The Middle Years
Cruising through menopause
This article first appeared in Asia Spa magazine, 2016)
As recently as a few decades ago, a woman had little control over her body during her reproductive years and even less control over her destiny as she entered perimenopause and menopause. Times have changed. Women are living longer, healthier lives and as a result are looking for a deeper understanding of the changes taking place within their bodies and options to help them through these transitions.Science now tells us that age is no barrier to a full, vibrant life. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that by the year 2025, there will be 1.1 billion women aged 50 and over. What’s more, given that we may actually live until we are well over 100, we have a lot of living to do. So it’s time to take control and embrace the next act.
Menopause (which on average happens between the ages of 48 and 55) brings an exhaustive list of symptoms (over 40 in fact) that in our mothers’ generation were rarely, if ever, discussed, including weight gain and body fat changes, hot flushes and sweats, sleep disturbances, skin and hair changes, mood swings, panic attacks, waning sexual desire and vaginal dryness. And while this may sound like the beginning of the end, it’s not. It’s just change and with some hands- on intervention these symptoms can be minimised and women can continue to lead healthy, vibrant lives through their middle years and well beyond.
Keeping it Natural
“Top meno-foods including eggs, quinoa, legumes, isoflavone-rich soya products, seeds and nuts can help deal with symptoms,” says Irish-based dietitian Paula Mee. “Small improvements can make a big difference but it’s not about an overhaul of your entire diet, it’s about embedding good habits, taking the first steps towards a pattern of eating that will give you more energy and vitality.”
With all the drying happening in the body, a daily dose of fish oils will help nourish the skin, hair and internal organs. To complement foods, the most commonly prescribed supplements for treating menopausal complaints include black cohosh, dong quai, chaste tree berries, sage, red clover and Mother Nature’s highly potent anti-inflammatory turmeric. Many supplements on the market combine these herbs and spices for maximum efficacy.
Traditional Chinese therapies like acupuncture, moxibustion, cupping and tui na and others come into their own during this transition as they help to cool the hot yang energy of menopause and naturally rebalance the body.
Science tells us that regular exercise keeps us healthier, stronger and more grounded. Fitness also makes us smarter by keeping our brains active. So although far too many women become somewhat obsessed with exercising to burn calories, its real benefit lies in its ability to help build and regenerate new tissue and boosting our metabolic rate.
A healthy balance between aerobic and anaerobic (resistance) exercise is key. For many there is something really powerful and grounding about regular yoga practice that is not apparent with any other exercise. In Chinese thinking high-impact exercise is not recommended as a woman grows older, as it is believed that strenuous exercise puts undue pressure on her body, favouring lower impact, more meditative exercise like tai chi, yoga and qigong.
“It’s about embedding good habits, taking the first steps towards a pattern of eating that will give you more energy and vitality”
~ Paula Mee
Making your skin work for you
For many women one of the most disturbing signs of perimenopause is the accompanying physical changes to the skin and hair due to loss of collagen, slackness, dryness and overall thinning. It is estimated that a woman will lose up to 30 per cent of facial collagen during the first five years after menopause, while hormone-induced facial bone loss can be up to 20 per cent, giving the face a dull, shrunken look. This is not predestined however, and if you are prepared to take care of your skin every day, that healthy vibrant glow can remain.
All skin is different so finding a product that works is personal and can entail trial and error. Our skin changes as we age, what works now might not be as beneficial in the future, so be prepared to switch up your routine as your skin dictates. And don’t forget seasoned beauty experts’ top skincare tip – restful sleep.
Just like the rest of our body, our skin abides by a 24-hour circadian cycle. Working in sync with this will keep skin nourished and balanced. The following recommended daily routine is for dry skin types but can be adapted as required:
Morning: Gentle cleanse with cream/ balm/oil-based cleanser, tone, antioxidant- rich day serum, moisturiser and sunscreen (UVA/B SPF 30+)
Night: Deep cleanse, tone, night serum (repair), eye cream (nourish) and moisturiser (hydrate). If skin feels especially dry, add some nourishing face oil to your night moisturiser or apply to the face before moisturiser.
Extras: Gentle exfoliation once a week, face mask (hydrate/nourish) once to twice per week.
Lifting the libido
A languishing libido and reduced desire for sex is believed to affect up to 40 per cent of women during their menopausal years. While there are many contributing factors, the reality is that the vulvar and vaginal tissue becomes thinner, dryer and less elastic, making intercourse painful for many women. But this statistic means that more than half can still enjoy an active sex life.
Surveys show that many women enjoy better sex and relationships with their partners post menopause. And why shouldn’t they? Many women feel more confident and less inhibited and restrained about sex as they get older. As sexologist Emily Power Smith says, “We need reminders that we are beautiful, desired, interesting and appreciated in non- sexual ways before we can engage with our sexual selves. Once we get that, we can begin to look at what we need to do for our mojos.”
Life after 45 can be sweet and celebrities like Julia Roberts, Jennifer Aniston and Julianne Moore are living proof. We are not dried up and finished. Far from it in fact, there’s plenty of life left in Middle Year folk and we are choosing how to live it!
Finding time for mindspace
Life is demanding and most of us work on automatic pilot to get through each day, without engaging with life in the here and now. While much is written about the effects of diet, smoking and sun damage on the skin, stress and unhappiness can add even more years to the face and body.
Meditation and mindfulness practices can help deal with the challenges of living in the cold face of life. Mindfulness asks us to slow down, to not confuse our business with life itself and numerous studies have shown that people who meditate and practise mindfulness enjoy a calmer, quieter mind. This combined with a sound sleep routine helps put daily stress and anxiety into perspective, while also helping, in the words of Buddhist monk and writer Thich Nhat Khan, “to regain sovereignty over our own territory” and be in control once again.
Mid Life Beauty Edit
- Always wear sunscreen and take vitamin D.
- Use skincare products with active ingredients.
- Shop around to find a dermatologist you feel comfortable with. Make sure you share similar goals.
- Avoid permanent correction.
- Ensure your neck and décolletage area is covered with sunscreen – or with clothing – every day.
- Look upwards whenever you can(all the more reason to do those upward dogs in yoga).
- Avoid heavy or thick neck creams as they may irritate the crease lines and show up as red rings around the neck.