How To Manage Symptoms Of Menopause, According To Experts

Words by Odelia Mathews

9 min read

Three experts in healthcare, nutrition, and fitness dish out the details on dealing with peri-menopause and menopause. Here’s how you can incorporate their advice in your daily life to manage wellbeing with awareness and empowerment

Our ever-evolving world has seen much chatter surrounding inclusivity and diversity, gender parity, fairness and acceptance recently. However, the elephant in the room remains: menopause and peri-menopause, which impact women and their quality of life both at home and at work. A recent report by GenM found that almost 50% of menopausal or post-menopausal women are reluctant to raise the subject at work for fear of being marginalized, discriminated against or negatively perceived. In addition, a recent UK survey found that one in 10 women aged 45 to 55 quit their jobs because of menopause and its symptoms. The kicker? Women aged 40 to 45 tend to be at the point of their career when they are most likely to be vying for promotions and advancing to leadership positions. So at a time of prime growth and transition, and with the onset of peri-menopause coming anytime from the age of 35 onwards, women are facing unprecedented challenges and dropping out of the workforce, affecting their prospects for the rest of their lives.

“We ought to welcome menopause with an open mind,” says Maryam Fattahi Salaam, Founder of NAŌ who has spent over a decade inspiring, supporting, and encouraging women to get fit ever since launching Physique57, Dubai’s first boutique fitness studio concept, in 2010. A firm believer in finding power and dignity in pain, she says: “This is a time we as women have the chance to rediscover our changing bodies and explore all the possibilities out there. When menopause is viewed through this lens, it becomes a period of opportunity.”Even though one can view this phase of life as that of transition and opportunity, there’s not much that can be accomplished without awareness of symptoms and treatment options, along with the right nutrition and hormone therapy.”

Dr. Fiona Rennie: Understand The Signs and Solutions

Dr Fiona Rennie at the Genesis Dubai clinic has a packed wait list, and there are women who swear by the benefits of her advice and treatment. A resident of Dubai for 16 years, she specialises in peri-menopause and menopause care, offering not only advice, education and treatment, but also awareness of the common symptoms which can begin as early as the 30s. These symptoms could be anything from weight gain around the belly, dry skin or eyes, mood swings, food cravings, brain fog, and even lack of energy and motivation.

“The average age of menopause is 52, which is preceded by around 10 years of peri-menopause where periods still occur but many women experience physical and psychological symptoms dueto changing hormone levels,” explains Dr Rennie. There are a variety of at-home treatments, from ensuring vitamin D levels are normal to taking magnesium supplements at night, that can help to stabilise hormone levels and tackle what feels like an emotional rollercoaster phase in life. But the overwhelming collection of common menopause symptoms can still lead to one feeling misunderstood, miserable, and anxious.

“Weight gain is common after 40 because the body is trying to stabilize fluctuating oestrogen by laying down fat, so a diet high in protein and low in carbohydrates and sugar helps to combat this. In addition, reducing alcohol to a minimum is important as your body cannot metabolize it as well as you go into peri-menopause,” advises Dr Rennie. Her approach to treatment includes Body Identical Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) which is a suitable, safe and effective for the symptoms of peri-menopause and menopause. Even though there are other complementary and alternative treatments to choose from, it is always important to seek out one that works best for you based on an individual consultation and advice from an expert.

Dr. Rennie debunks menopause myths:

Myth: Menopause is just about flushes and sweats

Truth: It could include sleep disturbance, muscle and joint pains and stiffness, headaches, hair loss, feeling more overwhelmed by things that you would normally cope well with, and low libido.

Myth: You will get ‘through’ the menopause phase

Truth: You will never get through it. Instead, the longer you are without the important hormone oestrogen, the higher your risk of osteoporosis and heart disease.

Myth: Lifestyle doesn’t play an important part in preparing for menopause

Truth: In fact, regular exercise, walking, strength and conditioning, Pilates, yoga — or a mixture of them all — is the best way to prepare oneself.

