“I don’t think of getting older as looking better or worse; it’s just different. You change, and that’s okay.” – Heidi Klum, TV Host

As a woman entering my forties, I need all the help I can get related to hormone changes while parenting little ones through it. Most days, I get bouts of fatigue that feel intolerable, if not impossible, to power through—couple that with taking on more parenting responsibilities that are downright exhausting on their own and it can feel daunting getting through most days. I was glad a seminar popped up in my inbox to help.

The seminar was called Inner Piece Wellness on Metabolism and Menopause, and I joined a cohort of women to learn more about it each week in four 90-minute sessions led by my favorite Family Therapist and Founder of The Lab Method, Polly Ely, MFT, and an incredible Family Nurse Practitioner and Wellness Coach, Jill Baker. I went each week to get in front of all the body changes that I was experiencing every month that continued to progress and feel worse. Here are four takeaways I’ll lean on to get through my perimenopausal journey.

1) Work out to build muscles and bone density

According to the National Institute of Health, we lose a 3-8% average of muscle mass each decade after age 30. Couple that with becoming insulin resistant as our cortisol and estrogen take a mind of their own, and it can lead to endless fatigue and brain fog. With all that, glucose sits in our bodies longer, turning into fat. In addition to that, research indicates that up to 20% of bone loss can happen during menopause, and approximately 1 in 10 women over 60 are affected by osteoporosis worldwide. Since estrogen helps prevent bones from weakening by slowing the natural breakdown of bone, its reduction during menopause significantly speeds up bone loss. 

One way to ward off this vicious cycle is to focus more on building muscle a few days a week, protecting your bones and muscles from injury during this time. This means heavier weight and fewer reps within your workouts. It means working each muscle to exhaustion but for less time and heavier weight each time as you increase and repeat. This research comes from Dr. Stacey Sims in her lab, which found that it’s far more effective to go heavy and harder with weights 2-3 days a week than to over-focus on cardio, where we put our muscle mass at risk and drive our cortisol up. She says on her website, How to Power Your Way Through Menopause: “During menopause, we lose the strength-building stimulus from estrogen.” 

Dr. Sims also advocates for plyometrics, which can stimulate bone AND muscle building. Plyometric training involves short, intense bursts of activity that target fast-twitch muscle fibers in the lower body. They can help with the physiological changes and help build bone strength, which we also lose during the menopausal transition. You can say hello to box jumps and burpees, which are ideal. Pounding and running are also suitable for bones as they create vibration. You can think of it as waking up some otherwise quiet genes inside your muscle cells to further improve the composition. And lastly — take days off! According to Jill, “The muscle-building process should be two to three hard workouts per week to avoid injury and give your body the time it needs to recover.”

What can women do about it?

Shift your workouts to building muscle versus getting lean. Cardio workouts are great and have a place, but as you age, strength and muscle-building workouts become far more essential to avoid injury and other joint aches and pain that come with menopause. Regarding your bone strength, requesting a DEXA scan from your healthcare professional once a decade was encouraged. Osteoporosis is a silent disease that can be extremely hard to detect. A DEXA scan can help gauge if you are at risk or if you could be silently experiencing the disorder. 

Lastly, as hormones in the body change or deplete, it’s also important to start incorporating daily vitamins like D, calcium, zinc, collagen, and even copper, which aids collagen absorption. As always, consult your practitioner, but these are all good brands and doses that I took note of:

  • Vitamin D 1000-2000 IU; be sure to take earlier in the day for optimal effects 
  • Calcium 1200 mg/day; a good brand is Thorne, which includes magnesium as well 
  • Collagen. Jill says to beware if it says more than 20g/day in a dose, as it’s unnecessary. Also, bovine, marine sources or poultry sources are preferred. Fortibone is a proven collagen supplement with data to back it available in Sparkle’s collagen for bones. If ordering through Momentus, you can enter jillbakerwellness at checkout for a special discount.

2) Eat more protein

We need 1.8 grams per kg of body weight. If you are at 127 lbs, that’s 102 grams of protein daily, for example. Jenn Salib Huber talks about menopause nutrition on her website and advises clients to think about protein as a starring role in food to help them not get bogged down on counting protein portions per meal. “For example, a breakfast with 3/4 cup of greek yogurt would provide [15-25 gm] of protein as oatmeal with added peanut butter, chia and flax,” she writes. 

The American College of Sports Medicine reports that at least half your weight in grams of protein per day is the minimum needed to maintain and build muscle. That can be anywhere from 3-5 pieces of meat daily — which most days can be hard to come by without some planning involved. Jill recommends at least 30 grams of protein directly after a workout to get the desired effect for muscle building, too. If you can’t get the suitable protein needed 30 minutes before or after training, take MAP amino acids, which help to boost optimal protein levels. Though this won’t get you to your protein goals, it will provide the building blocks for you until you can eat a more complete protein later.

What women can do about it?

