats or beans while limiting the amount of saturated fats and sugar. Caloric intake is determined by each woman’s height, weight and frame.
Women in menopause tend to lose bone mass more rapidly than pre-menopausal women. Women can help offset this loss by getting 800 international units (IU) of vitamin D each day in addition to between 1,200 to 1,500 milligrams of calcium, according to MayoClinic.com. If these levels are difficult to reach through regular diet, consider taking a nutritional supplement. Women should consult their health care provider prior to beginning any supplement routine.
Diet can play a key role in helping maintain a healthy lifestyle after menopause, but you can implement a number of other lifestyle changes prior to the change of life that can pay major dividends during menopause. A regular regimen of weight-bearing exercises can improve bone density while helping to control weight. Get plenty of sleep to help alleviate the mental fogginess that is often associated with menopause. If you smoke, quit. In addition to contributing to cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis and stroke, smoking may hasten the onset of menopause and increase instances of hot flashes.