Newswise — A positive attitude may help women cope with menopause, according to gynecologists at Loyola University Health System. While many women may worry about this time in their life, doctors say this transition doesn’t have to be difficult.

“I give my perimenopausal patients a pep talk, so they don’t get down on themselves,” said Karen Deighan, MD, FACOG, chair of OB/GYNE, Gottlieb Memorial Hospital of Loyola University Health System. “I tell them that they shouldn’t just let this transition happen. Women can be proactive about their health and take steps to minimize the side effects of menopause before it occurs.”

Perimenopause typically begins in the 40s, but this phase can start as early as the 30s. Dr. Deighan offers the following tips to help women play an active role in their health as they prepare for menopause.

Kick Start Your WorkoutPrevent the “Menopot” – Most women gain 5 to 10 pounds during menopause. Fluctuations in hormones during this time may cause extra weight to gather around the waist. These pounds will be more difficult to lose if a woman waits until menopause to begin exercising. Getting a head start on a fitness regimen will prevent pounds from adding up during this time.

Know Your Kegels – Elasticity in the pelvic floor muscles can decrease in the years before menopause, which can cause incontinence. Kegels and other pelvic-floor-strengthening exercises may prevent bladder leakage. However, many women do kegel exercises incorrectly. A proper kegel engages the pelvic floor muscles and not the abdomen, thighs or buttocks. Women should hold this contraction for 10 seconds and relax for 10 seconds, four or five times in a row for optimal results.

Pump Some Iron – When estrogen levels dip, bones become thinner and more fragile. Weight-bearing exercises help to support the bones and reduce the risk for fractures.

Flex Your Brain – Exercising the muscles isn’t the only body part that needs a workout. Building up the brain is just as important. Doing crossword and Sudoku puzzles and trying memory exercises, as with a grocery list, will keep the brain in shape and reduce the risk for memory loss during menopause.

Step Up Your Sleep RegimenDips in estrogen levels may disturb sleep during perimenopause and menopause. And while many believe that side effects of menopause are all tied to a decrease in estrogen, many of the symptoms are directly linked to lack of sleep. If women focus on improving their sleep regimen, they may decrease some of the problems that come with menopause such as fogginess, memory loss or low libido.

Liven Up Your LibidoA decrease in estrogen may cause vaginal dryness. Estrogen suppositories can treat this. Regular intercourse also will improve a woman’s sex drive and increase lubrication, which can prevent pain during sex.

Make Oral Hygiene a PriorityHealthy gums and teeth will not only leave women smiling, but this may protect their heart health as well. Bacteria found in plaque can cause blood clots that can lead to heart attacks when they enter the bloodstream. These bacteria also may irritate the arteries much the same way they do the gums. Flossing and brushing at least twice daily may protect a woman’s heart as she enters menopause.

Get ScreenedPerimenopausal women should get the appropriate screening tests once a year. Women should have their cholesterol, vitamin D and calcium levels checked. Annual mammograms and pelvic exams are important along with a colonoscopy beginning at age 50. The frequency of future colonoscopies will depend on test results.

Detox Your DietWomen will benefit from a diet rich in leafy greens and healthy fats such as salmon, avocadoes and olive oil, and limited processed foods. The hair and skin become dry and lose elasticity beginning in perimenopause. These foods will bring moisture to the skin and hair making them softer. Premenopausal women also should consume 1,000 – 1,200 mg of calcium daily and postmenopausal women should take 1,500 mg in 500 mg doses with magnesium and vitamin D for optimal absorption.

Try Hormone TherapyFor women who have tried everything but have not been able to manage their symptoms, they may need a low dose of estrogen. This should be taken for a short amount of time to ease hot flashes, night sweats and other symptoms. Women at risk for breast cancer, blood clots and heart disease should not take hormone therapy.

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