What's Next? Now That I'm "Officially" in Menopause, What Can I Expect?
By Rebecca Hulem, RN. RNP, CNM
"Few journeys through life are uninterrupted. Take these pauses as a time to reflect, refresh and recharge and they cease to be perceived as interruptions" – The Key to Life
I love this quote that I found in a very short book called The Key to Life. It reminds me that even though menopause is considered to be a major life transition and can turn us upside down, it is also a physical, emotional and psychological life pause. When viewed as such, the next logical question is “What’s next? Now that I’m officially in Menopause, what can I expect down the rest of life’s road? Do the symptoms end? Do they continue? What health practices are critical after menopause? What about health check-ups, what should I get?
I’ll discuss symptoms first. Some women will continue to have occasional hot flashes throughout their life. Alcohol, stress and fatigue can be triggers to avoid if you find the hot flashes are continuing. Other symptoms like mood swings & fuzzy thinking usually fade away. That’s not to say you won’t have a moment here and there when you can’t think of the word or remember where you put your car keys. Those situations happen to all of us as we continue down our life path.
The two most important issues to focus on now, I think, is maintaining or improving our state of health, and deciding on what, how, when and who we would like to spend our life with.
State of Health
What health practices are critical after menopause? Two of the most important health practices to adopt or continue are healthy eating and regular exercise. This may sound simple but they are not always easy to do.
There’s plenty of information on the internet, TV (Dr. Oz), books and magazines regarding healthy eating. Simply put try and eat plenty of colorful fruits, vegetables, fish (salmon, tuna), lean meats and healthy fats. Avoid processed foods. Many women over 50 are concerned with added weight around their waist. Reducing white flour and sugar products generally helps with getting the “belly fat” off. Alcohol can add to increased weight too. When alcohol is consumed the liver always metabolizes that first which may lead to other foods taken in being stored as fat. Also some studies are suggesting that there may be a link to increased breast cancer risk when alcohol is consumed on a daily basis; another reason to keep alcohol intake in check.
Regular exercise is a must for men and women as we age. After menopause there is a 50% greater chance of developing heart disease and osteoporosis. Aerobic exercise that is done four to five days a week for at least 30-45minutes helps to reduce the risk of heart disease. More women die of heart attacks after menopause than men. Estrogen used to protect our arteries before menopause. After menopause even if you take hormone replacement therapy you still need to exercise regularly. Walking is the best form of aerobic exercise if you have no back or knee problems. Walking up hill strengthens your heart, walking down hill strengthens your bones. Aerobic exercise also improves mood by helping to increase serotonin levels in the brain. Additional forms of exercise like strength training (great for bones) yoga or stretching helps to balance out the exercise program. Meditation and tai chi are excellent practices to engage in for stress reduction.
Medical Check-ups After Menopause
- During the menopause transition most health care practitioners will order blood tests such as thyroid, cholesterol, and blood sugar. A Bone density test to determine osteoporosis risk is usually done at age 50 and then repeated every two to five years as needed.
- A Mammogram every one to two years is recommended after age 50. Self breast exam is important to continue to do monthly throughout your lifetime.
- A pap smear is usually not necessary every year once you have completed the menopause transition. Ask your doctor how often they want you to return.
- Always report any urinary changes such as incontinence or urgency to your doctor. There are many things that can be done to alleviate these symptoms. Vaginal dryness with pain or burning is important to mention too. This occurs for most women as estrogen levels decline and can make sexual relations very painful.
- Eye exams become necessary for most women every one to two years especially after menopause. Checking for signs of glaucoma and macular degeneration becomes a necessary part of every eye exam as we age.
- And of course don’t forget your dental exams!
What’s Next Now that I’m Officially in Menopause?
When the subject of menopause comes up among women the focus is often placed on how to survive the “fire storm”. Of course we all want the symptoms to abate as soon as possible, but frequently the question of “what’s next” doesn’t naturally follow. It’s almost as though we’re afraid to even ask is there is a next to our life.
In my personal experience my “what’s next” has been a perfect mixture of planned changes and some surprises both welcomed and unwelcomed. For example I planned my menopause speaking career, which was transitioned from my thirty year career in women’s health. This new career has allowed me to continue to learn and grow. Welcomed surprises were the birth of four beautiful grandchildren. Unwelcomed surprises have been some health challenges, definitely not planned. Another fun and welcomed surprise has been moving to a beautiful retirement community situated on a vineyard!
What I’ve realized about myself now that I’m in the second half of life is this: my health and the health of my family are of utmost importance to me. So I focus on what I can do to improve and maintain my health and try not to fear for what can happen in the future. Life is full of surprises. What I’m sure of is there will always be a next. What’s next for you?