For most of my adult life I have always run. At first it was simply a means to staying trim.
Running then become a habit after joining parkrun back in October 2015. I caught the bug! If you are a parkrunner you appreciate the community friendships you find so quickly, and thereafter the joy of entering races as you develop pace and distance. I was 46 and had not long moved to Newport, so parkrun really was a great start to developing a social life. Early in the new year of 2016 I then joined Lliswerry runners and from a running point of view, the rest is history, because as a member you all appreciate the benefits of being part of the best running club in Wales. Life just couldn’t have been any better.
Nothing could have prepared me though for what I was about to experience in the last years of my 40’s. 7 years later I can explain it because I have researched most of what there is to know about Menopause, but at the time I really did not know what was going on. I wasn’t recovering on the weekends as well as I used to from long working weekdays, I was tired, lethargic, moody, irritable and I thought I was “losing it”. I wasn’t sleeping as well as I used to, I was becoming forgetful, and it was affecting my performance at work. Back then I was a senior manager in a national role so could be travelling a lot, presenting to senior teams around the country and with that came a lot of responsibility. Holidays just weren’t helping me to recover and as time went by, I felt I was losing my confidence and the ability to perform to such a high standard.
I recognised that I may be menopausal when my monthly cycle started to change, and I was experiencing night sweats and hot flushes. The typical signs that your hormones are changing. I had no one to discuss it with in work, despite it being a female dominated environment, as I line managed most women I was in contact with. 7 years ago, I heard nothing about the menopause from my friends or acquaintances, so I assumed it was just me. I wouldn’t say I was embarrassed but it just never came up in conversation. So, in those early days it was just me and my menopause. If you have read this far, you know that’s changed (a lot!). Here is a symptom checker. There are approx. 40 signs and symptoms of the menopause – I was unlucky to be able to tick almost everyone. Unlike running, this is not a milestone competition but if it were I think I could have made the elite group and been top of the tables.
If you get to the stage where you know that something in your life doesn’t quite feel right, look at the symptom checker. If you are aged 45 or over, it could be peri- menopause. But it’s not unusual for women to go through it earlier. In fact, 1 in 100 women experience an earlier menopause and 1 in 1000 have polycystic ovarian insufficiency. Something that’s not talked about much is surgical or chemical menopause. This can be because of several conditions but commonly due to an ooperectomy or a total hysterectomy or it could be that you are being treated with drugs which results in a chemical menopause. It’s not always a middle-aged female problem.
The list of symptoms above are common during the peri menopause. This is the time leading up to when you haven’t had a monthly bleed for 12 months and 1 day. You are now in the menopause. After your periods have stopped for a whole year and 1 day, you are now classed at post-menopausal. Quite frankly its semantics, because it really doesn’t matter where you place yourself, if you are experiencing any of these symptoms and they are having a profound effect on your life, you will need help and support.
Maybe the picture below explains a lot about how important oestrogen is in our bodies. So, think back to your teenage years (and if you have experienced pregnancy) how youthful you felt, how energetic you were, how young your skin, body, nails, and hair looked. Back then most of us felt unstoppable. We have oestrogen receptors all over our bodies, which of course also reflects the health of our eyes, hearts, lungs, brain, skin, breasts, energy levels; the list is much more exhaustive. So as these hormones decline, there are going to be changes we experience, for some it might be subtle, or barely noticeable, but if like me you are hit like a speeding train, it can be life changing (hence the old-fashioned term for the menopause “the change”). Research is sadly sparse in Women’s Health so it is not possible to say how our declining hormones will affect our older years, but I am hearing from and supporting many women in their 60’s who were never prescribed HRT and are now experiencing osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. Media attention from Menopause experts are also contributing declining hormones to mental health conditions, dementia, Alzheimer’s, and stroke. (Stats for suicide are higher in females 45-55 years old so is it a coincidence that these are our menopausal years?)
HRT or not?
