Are you Perimenopausal with Dr Shahzadi Harper

Earlier this month I caught up with women’s health specialist and menopause Doctor Shahzdi Harper. Shahzadi and I were chatting all things menopause… Could you be peri? When does it happen? Why does it happen? What is it? When should we be aware of it happening to our bodies… Read on to find out!

What are the early signs of the menopause?

Shahzadi: As a women’s health specialist I think it is really important for women to be aware of their hormones as early as possible. What should you be looking out for? What is happening to our bodies, what hormonal changes are taking place? Why does this happen…

Often when we talk about the menopause what we are really talking about is the Perimenopause. What we often associate with the menopause is an older woman but in fact it is so important to think about the early stages and what is happening with our bodies and our hormones. Nicki, as a Pilates and fitness instructor do you see a lot of women in these early stages?

Nicki: Yes, I think when these early stages happen we aren’t necessarily aware of what is going on and what is happening to us. I’m now 45 years old so probably the prime example of someone heading towards this stage of life.  I don’t necessarily feel any different at the moment but feel it is really important to learn more about what I should be looking out for. When I teach, I really try and make it accessible for women going into that perimenopausal stage. I find that a lot of women feel very tired and don’t have the motivation or energy all the time. What we need to realise is that this is really normal. To get fit it does not mean you have to do hours of training like you might once have, it is all about just changing up the routine, making sure you are getting some healthy, daily movement in every day, even just 10 minutes will be really beneficial.

How can we understand the menopause?

Shazadi: … In order to understand what we should be looking out for and what we should be aware of,  I think it is really important to understand the definitions when it comes to this topic.

We can separate it into menopause (when your periods stop), perimenopause (the time leading up to this) and then we can separate this further into early perimenopause and late perimenopause. In early, you may not have the obvious cycle changes. The symptoms in early perimenopause typically include the fatigue, the tiredness, flatness and lack of energy, whereas during the later stages the gaps between your periods get larger, they may get heavier, the hot flushes, night sweats etc.

So often when you see women not having the energy, they could be in the early stages. My view is that all women get symptoms but maybe they are not so pronounced in some women, the symptoms are not so impactful. Nowadays we are juggling so many things that our menopausal symptoms are more impactful and obvious – i.e. they get in the way of our everyday lives!

So often I see women confused as to why they are feeling so bad when their mothers’ seemingly ‘sailed’ through the process. The facts are lifestyles have really developed and changed. As modern women we are stretched in so many different directions that it is no wonder that the symptoms have a more profound effect on our general lives.

Something else to think about, particularly in your area Nicki, is a woman’s exercise routine in relation to managing the loss of muscle mass and bone density.

How do we need to adapt our exercise routine when it comes to the menopause?

Nicki : When it comes to getting older, muscle and bone density is so so important to think about because begins to decrease really early on – much earlier than we think!  We are not really aware of that. In our 30’s is when we need to start thinking about this. Weight bearing, body weight, Pilates exercises, impact exercises are all really good for bone density. We need to fight that reduction of bone density all the time.

Shahzadi: additional to decreasing bone density and muscle mass from our 30s, calcium, vitamin d and iron are also other areas where we might need to channel our focus to ensure we have no nutritional deficiencies.

What exercises would you recommend for women heading towards this stage of life?

Nicki: the real focus here is on weight bearing activity, the obvious one being something like running. A key point to remember is that when we do the same impact activity for 10 minutes, after that 10 minutes there is a cutoff point whereby the activity no longer positively impacts muscle mass and bone density. This is why time and time again I emphasize the importance and significance of movement for as little as 10 minutes – it really Is a whole lot better than nothing and can do your muscles and bones the world of good.

Planking is a good example –  great for wrists, our wrists tend to get weak so it is really important to load them with bodyweight early on – the same with our ankles. Really just keeping mobile and moving through our joints/ body is so essential as we move through the aging process. Adding weights is of course another way of creating power through your body and creating an impact by actively loading to contribute to building that essential muscle mass and keeping our bones stable and strong.  

Shahzadi: I really like your point about the 10 minutes. At the moment I, (like I am sure many others during this pandemic!) am finding it very hard to motivate myself, especially when feeling tired and lethargic. Going back to those early perimenopause symptoms; feelings of flatness, tiredness and feeling lethargic can really get in the way of you getting up and getting a workout done. That being said when you focus on just 10 minutes and really break it down, the whole thing seems a lot more manageable. More often than not I will set out to move for 10 minutes and end up doing longer because it actually becomes very enjoyable.

Listen to our full chat here

Read next: Fitness after 40, why we need to mix things up!

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