Experts reveal their tips on how to handle the not-so-exciting parts of getting older.

By Leslie Pepper
June 30, 2020
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
Advertisement

You might think that reproductive hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone) affect only, well, reproduction. But that's not actually the case. Hormones are very important in regulating your body. They do many things and can influence your mood and your brain, heart, and bone health, just to name a few. As we age, and our body changes, so do our hormone levels. Some of these changes aren't exactly anything to look forward to (mood swings, weight gain, and hot flashes, for example), but there are things you can do to combat these side effects and embrace your body and mind. But first, you need to know what's going on. Here's a quick guide on what's going on with your body as you age.

Reproductive Years

This is when you've got good levels of estrogen, which protects against heart disease and helps build and maintain bone mass. You're also producing testosterone (yes, women have it too), which contributes to a healthy brain and strong muscles. Your cycles are likely fairly predictable and last between 21 and 30 days. (Day one is when your period starts.)

Symptoms to Watch Out For

The irritability and fatigue of PMS affect many women who are sensitive to the hormonal fluctuations of the menstrual cycle. "PMS happens when there's not enough progesterone to balance out estrogen," says Wendy Warner, MD, a functional medicine gynecologist in Langhorne, Pennsylvania. Increased stress hormones (cortisol) lead to lower progesterone levels, worsening PMS. The estrogen drop later in the cycle can also cause migraines

Consider Trying Magnesium

The mineral may help ease PMS symptoms and migraines. Aim to eat one or more servings daily of magnesium-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Or ask your doctor about a supplement, says Erica Song, MD, an integrative gynecologist in Englewood, New Jersey. The recommended dose is 300 mg, but some women need more.

Credit: Maskot/Getty Images

Perimenopause

The seven to 10 years before you reach menopause is when your hormone levels start to change. The usual rise and fall of estrogen levels become erratic. Some months you may not ovulate; those months you don't produce as much progesterone.

Symptoms to Watch Out For

Hormone-wise, you're in flux, but knowing what's going on (and that the symptoms have a physical cause) can give you a sense of control. Low progesterone levels can cause insomnia and anxiety. As estrogen dips, your body can't regulate blood sugar as well, which can lead to weight gain and brain fogginess, says Sara Gottfried, MD, author of The Hormone Cure ($13, Amazon). Excess cortisol can also destabilize the balance between progesterone and estrogen, leading to

Consider Trying These Remedies

If you're experiencing the above symptoms, here are three things you can do to mitigate the side effects of perimenopause.

Resistance Training

Lifting weights or doing exercises that require working against your body weight (push-ups) helps maintain muscle mass (which decreases with age, slowing metabolism) and minimize weight gain. Resistance training strengthens bones to protect against osteoporosis, which you're at higher risk for as estrogen levels drop. Aim for 20 minutes two to three times a week.

Changing Your Exercise Routine

Vary your workout with an app offering different types of workouts. Check out dailyburn.com, which has group classes as well as one-on-one training sessions.

Upping Your Omega-3s

These fatty acids are central to brain health and can help keep your cognitive function strong. Found in walnuts and fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, omega-3s help reduce overall inflammation.

Menopause

Once you haven't had a period in a year, you're officially at menopause. "Your ovaries retire and stop making estrogen and testosterone," Warner says. Your adrenal glands still make a small amount of testosterone, and some of this gets converted to a very weak estrogen. But you're off the hormonal roller coaster, which eases the associated symptoms and conditions, including PMS and headaches.

Are you curious about something some people call "manopause?" Well, there's no such thing. At least, men don't have the type of menopause women do. Women have a dramatic drop in hormones compared to the slow decrease of testosterone men experience as they age, which is about 1% a year starting around their 30s. Men do, however, experience some of the same side effects: As testosterone diminishes, men might notice decreased energy levels and a slower metabolism.

Symptoms to Watch Out For

Up to 80% of women get hot flashes that can start in perimenopause and last into menopause. The drop in estrogen can weaken pelvic floor muscles (so leaks may happen) and up heart disease risk.

Consider Trying These Remedies

If you're experiencing menopause symptoms that are interfering with your day-to-day activities, consider the following.

Meditation

Research has found that women who meditate 20 minutes three times a week had milder menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and mood swings.

Pelvic Floor Exercises

Women who enrolled in a yoga program with moves targeted to the pelvic floor had a 70% decrease in incontinence.

Hormone Therapy

Research on hormone therapy's effect on certain conditions is ongoing. So discuss with your doctor the potential benefits (fewer hot flashes and less vaginal dryness) versus possible risks (blood clots, strokes).

No matter which stage you're in, there are three things that you can do to keep your hormones in check. (These probably won't be much of a surprise, but they're still a nice reminder.)

  • Exercise. Try yoga; research has shown yoga has a positive effect on the body and mind. For the biggest benefit, aim for 30 minutes on most days.
  • Sleep. The sweet spot: seven to 8 1/2 hours. "When you don't sleep well it can disrupt the delicate dance between estrogen and progesterone," Gottfried says. Confirm that you're getting enough sleep by wearing a tracker, such as the Oura Ring ($299, Oura Ring) or Fitbit ($100, Fitbit).
  • Take 30 Minutes. "The best way to balance hormones is to take care of yourself," Warner says. She suggests spending at least 30 minutes every day doing something relaxing such as journaling, walking outdoors, or reading. "This calms your brain and reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can exacerbate other hormonal fluctuations."

Comments

Be the first to comment!