Menopause is easier to get through with peer support and functional fitness tips

As a teenager I remember struggling to learn to love myself and feeling awkward as I adjusted to my changing body. The same feelings came during pregnancy as my body changed to carry a new life.

Now as a woman going through peri-menopause, I have yet more experience with the many issues that arise mentally, physically and emotionally as we grow up and grow older. The transition to menopause may begin as early as age 30 or as late as age 50, and can last for years. Going 12 months without a menstrual period marks the start of menopause.

During a challenging time in my life a very wise friend said to me, “This, too, shall pass,” and of course that’s true for nearly everything. But although some of us can flow through life’s changes confident that something new is always on the way, few of us entirely escape moments of struggling, and maybe even feeling defeated, dissatisfied, and hopeless.

Rather than comparing yourself to others and deciding that you’re lacking, it’s far more helpful to look for the common experiences we share at similar ages, and for ways to cope and even thrive. Aging does generally come with weight changes, thinner skin and hair, and altered abilities. But it also comes with the wisdom that allows us to plan new strategies to enable a successful transition.

Here are some I’ve found helpful for nutrition, self-care, social interaction and fitness. If you want to make changes in all four areas, it’s probably best to start with just one. Small changes really add up over time.

  • Begin by planning regular healthy meals. Realize that you probably can’t eat as much as you did when you were younger without adding some pounds, but try focusing on fresh vegetables and fruits rather than on the high-sugar, high-fat foods that won’t fuel your body.

  • Make time for yourself every day to do things that you enjoy, no matter how small. On my list: my favorite cup of tea, watching something funny on TV, or enjoying a soothing, steamy bath.

  • Keep up social interaction with family and peers, which can help you deal with negative self-talk about your abilities and appearance. Surround yourself with people who enjoy the present moment rather than reliving the past.

  • Go for a walk every day — aim for 30 minutes minimum — or take a group fitness class. Consistency is key to feeling better overall.

  • No time for a class? The following quick workout will help improve strength and flexibility and leave you feeling exhilarated.

This exercise improves your core, helping to support your lower back. It also improves the strength in your shoulders, arms and back.

Beginners

Stand in front of a chair. Lean over and place both hands on the chair. Lift your right leg straight out behind you, then put it back on the floor. Repeat with the left, then repeat separately with each arm. Then stand up straight. Keep your abdominal muscles pulled in throughout the exercise. Repeat 5 times, working up to 10 repetitions.

Advanced

Lie facedown on the floor, then push up to a plank position on your hands and toes. Reach out in front of you with your left arm and place it back on the floor without losing balance. Repeat with the right arm and then with each leg. At this point you can lower yourself to the floor, then repeat. As you become stronger, go for 5 to 10 complete rounds before lowering your body. Repeat three times weekly.

This combination exercise targets the abdominal muscles, legs, spine and hips. Done continuously at a challenging speed, it helps build endurance. Add a medicine ball, a small bag of flour, or a half-gallon bottle of water to boost the intensity.

Beginners

Sit in a chair with no arms. Lift your legs, “marching” in place. Holding the weight, turn side to side as if you are passing a ball to the person next to you. Increase the intensity by picking up the pace of your feet. “Run” for a count of 8, then twist for 8.

Repeat for 2 minutes, then take a break. Work up to a total of 10 minutes. Perform three times weekly.

Advanced

Stand away from the wall. Perform 8 squats, then keep your knees slightly bent as you twist, holding the weight, 8 times to each side. Repeat for 2 minutes, then take a break. Work up to a total of 10 minutes. Perform three times weekly.