Perimenopause: 3 Realistic & Healthy Habits to Feel Awesome

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Perimenopause is the time to establish helpful habits to support you in prioritizing your health to feel amazing. For many women, you’ve been busy taking care of your family, your job, your house, and sometimes your aging parents. Now, it’s time to focus on yourself.  

3 habits to feel amazing in perimenopause.  bowl of fruit, bed

The average woman will be dealing with perimenopause for about four to ten years before she reaches that point, a full year after her final menstrual period, called menopause. The common symptoms include heavy or irregular periods, hot flashes, disrupted sleep, musculoskeletal pain, and mood changes. Women in perimenopause may also experience other health impacts, such as cardiometabolic changes, less favourable fat distribution, increased systemic inflammation, and cognitive health issues.

You can’t control whether your hormone levels start to change in your late 30s, early 40s or later, but the good news is you can impact how those perimenopause symptoms may affect you during this phase of life. Here are a few essential habits or lifestyle changes to focus on. These might be significant changes or minor tweaks to what you are already doing.

1. Sleep Habits to Adopt to Feel Better in Perimenopause

The effects of sleep loss and sleep disorders have been linked to increased risk of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack, and stroke. That makes it even more vital to establish proper sleep habits in perimenopause. For most people, 7 to 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep is ideal, but this can vary by person. You probably need more than you currently get—and women need more sleep than men!

Why is this an issue in perimenopause? The lack of ovulation leads to a drop in progesterone levels. That’s disruptive to your sleep cycle. Plus, the accompanying drop in estrogen can lead to the brain being more reactive to temperature shifts and taking steps to combat it, like sweating at a lower body temperature.

Yes, hot flashes and night sweats. Research suggests women frequently awaken right before the hot flash occurs, so you might not even get to sleep through it. Night sweats lasting 2-3 minutes can occur more often and with higher intensity as menopause approaches. 

Sleep problems—like sleep apnea and daytime fatigue—tend to increase at this time as well, but they often go undiagnosed as women assume they are symptoms and not issues of their own. If you start snoring in your 40s, this is likely why.

For postmenopausal women, circadian rhythms—the biological processes that follow the 24-hour clock, including the wake/sleep cycle—are weakened, so it pays to establish healthy sleep habits now. 

Tips for better quality sleep.

  • Consistent bedtime and wake times. 
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol in the evenings.
  • Avoid blue light for an hour before bed. This means no computer or phone.
  • Don’t eat a lot before bed. Let your body relax, not stay busy engaged in digestion. 
  • Declutter your bedroom to make it a less stimulating space. There is always a reason to declutter.
  • Don’t exercise two hours before bedtime. Aerobic activity releases endorphins that will keep you up.
  • Manage your stress. Journal or meditate or whatever you can to avoid taking that stress to bed with you. 

Adopting these habits will help you not only feel much better during perimenopause but also function much better.

a white bed
I LOVE my bed

2. Exercise and Perimenopause

Did you know women who got the equivalent of 8,000 – 10,000 steps a day had the lowest risk of perimenopausal symptoms? Regular physical activity is very important. Your kids are probably old enough now for you to carve out this time for yourself. 

I know we’re preaching to the choir. We all know we should do weight-bearing exercises to help maintain bone density and cardiovascular exercise to boost heart health and lower our risk of heart disease. (Heart disease is a leading cause of death for women in both Canada and the United States.

And it’s not your imagination that your healthy weight that was previously so easy to maintain is a little more complicated to keep in perimenopause. Lower estrogen levels can contribute to weight gain. I know, there’s hormonal changes again!  Lack of estrogen can cause your body to use starches and blood sugars less effectively, which increases fat storage. For women in perimenopause, it’s weight around the midsection. Belly fat! 

Combine that with losing muscle mass. No wonder our metabolism isn’t the same anymore. It makes a compelling argument for weight training to shift the body composition to how we want it. (Not saying we all need to be body builders, but I think we would all like to be strong. Along with bone health, muscle is important so we aren’t stooped over seniors someday!)

