July 25, 2023
4 Unsexy Habits that Improve Health and Performance During Menopause
No “weird tricks” or “hacks.” Just sound and science-based advice.
By Selene Yeager
What tips or tricks do you swear by that have helped you through the menopause transition? I get that question a lot when I’m interviewed for other podcasts and articles. And I always feel like my answers disappoint. I generally just hit the basics like lifting weights and exercising, eating well, and getting plenty of rest. I don’t really have any sexy biohacks.
That said, there are a few super boring habits I prioritize that absolutely make a measurable impact on my health and performance through menopause and midlife. Though these are decidedly unsexy, there’s good science to support why they work. Plus, they’re cheap, easy to do, and accessible for all.
Read Yourself to Sleep
If there’s one single thing that improves my sleep and recovery scores (as I’ve documented with my Oura ring app), it’s going to bed with a good book. Even if I do stuff that otherwise disrupts my sleep like eating a little too close to bedtime or having a second glass of wine, if I lie down with a good book and read for at least 30 minutes before turning out the lights, my sleep is invariably better. And I’m not alone. A 2021 study of 774 people from 43 countries (about 80 percent of them female), reported that reading in bed before sleep not only appeared to improve sleep quality, but also helped with staying asleep through the night.
There’s no magic here. As insomnia research has shown, winding down with a book lessens pre-sleep worry (which is a sleep wrecker during menopause for sure), and it contributes to a state of relaxation, making it easier to drift off to sleep. If you’re looking for a fun piece of fiction to get started, I recommend checking out Lessons in Chemistry. (I’ve also just picked up The Change, which was recommended by a friend—looks like it could be a doozy!)
Go Through the Motions
Like literally, go through the motions. Our mobility can get compromised during menopause as hormone levels appear to have a significant impact on joint, muscle, and connective tissue health, as Claire Callaghan, B.Pty, explained during Hit Play Not Pause episode 30 Train Smart & Avoid Injury.
“Estrogen has a positive effect on connective tissue health,” she says. That includes your ligaments, tendons, and fascia (the thin casing of connective tissue that surrounds your muscles). “As your estrogen declines, your ability to regenerate these tissues may be affected …we often see women presenting with more things like Achilles issues, hip pain, and plantar fasciitis issues in midlife,” she says.
That means prioritizing mobility work in our training. I’ll be the first to admit this was a struggle for me at first, because frankly, I find it boring. But eventually, I just made it a priority because it works. When I do even the bare minimum (like the following moves from Erin Carson at @ecfit_strength to open up and mobilize my hips, ankles and thoracic spine) before I run, I feel noticeably more fluid and less likely to get little aches and niggles.
Fine Tune Your Feed
Many of us go to great lengths to figure out the best ways in which to fuel our active bodies. I’d contend that it’s equally important to determine the best fuel for our minds, which means taking a hard look at our social media feeds. The imagery and information we take in there can have a big impact on how we view and feel about ourselves. In fact, some research shows that viewing so-called “fitspiration” Instagram images can not only negatively impact your mood and body image, but also make your next exercise session feel harder. Plus, there’s a lot of predatory garbage being sold to menopausal women these days via Instagram influencers.
I’ve cleaned house on my feeds, winnowing out any accounts that leave me feeling negative when I view their posts, and following people who provide positive insights and information (or just plain fun). It’s a simple act of self-care.
This is a biggie. It’s easy to get to a place where you’re looking over your shoulder thinking, “I used to be able to climb this hill so fast…I used to be able to run a 17-minute 5K…I used to…” Comparison, as they say, is the thief of joy, and self-comparison is the worst. When I find myself glancing in the rearview of my physical performances, I give myself an atta girl and say, “Yep, and that was great. You did those things. What can you do now?” And I look forward to the cool potential accomplishments yet to be had. I’d like to learn to surf. I’m going bikepacking for the first time this summer. Maybe I’ll finally ride across the country someday.
Sure, at some point, we might not be as (fill in the blank) as we once were, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of adventures and achievements yet to be had. They’re just harder to find if we’re always looking backward instead of ahead of ourselves where they lie.