Monthly Archives: September 2010

How To Re-Build Your Self-Confidence During Menopause

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Years ago, I learned a life-changing lesson from Anthony Robbins’ book Awaken the Giant Within— that transformation begins when you can no longer dwell in a place of pain. I was going through menopause and everything that came with that — hourly hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, aging skin, a declining libido and unpredictable irritability.  Feeling miserable both physically and emotionally, I was on the verge of an emotional meltdown.

Anthony Robins was right, it took being in a “place of pain” before I realized that going through menopause was the first time something that I took for granted, my youth, was fading.  My self-esteem and confidence disappeared leaving me in a pathetic puddle of self-pity.

Tired of blaming this natural transition for my misery, I took action.  I realized that if I treated this mid-life madness like I managed other challenges in my life, I could regain control of my health and happiness.  I had to identify the areas in my life that needed attention: menopause symptoms, nutrition, fitness, beauty, and emotions.   I decided to make changes!

I set goals and took action to create the life I wanted while embracing the changes that were happening in my life.  Once I had a plan, I took control of my health and beauty during menopause allowing me to celebrate my uniqueness, and that fueled my confidence.

Here’s what I did:

First, I had to manage my menopause symptoms.  I realized that there was no magic pill to fix my collection of complaints, and I began to work with my healthcare provider to find a solution. We reviewed my personal and family history, and discussed my personal preferences so we could create a plan that worked for me.  A big menopause message for all:  we are all different, and no one recipe fits all.

Next, I needed to stop comparing myself to my younger self and other younger women.  This bad habit of fantasizing about my youthful past while simultaneously worrying about my future was sabotaging my efforts to live in the present.

I had to make quiet time, in order to tap into my spirit.  I asked big questions: Who am I?  What is my purpose?  I started embracing the unknown.  As Joseph Campbell says, “We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.”

Staring at an older version of myself, I had to redefine what beauty was to me, not what the media dictated. The lack of support from society left me feeling insecure and struggling with the natural aging process. It is no surprise women lie about their age and run to the nearest dermatologist for age-defying Botox injections. Knowing I could never win this battle against age, I decided to see the beauty in my smile lines, and made peace with the personal history etched in my face. This helped opened the door to acceptance.

I could no longer ignore my unhealthy eating habits. In less than a year I put on 30 pounds. Weight gain is almost inevitable with menopause, and I was no exception. Nourishing my body with healthy food choices and exercising most days of the week was the path to my ideal weight. I saw the benefits of exercise in my complexion, muscle tone and waistline. Being healthy led to feeling good, and feeling good was the ticket to looking good. I started to feel comfortable in my own skin.

Living outside my comfort zone creating changes required a support system to keep me on track. I began to surround myself with compassionate friends and new friends who were also going through menopause. Having a nurturing group of friends to call when I was having a tough day kept me sane when things were insane.

Perhaps the most important thing I did was in many ways the easiest. Practicing a positive attitude was my mid-life secret weapon. I had to see the positive in daily challenges so I could make changes. Once I was able to acknowledge that my weight gain was a wake-up call to start eating better and exercising, I could make the necessary changes. Once I discovered my uniqueness was not defined by youth, my confidence started to grow again.

When I felt better physically and emotionally I was able to start doing the things I’d always dreamed of — sailing, flying, and traveling. Although these incredible adventures were exciting, it was being able to celebrate who I was that brought me peace.

Menopause was a rough road, but it ended up being the bridge to accepting myself. I did not want to be defined by appearances, but by substance. And once I got control of my health and beauty during menopause I realized, “I’ve Still Got It!”

September is National Menopause Awareness Month. As many of us struggle with troublesome menopause symptoms and fight the unattainable victory against aging, take a moment today and celebrate your uniqueness – it will nurture your confidence. And when it does, I want to hear your “I’ve Still Got It!” story.

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Posted in I’ve Still Got It

Keeping It Cool

hot flash Keeping it Cool

Article provided by Cleveland Clinic’s Speaking of Women’s Health

Just as the beginning of menstruation is a transition for young girls, the end of menstruation is a normal transition in a woman’s life.

Contrary to what many believe, menopause is not a disease or an illness to be dealt with. It is, for many, a challenge.

For some women, the symptoms experienced prior to and during menopausal years can diminish their vitality and well-being. What’s happening is that during menopause, a woman’s body slowly makes less of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. This often happens between the ages of 45 and 55 years old. A woman has reached menopause when she has not had a period for 12 months in a row, and there are no other causes for this change.

For some women, menopause comes and goes with little or no problems. For others, the symptoms can be a challenge.

Here are some ways to relieve those symptoms.