Exercise is also essential for reducing stress. Those endorphins that don’t let you sleep are mood boosters, and your body needs that boost to counter the loss of estrogen. Changing estrogen levels can interfere with neurotransmitters involved in mood regulation, which is why mood swings, depression, and anxiety are more prevalent during the menopausal transition.

If you don’t like exercise, you haven’t found the right one yet. That’s okay. You will find something you can enjoy, but meet up with your friends, partner or adult child to make it easier. Having a scheduled walk or run time with someone or a weekly yoga or strength training class can help you stay committed to regular exercise. 

I kid you not, I was NEVER big on exercise, but I now lift weights, run on my treadmill and enjoy some Olivia Lawson youtube. These habits are having me feeling SO good (most days) during this crazy perimenopause time.

woman in purple shirt holding dumbell
Me enjoying my weights

3. What You Eat in Perimenopause

I don’t want to say diet because it’s such a loaded word, but this is important. What you eat affects your risk factors for pretty much everything, regardless of your medical history. How you eat affects your perimenopause and your long-term health.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock somewhere, you know the recommendation is always to eat lots of fruit, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy (with obvious exceptions for our lactose-free and vegan friends.) Eat a balanced diet. No one needs to explain that. 

But here are some specifics that you may want to be a bit more mindful of including: 

  • Protein—Your muscle mass starts to decrease in perimenopause. Increase your daily protein intake to maintain and grow muscle and regulate appetite and blood sugar levels. Think lean meats, eggs, nuts (including peanut butter), low-fat dairy, beans/peas/lentils, tofu and soy. Protein powder and hemp hearts are easy to add in as well.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids—These healthy fats are good for brain and heart health, eye health and decreased inflammation. Try fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, chia seeds, flaxseed, walnuts, olive oil and soybeans. Spinach and Brussels sprouts also have omegas, but not as much.
  • Calcium—Calcium is famous for its role in bone strength. Your heart, muscles, and nerves also use calcium. Research is now suggesting that calcium and vitamin D together may have a protective effect against cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure, but it’s not conclusive yet. Sources include dairy products, seeds (poppy, sesame, chia, etc.), sardines, almonds, leafy greens, and whey powder. 
  • Fibre—Eating a higher-fibre diet keeps you feeling full longer, which helps curb cravings. It’s too easy to grab something nutritionally bankrupt and full of tasty salt and fat instead of something more aligned with your healthy diet intentions. Think veggies, popcorn, nuts, and fruit. Raspberries and green peas are especially high-fiber.

I get most of my healthy food at Costco and have a post all about it here.

The best way to fix an unhealthy diet is to make small changes. Healthy eating is about what you eat over time, not just one meal. Give yourself a transitional phase to adjust. Substitute better options and keep going. These eating habit tweaks can make a massive difference in how you feel during perimenopause.

Eating one of these 12 delicious salads daily is a great habit to feel great in perimenopause
These are not my salads, but I DO eat salad every day for lunch, and it helps massively

A Note on Hormones 

Women experience perimenopause in different ways. The symptoms you experience may not be the same as your sister or your friends. Trust your own instincts and talk to your doctor/healthcare provider if the symptoms are interfering with your daily life and reducing your quality of life. Hot flashes, decreased libido, vaginal dryness, painful intercourse or other symptoms are not fun. 

Help is available! There are non-hormonal options, like acupuncture, yoga or dietary changes, and hormone replacement therapy. These days, there are more options for hormone therapy than just low-dose birth control pills. It’s a good idea to read about perimenopause even if you aren’t quite there yet so you have some familiarity with what physical changes and hormonal imbalances are coming.

If all these habits seem to link back to each other, it’s because they do. It’s difficult to isolate one. That doesn’t change the fact that you deserve to feel good at all stages of your life, even in the perimenopause transition. Take care of your sleep, your body and what you fuel that body with. I can’t promise you’ll avoid all the symptoms of perimenopause, but these habits will help you feel way better than without!

Minimalist Lifestyle and Women’s Health: The Benefits

The Best Foods for Perimenopause at Costco

3 Easy *Realistic* Habits to Feel Amazing

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