The bottom line – it’s your choice. My choice was to throw every hormone that was declining back into my body, and I am a strong advocate for HRT that is bioidentical. This means that I am simply replacing what I have been losing for the past 7 years (or more). It’s safe, its effective and it really has changed my life. I did start with a herbal route, but I have since learned that any herbal medicine you buy over the counter has not been through a rigorous testing regime and its efficacy is negligible. It is also reported that collagen cannot be reproduced in a cream or tablet. If you want younger skin, its Botox, or fillers and as we know, most of that industry is unregulated. If you want improved heart, bone, skin, brain health etc, then replacing the lost hormones through safe and effective transdermal HRT is the most optimum route you can use. For anyone that really doesn’t want to go down the HRT route though, there are so many other things that we should consider; regular cardiovascular and weight bearing exercise, give up or reduce alcohol, stop smoking, reduce the amount of ultra-processed food in your diet and cook from scratch. I do tend to live by that list as much as possible and I can quite honestly say, I am living my best life! (PS, I do not always step away from the cake)
What can we do to live our best life
Well, this is a running group after all, so let’s talk about the benefits of running through the Menopause; “if” you can motivate yourself to keep going. Because, man or woman, if you are not motivated it’s not going to happen. However, if you are symptomatic of the perimenopause, it can be extremely challenging to motivate ourselves to lace up and get out. So, we must make it a habit. That can be like climbing a mountain for the first time. You wake up, look outside, its dark, cold, raining and it feels like you are about to climb the highest mountain there is. So, you turn over, snuggle back into the duvet, and promise yourself you’ll go tomorrow. When you eventually get up, how does that make you feel for the rest of the day? This can quite easily become a downward pattern and thereafter your symptoms get worse, you feel more tired, maybe depressed, anxious, withdrawn, and irritable. In the early days of my perimenopause, I spent countless days on the sofa with the duvet and I physically had no energy to move. I couldn’t even find the energy to take the dog for her walk some days. I stopped taking care of myself and quickly entered a cycle of eating too much of the wrong food and drinking too much alcohol. So now, if I do feel sluggish and not entirely energised, to motivate myself I must remind myself that once it’s done, I will feel great for the rest of the day as I get so much out of it.
Running with Lliswerry will give you much more than a 10k training run; it will contribute to your social, physical, and mental well-being. Just that one hour is going to make such a difference and when it becomes a habit, your self-esteem and confidence improves, you feel part of a community and the benefit of running in groups means that you will always have someone at your pace. And that rush of endorphins and serotonin…………………… it really is something else.
In the past 12 months or so, I have been more drawn to trail running. I am really struggling to find the right words to express how it makes me feel without sounding like a geek. But the seasonal colours, landscapes and panoramic views are simply breath-taking and incredible. Rain, sleet, sunshine – no matter the weather, its closer to nature than I have ever experienced. In fact, when I was recently recovering from an ultra in the Brecon Beacons, I felt like a greyhound in a pen waiting for the gate to open. I just couldn’t wait to experience the fresh air, the autumnal views, and the company of the running community we have at Lliswerry. My mantra every day, even when I have looked out into the darker mornings is “just keep turning up”
Running and weight bearing exercises contribute to good bone health, so as you get older if you are concerned about osteoporosis then keep running. Every time we run our bones get stronger. I still experience regular aching bones and muscles because of the menopause but there’s a difference between DOMS and the menopause symptoms. As a woman you will know your own body and the difference between the 2. Don’t ignore it. The more you run or do weight bearing exercise the more your bone and muscle mass will develop. The less you do, the more you lose I’m afraid and as you get older you could be more prone to osteopenia or worse. So, as well as the health benefits of running I get the “feel good factor’ and a real sense of purpose and achievement.
Many of the symptoms I have experienced in the perimenopause are managed by my HRT prescription, although good diet and exercise also plays a significant role. A good diet and plenty of exercise also promotes a good sleep pattern. A day in the hills in that lovely fresh air with sparkling Lliswerrian company, and I always get a great night’s sleep. For me, sleep hygiene is important, so find a routine that’s good for you. Mine is having a quiet relaxing hour before bedtime, no TV, and a cool temperature. Any good menopause doctor will tell you that bed is for sleep and sex only. (Unless you lose your libido, another common symptom I’m afraid).
As a result of my declining hormones, I now get treatment to replace the lost oestrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. I didn’t get my youthful looks back, but I have got my life back. This year, as a 53-year-old menopausal woman I have taken on a 50 mile ultra with 11,000ft of elevation and lived to tell the tale; without the right treatment, support and lifestyle changes I really don’t think that would have been possible.
If you think you could be experiencing menopausal symptoms, but you just don’t know where to start, reach out. If you have any females in your social or family circle and you notice something is wrong, reach out. If you are woman, please talk about the menopause. If you are a younger woman, ask other women what is likely to happen to you when you get older. The more we talk, the less we will struggle with it. The menopause is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, if we have met, you know I am a menopausal woman. If we could all just talk about it, then we wouldn’t feel embarrassed about mentioning it next time we meet for a run.
You could try your GP or practice nurse (I could write another page about that though) or you could empower yourself by seeking help through various websites some of which I would recommend. There is also a great app where you could start tracking any symptoms you think may be because of hormonal changes.
Balance-menopause.com is a great website where you can track symptoms on line as well as find our much more information on the perimenopause and menopause
This is a link to the menopause symptom tracker that you can print out and discuss with your health care professional https://menopausesupport.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/MENOPAUSE-SYMPTOM-CHECKER-Nov-20.pdf
Google – Fair Treatment for Women in Wales if you need help contacting health care professionals or need to reach out to likeminded others
I’ll see you on the mountain; it’s not a hard climb, its simply turning up and going forward.