  • Hot Flashes – A hot environment, eating or drinking hot or spicy foods, alcohol, or caffeine, and stress can bring on hot flashes. Try to avoid these triggers. Dress in layers and keep a fan in your home or workplace. Regular exercise might also bring relief from hot flashes and other symptoms. Some women find that topical progesterone creams provide relief from hot flashes, while others believe that antidepressant medications work well. Talk to your pharmacist or health care practitioner to make the right choice for you.
  • Vaginal Dryness – Consider an over-the-counter vaginal lubricant or a prescription estrogen replacement cream.
  • Problems Sleeping – One of the best ways to get a good night’s sleep is to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week. But avoid a lot of exercise close to bedtime. Also reduce your intake of alcohol and caffeine, and avoid eating large meals and working right before bedtime. Establish a routine of waking and going to bed at the same time each night.
  • Mood swings – Try to get enough sleep and be physically active. Consider relaxation exercises such as deep breathing, yoga or meditation to help keep you calm. This is a good time to think about the person you want to be and focus on not allowing yourself to be emotionally-hijacked by your hormonal imbalances. Accept responsibility for your actions and words.

Try these steps to stay healthy during this time in your life:

  • Be active. Try to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week. Try weight-bearing exercises, like walking, running, dancing or lifting free weights.
  • If you smoke, quit.
  • Eat healthy foods. Eat a variety of fruits and dark green veggies, such as broccoli, kale, and spinach. Include calcium-rich foods and whole-grain cereals, breads, crackers, rice, or pasta. Choose lean meats and poultry and limit saturated fats and salt.
  • Limit alcohol. If you drink alcohol, limit to no more than one drink each day.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Be aware that a lack of estrogen means that the protective qualities of this hormone put you at greater risk for heart disease, osteoporosis and other illness. Ask your doctor what tests you need. Have your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar checked. Be sure to do monthly breast self-exams and get a mammogram as recommended.
  • Learn about bone health. Be sure you’re getting enough calcium and vitamin D. After menopause, you need 1,500 mg. of calcium daily. Engage in weight-bearing exercise such as walking and working with free weights to help maintain bone tissue and mass.
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Posted in hormones

Fatigue-Fighting Foods

iStock_000000501044XSmall Fatigue-Fighting Foods
7 Helpful Tips for Sustaining Energy Throughout the Day

Article provided by Clevland Clinic’s Speaking of Women’s Health

When our bodies crave a “pick-me-up,” we typically choose sugar or caffeine. True, they boost our energy levels, fast. But they don’t have staying power.

Our bodies break all foods down into simple sugars for energy, whether they are highly refined carbs, complex carbs, proteins or fats. Highly processed foods, such as white bread, candy and desserts, are absorbed and digested so quickly that they spike our blood sugar levels, which then plummet.

So we feel a burst of energy followed by a crash. This typically sends us looking for another energy boost (typically more sugar). When this cycle continues, we become fatigued, can’t concentrate, lose our “oomph” and may get headaches. Fortunately, following a few key rules can stop this blood sugar roller-coaster ride and give us sustained energy:

  1. Never skip breakfast. Research shows that people who eat breakfast perform better at tasks, eat fewer overall calories and miss fewer days of work and school than those who don’t.
  2. Don’t overdo the caffeine. A daily cup or two of java is fine. Going overboard sets you up for fatigue later in the day.
  3. Avoid highly refined carbohydrates and seek out fiber. Carbohydrates provide us with much-needed energy, but choosing highly refined carbs over whole grains creates a blood sugar roller-coaster.
  4. Add a small amount of lean protein to meals and snacks. Protein takes longer to digest and absorb. When eaten with a carbohydrate, it slows the release of sugar into the bloodstream, sustaining energy.
  5. Choose small, frequent meals to fuel your day. Remember not to skip meals. Your energy levels can fall so low that you’ll overeat at the next meal or graze on unhealthy snacks.
  6. Get adequate sleep. Most of us need at least seven to eight hours to avoid fatigue, bolster immune defenses and perform at our best.
  7. Engage in regular physical activity. Exercise actually boosts energy levels, especially when done regularly. It can also help us sleep better.
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Posted in nutrition

Learning a Sport at Midlife or Beyond

Learning a Sport at Midlife or Beyond

Article provided by

Were you dragged to ballet class as a child, when your heart really yearned for a softball glove? Did you spend your free hours curled up with books, wondering what it would be like to ride Black Beauty?

It’s not too late to try a new sport, whether it’s one that was a childhood dream or something that caught your fancy as an adult. “People try new sports for a variety of reasons, including finding new ways to be physically active, to challenge themselves, or to keep in shape,” says Kathleen M. Weber, MD, director of the Women’s Sports Medicine Program at Rush University Medical Center, Chicago. “There may be work-sponsored leagues or activities that employees join for camaraderie or to expand their social circles.”