Dr. Jenn Huber: Eat Right

A survey by CIPD, the professional body for HR and People Development, revealed that 59% of working women who experience menopause symptoms confessed that it has a negative impact on them at work, with 30% admitting that they had taken sick leave dueto symptoms and some were unable to tell their line managers the real reason for their absence.

In another study conducted by the Harvard Business Review, it was found that women who were seeking positions in leadership faced more support and were perceived as stronger leaders only when they acknowledged their symptoms ‘without embarrassment or shame’. The same study also revealed that menopausal women seemed less confident and less emotionally stable when compared to women who experienced the same symptoms but were not experiencing menopause. The study’s conclusions were clear: confidence and acceptance of one’s condition is vital for survival, and emotional stability is extremely important to navigate the way forward without fear of rejection or judgement.

“As we enter menopause and post-menopause, women need to be paying particular attention to bone health, heart health and cognitive health,” says Dr Jenn Huber, a dietitian and naturopathic doctor. According to her, diet and nutrition play an important role in preventing and managing common conditions such as high cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure. That said, the approach ought to be one that is guided by a balance of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.

“Protein is especially important for building and maintaining muscle and bones, and including more plant-based sources of protein is an excellent way to enjoy more fibre as well,” she adds. She also suggests phytoestrogen-rich foods, which have been shown to reduce symptoms in some women, along with an examination of habits around caffeine and alcohol which are known to exacerbate many symptoms.

Follow these tips to ensure you are prioritising your nutrition:

1.Add more plants to your plate!

2.Lower the bar and aim for ‘good enough’ more often than ‘perfect’

3.Front-load your day with fibre, including oats, nuts, seeds and fruit

4.Don’t fear carbohydrates — they help support mood, energy and sleep.

5.Move joyfully as often as you can and make functional movement the goal.

Maryam Fattahi Salaam: Get Moving

“Exercise can play a pivotal role in helping women feel and look happy and strong as they navigate this season of their lives,” says Salaam. From her experience dealing with female-focused fitness communities, she suggests combining HIIT workouts, resistance and weight training with meditation.

“Functional movement should be at the core of any menopause fitness regimen,” she explains. “During menopause, the last thing we want to do is to spike cortisol, the stress hormone that signals the body to hold on to fat tissue. HIIT can improve insulin sensitivity and lower fasting blood sugar levels at a time when both of these important mechanisms are harder to manage, and help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.” Balancing nutrition, fitness and hormones is the key to managing this tricky phase of life. And for women in positions of leadership, it’s ever more important to take action before it’s too late.

1.Combine HIIT with cardio. Keep intervals to 30-second bursts, with longer rest periods of 1.5 minutes, to limit increases in cortisol

2.To build lean muscle, lift heavy two to three times a week while alternating with two cardio and strength circuit workouts

3.If you are a beginner to HIIT, try one to three minutes at closer to 80% of maximum effort, followed by up to five minutes of lower-intensity exercise

4.For 30 seconds, cycle as hard and quickly as you can on a stationary bike. Pedal for two to four minutes at a modest, comfortable pace. Repeat for 15 to 30 minutes

5.Sprint for 15 seconds as fast as possible as a warm-up after jogging. Walk or jog slowly for one to two minutes. Repeat for 10 to 20 minutes

6.Perform squat leaps as quickly as possible for 30 to 90 seconds. Stand or walk for the next 30 to 90 seconds. Repeat for 10 to 20 minutes.

7.Make building lean muscle your top priority. The more lean muscle on the body, the higher our resting metabolic rate

8.Focus on heavier weights and less reps, with the goal of lifting the heaviest weight one can manage while maintaining proper alignment, breaking down muscle fibers to stimulate muscle growth. This intentional act of taking the muscle to its point of failing is what builds lean muscle mass

9.Don’t forget pelvic floor exercises — aka Kegels. You can integrate this muscle group in all your workouts, like contracting when lifting heavy weights

10.Follow a meditation practice which includes both stretching and breath work for improved mindset, sleep, and recovery. These practices help regulate cortisol spikes, which can lead to belly fat

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