By Anna-Karin Aksberg
Food, sleep and exercise are the 3 cornerstones to improved and optimal wellness. Understand why.
Hormonal shifts cause several powerful changes in women. Menstruation, ovulation, pregnancy, childbirth, perimenopause and menopause – all of these phases are natural, yet are still not often talked about, with some almost being regarded as a bit taboo. I remember, for example, when I was a teenager, I felt very embarrassed buying female hygiene products. I also find when I meet women in my clinic that they feel worried about ageing and reaching menopause – and that they can’t really talk about it. It can be particularly difficult in workplaces where there is little understanding of the hormonal changes women are going through and the potential impact it can have, both emotionally and physically.
It is common to experience sudden tiredness or fatigue when you are reaching menopause and at the time leading up to menopause. This can be especially frustrating when you are still busy and stressed, trying to juggle all the everyday demands on your time. Your body is changing and you may wonder why and what to do.
Oestrogen and progesterone levels are already starting to decline in women by the time they reach their 40s; this phase is called perimenopause. The duration of the perimenopause stage varies from 4 years up to 12 years. You enter the menopause phase when you haven’t had a period for 12 months. It is common to experience several symptoms during the perimenopause such as insomnia, fatigue, and hot flushes.
How to beat tiredness?
I work with a holistic approach where I look at more factors than just food. There are often several underlying causes to tiredness, not just one. I consider aspects such as: food intake and eating habits, hormonal imbalances, stress levels, sleep, exercise, and overall wellness. These are all interlinked. For example, hormonal imbalances can partly be a result of poor eating habits and high stress levels. Obviously, everyone is different, but there are several key areas that most of us can think about and change.
Food and eating habits
Are you eating regular meals or are you constantly snacking? Do you have enough protein, fat, vegetables and fibre in your diet? Do you tend to buy “low-fat” products? Is your diet high in sugar?
Take a good look at your diet and aim to eat 3 regular meals per day; avoid snacking if possible. If you need a snack, make sure it provides you with nutrients and is not just a quick fix. A handful of nuts with a small piece of fruit / humus and vegetables / “protein pots” are all good snacks to fight off your hunger and to keep your energy levels going.
Eat high-quality protein daily – proteins are required for hormone metabolism. Choose organic or wild fish, poultry, eggs, dairy (such as full fat Greek Yoghurt), meat, beans, chickpeas and lentils.
Include high fibre foods such as oats, brown rice, pulses, vegetables and flaxseeds. These are so-called soluble fibres and may help the excretion of free oestrogen.
Have calcium-rich foods, such as dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, beans, pulses, nuts and seeds, and dairy. It’s important to maintain bone density during menopause. The decline of oestrogen increases the risk of bone thinning.
Good fats are crucial to include in your daily diet. The health benefits are many – Omega-3 fatty acids help to keep cell membranes healthy, which is important for hormone function, and they may reduce inflammation and promote bone health. Some studies show that Omega-3 may also reduce hot flushes; studies are, however, inconclusive. Make sure you have at least 2 servings of oily fish per week (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring), walnuts, pumpkin seeds, beans and eggs.
A lower carb diet or a Mediterranean style diet appear to be most beneficial for women in their perimenopause and menopause phase.
Avoid sugar, refined carbohydrates, and processed foods. Replace pasta, bread and refined carbohydrates with root vegetables, brown rice and quinoa.
It may sound obvious but you have to sleep to beat tiredness. Many of my clients suffer from insomnia or restless sleep. To break this vicious cycle, I recommend that you establish a bedtime routine. I’m sure all of you who have children have been working on your children’s bedtime routine; adults need that too. A couple of easy things to consider are the following:
- Switch off all electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
- Get blackout blinds.
- The bedroom temperature should be cool.
- Have natural bedding.
- Avoid distractions in your bedroom.
- Don’t keep a TV, iPad or mobile in your bedroom. Switch off any “stand-by” lights.
- Read a good book or try deep belly breathing before bedtime.
- Avoid coffee, tea or alcohol too close to bedtime.
- Don’t have a big meal just before bedtime
It’s never too late to start to exercise. The benefits of exercise when we are 40+ are many. We need it for our bone health, it’s good for heart health and I also find exercise being a fantastic remedy for stress. Exercise can also be very meditative.
If you are not used to exercise, start to walk. Get a pedometer and set yourself a target. Try to increase your pace. Try to walk every day, aiming to get out of breath a couple of times when you are out on a walk.
Find a class that you enjoy. Exercise has to be fun if you are to maintain it.
These are only a couple of hints and tips on how to beat tiredness. I find in my clinic that making even small changes to eating habits and food intake can contribute to noticeably increased energy levels.
Food, sleep and exercise are the 3 cornerstones to improved and optimal wellness. It may sound simple but I know that many of my clients need ongoing support and help to keep on track. Start today and look at your food intake. Make a 5-day food diary, be honest when you fill it in, analyse it and think about what changes you can make – how to have more fish, how to get a more balanced diet and how to reduce your intake of sugar and refined and processed foods.
Why not make this new phase in your life great?