Isn’t learning a new sport dangerous for middle-aged bodies? Dr. Weber, who’s seen her share of torn ligaments, fractures and other woes, stresses the importance of wearing sports-appropriate protective gear—helmets, as well as padded guards for your wrists, knees and elbows. She cautions that it takes time to get good at a new sport. “It is important to remember that although you are excited about trying something new, it is crucial to pace yourself and gradually increase your activity to avoid injury,” she says. “People who are thinking about getting involved in a new sport might consider working with a fitness professional or seeking consultation from a medical professional.”

Don’t quit your new sport until you’ve developed those skills enough to enjoy yourself, advises the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). If a sport requires too many skills that you don’t have, like quick dribbling or good eye-hand coordination, pick something else.

Facing the challenge

As a ski instructor at Crystal Mountain in Thompsonville, MI, Lin Westra has taught plenty of women who were new to skiing. Many thought they had little chance of succeeding on downhill snow. “Some will say, ‘I’m a real couch potato, I shouldn’t be out here,'” Ms. Westra says. “But they end up loving it.”

In a two-hour session, she teaches them how to put on and walk in ski boots, as well as steer, stop and turn on their skis. Her goal is to get them on a beginner hill, having fun safely, during their first lesson. “I don’t think there’s a woman out there who can’t learn to ski,” says Ms. Westra. Large women and those who’ve been sedentary can do well. “They don’t have to be an athlete to achieve success.”

That’s not just professional pride speaking. Ms. Westra, a former art teacher, didn’t start skiing until she was 42. “I understand their feelings and their fears,” she says. Her advice: Take a clinic or private lesson and rent your gear for the first few times out.

Is skiing good exercise? “You burn a ton of calories,” says Ms. Westra, who usually shuns the chair lift to add to her workout. That leaves room for plenty of hot chocolate at day’s end.

Which sports should you try?

You’ll find clubs or classes in many sports through local groups, gyms and specialty facilities such as skating rinks, tennis centers or indoor rock-climbing halls. “While you’re taking lessons in your new sport, you also should be working on building your overall flexibility, strength and endurance. Then you incorporate these new skills into the activity,” Dr. Weber advises.

Choose a new activity that’s kind to your body while giving you a good workout. Sports involving jumping, twisting or pounding can be tough on your joints. These are kinder, gentler choices:

  • swimming
  • deep-water running
  • cross-country skiing
  • snowshoeing
  • in-line skating
  • cycling
  • rowing
  • karate, tai chi, soo bahk do (a Korean martial art)

Some physically tough sports can be adapted to keep the fun and exercise without the likely injury risk. Consider “Granny Basketball,” a sport played by several teams of women in Iowa, all age 50 or above. Modeled on girls’ basketball rules from 1929, players wear bloomers, long-sleeved shirts and high socks. There’s no running (but hurrying is allowed), no jumping and no physical contact.

“You can disrupt the throw by trying to hit the ball or steal it,” says Catherine Swatta, 58, who had never played basketball at all before trying a Granny Basketball class earlier this year. She then joined a team in Des Moines and now practices weekly.

Health benefits of a new sport

Ms. Swatta’s doctor approved of her playing Granny Basketball as a good way to stay active, help control her diabetes and drop a few pounds. “Even though there’s no running, you’re still moving. I was surprised how much exercise I was getting,” Ms. Swatta says. “I’ve lost some weight and the muscles in my arms are getting firmer.”

She had been exercising with machine weights at the school where she works. “That’s fine, but it’s boring,” she says. “I like this much better.”

“People are successful in becoming and staying more active if they enjoy what they’re doing,” says Dr. Weber. She notes that some of her patients find their new favorite sports during rehabilitation, while she’s treating them for injuries or other problems.

Dr. Weber encourages patients with arthritis to participate in low-impact activities, such as water aerobics, cycling, yoga or pilates. “They begin to explore new activities that they wouldn’t have done before or have never heard of,” she says. “And they discover that they really enjoy it.”

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Posted in fitness, tips

Am I menopausal yet?

ShufeltC-CardioSMALLExpert: Chrisandra Shufelt, M.D.
Assistant Director of the Women’s Heart Center
at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute.

Dr. Shufelt is a certified menopause practitioner and a women’s health expert.

Dear Dr. Shufelt: I am 52 and there is no end in sight to my menstrual cycle. Shouldn’t I have stopped by now?

Like every woman, you should see your healthcare provider every year because annual Pap smears are important in detecting cervical cancer and yearly blood tests help keep track of your heart health. If your menstrual bleeding is prolonged or erratic, make an appointment to have yourself checked. During your period, if you are feeling lightheaded or short of breath, it could be a sign of too much bleeding, so get that checked out also.

But having regular periods at your age isn’t anything to be concerned about. In the United States, the average age for menopause is 51 for non-smokers and 50 for current and past smokers. By age 55, 95 percent of U.S. women will have reached menopause.

Still, if you want to see where you stand, ask your healthcare provider for a blood test to detect the amount of Follicle Stimulating Hormone or FSH. A rise in FSH is the first measurable sign that a woman is entering menopause.

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Posted in hormones, ask the expert