Make an easy protein cheat sheet with familiar foods you like eating to determine if you are hitting your daily protein goals. My sample protein cheat sheet from a few Googles is below:

  • Two eggs: 20 g protein 
  • One tbsp of peanut butter: 4 g protein
  • Two scoops of hemp seeds: 10 g protein
  • One Fairlife protein shake: 30 g protein *I love these, and Costco carries them 
  • One can of tuna: 42 g protein (average small can 21 g)
  • Three slices of turkey: 24 g protein
  • One large piece of salmon: 40 g of protein
  • One chicken breast: 43 g protein
  • One piece of filet mignon: 28 g protein

3) Focus on getting good sleep

According to the National Sleep Foundation, approximately 61% of menopausal women have sleep problems. Deep sleep can be hard to get but helps with processing testosterone and growth hormones, which also aid with building muscle. Grace Pien, M.D., M.S.C.E., an assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins Sleep Disorders Center, says, “Many women experience sleep problems during perimenopause, the period before menopause when hormone levels and menstrual periods become irregular.” Often, this sticks around through the transition and afterward, but there is help. 

Pien continues that women should aim for seven and eight hours of sleep quality or uninterrupted sleep per night. Hot flashes can also play a part and be an unpleasant sensation, but they are common. Pien further explains that women wake before the hot flash occurs due to changes in the brain that lead to the hot flash itself. But, even women without “hot flashes” report sleep disturbances that they didn’t experience before. Sleep apnea can also occur due to the loss of reproductive hormones like progesterone and estrogen. “Post-menopausal women are two to three times more likely to have sleep apnea than premenopausal women,” says Pien. Depression and anxiety can also come into play with sleep deprivation. 

What women can do about it?

Grab yourself an Oura ring and think about meditation before bed. Do what you can to get long stretches of sleep, and take it easy during the days when you can’t. You can become a ‘one less thing’ kind of girl versus a ‘one more thing’ girl and take something off that never-ending to-do list.

4) Fast for your brain 

Two times the number of women develop Alzheimer’s versus men. Many factors play in. For one, we live longer than men on average, and Alzheimer’s develops at later ages. But menopause also causes some shifts that play a part, too. Recent studies find that the brain could be the leading cause of symptoms throughout menopause versus our ovaries.

So what’s going on? One shift is our brain volume lessens as we age. It also becomes more focused on shifting from glucose focus to lipid (i.e., fat) focus as estrogen, responsible for moving glucose into cells, starts to decrease. But even the age you go into menopause can play a part. One hundred and fifty thousand women entered a study in the UK and found that women who go into menopause at 45 or younger are at more significant risk for memory loss.

What women can do about it?

This may sound cheesy, but playing games like cards with your kids can significantly help improve your chances for less memory loss. Also, a simple mechanism of adopting a fasting routine can help. Fasting for 12-18 hour intervals, which can coincide with sleep, allows the clean-up crew to come in. Cells start regenerating in ways they can’t do otherwise, which wards off autophagy, a natural cell degradation. 

You can also tweak any fasting routine to fit your social lifestyle, but even trying to do this four days a week can play a significant role in helping your body and mind stay sharp. An incredible diagram by Dr. Dale Bredesen can be found in The End of Alzheimer’s book and is copied below for another easy cheat sheet to think about food and daily diet for the mind.

Final Thoughts: Things I’ll Do Differently to Aid with Menopause

Connecting with your deeply held and uncomfortable emotions is essential as irritability increases. The sad news with menopause or perimenopause symptoms is that it can lead to grief. We now must grapple with the grief that our “prime” is over, that we don’t feel the way we used to, and that phases of our life that we loved are over. We struggle to feel the same way we used to, that our bodies might not look the same, and that things that used to excite us suddenly seem gray. 

One way to help this grief is to connect with those deeper emotions underneath and any feelings you might be experiencing. Stop plowing through a to-do list that might get you all jacked up feeling so productive, and add in a pause to see what feelings you could be shoving down or avoiding as a result. Compulsive busyness can protect us from feeling the deep emotions that come with this new phase of life. Instead, slow down and give those feelings space to be released through tears to return to feeling vital and alive. When in doubt, lean on this cheat sheet and research products I noted that can help during this time.  As always, check with medical professionals or someone you trust to ensure these remedies are right for you.

  • Revaree is a hyaluronic acid vaginal moisturizer to use in between intercourse.
  • Uberlube is a silicone-based lube that doesn’t create further dryness.
  • Intrarosa needs a prescription but is the only vaginal non-estrogen treatment for moderate to severe painful sex during menopause. It does contain DHEA, which can be converted into estrogen in the body, so be sure to discuss it with a professional.
  • Madorra is a breakthrough home device that uses ultrasonic waves along the vaginal canal to help with lubrication.
  • Clearblue Menopause Indicator is brand new on the market to assess where you are in your menopause journey. It is only beneficial if you can do it repeatedly to gauge where you are in the process.
  • Oura Ring is a fantastic product that helps track sleep, fitness goals, and even cycle management to help during perimenopause. 

The Let’s Talk Menopause website also has a menopause-trained providers page to find someone trained to treat these symptoms.

4 Easy Ways to Help Your Body During Menopause
Eat more protein — 1.8 grams per kg of body weight Focus on muscle and bone-building exercises
Pick a period to fast for your brain — 12-18 hours each day Try to get 7-8 hours of quality sleep per night