As a woman over 50, you've been riding the hormonal roller coaster. I hope you fastened your seat belt, because three key hormonal issues -- sex hormone imbalances, stress, and thyroid problems -- can make the ride particularly bumpy.
First, perimenopause often starts around 40, ushering in a 10-year period of fluctuations in the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone until menstrual periods stop. After menopause, those vital hormones can drop to almost undetectable levels. Estrogen and progesterone imbalances and deficiencies can cause weight gain, brain fog, fatigue, low sex drive, hot flashes, and a long list of other symptoms.
Second, stressors like the workplace, finances, relationships, caring for children and aging parents, chronic sleep deprivation, and a less-than-perfect diet can all trigger a tsunami of stress hormones. Stress hormone imbalances can disrupt your sleep cycles, worsen fatigue, and make you very effective at storing fat where you least want it: your belly.
Third, a common but overlooked situation -- the slowdown of your thyroid, the master gland of metabolism -- frequently triggers even more fatigue, aches and pains, and hair loss, and can sabotage your best weight loss efforts.
I've been a hormonal health advocate for 20 years, since I was diagnosed with an underactive thyroid. I'm now 54, a busy single mother of a teen and a tween, and I sailed through my menopause a few years ago, feeling great. My secret? I learned from the experience of many thousands of women and healthcare professionals the following seven things that helped me -- and can help you -- feel great after 50.
1. Partner with a Great Practitioner
You need to partner with a great healthcare practitioner who understands hormonal imbalances. You may luck out and find a smart gynecologist, GP, nurse practitioner or physician's assistant. If you're striking out in the system, consider an out-of-network integrative or naturopathic physician. After getting the runaround, many women find that these physicians incorporate the best of conventional and holistic approaches, and are particularly effective at diagnosing and resolving hormonal havoc. (Two helpful online sources: the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine's "Doctor Finder" and the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians Directory of licensed naturopathic physicians.)
2. Find Your "Go To" Moves
Movement is much more than a weight loss or fitness tool. The right kind of movement balances hormones, fights inflammation, strengthens bones, and improves sleep. It doesn't matter if you walk, garden, clean, bounce on a mini-trampoline, or go to spin class -- all movement counts. I prefer fast and effective workouts I can do at home, and moves I can fit into very busy days in short bursts, and especially moves I can do at my desk, or standing in line. If you don't have a go-to workout approach, try mine: T-Tapp. Created by exercise physiologist Teresa Tapp, it's designed for women at any level of fitness, requires no special equipment, and can be done almost anywhere.
3. Eat the Right Food
While gluten-free, vegan, or Paleo diets are the healthiest way to eat for some people, we now know that when it comes to nutrition, one size rarely fits all. Healthy eating does not mean that you have to live on a diet of kale and quinoa. Start by focusing on organic, hormone-free, unprocessed foods, heavy on a rainbow of vegetables, with lean sources of protein, and good fats like olive oil. If you need to tweak your diet to address specific health or weight loss challenges, consult with an integrative nutritionist. These experts will help you develop a customized plan to meet your specific goals. Eliminating gluten and sugar, for example, can often reduce inflammation in some women after 50, banishing bloating, fatigue, weight gain, and autoimmune oversensitivity. The integrative nutrition motto: "Food changes everything!" It does!
4. Master Your Breath
You may be familiar with relaxational or yoga breathing, but you are missing out if you don't practice a unique and powerful form of breathwork called Transformational Breathing. Even a few minutes has profound effects. You can lower spiking levels of stress hormones, dramatically increase oxygen levels (and energy), ramp up your concentration, and transform stress, anxiety and depression into calm, focused, and optimistic energy.
When you hear the word meditation, do you picture sitting in a lotus position for hours? Many of us don't have the time, the skill at quieting the mind, or joints flexible enough to last for more than a few minutes. You can, however, get the same benefits of meditation -- greater focus, a sense of well-being, improved sleep, energy, and emotional resilience -- with even a few minutes of guided meditation. Best of all, you can do it in a chair, on the sofa, or in bed. If you can listen, you can meditate.
6. Banish Hormone Hair
There's a saying that great hair is your best accessory. What do you do when "hormone hair" -- the thinning, breaking, limp, and coarse hair that frequently accompanies perimenopause and other hormonal changes -- gets in the way of looking and feeling great? Find a hairdresser who understands how to work with hormone hair from a cut and styling perspective. He or she can help maximize the look of the hair you do have, and recommend products and styling approaches that make your hair thicker and healthier.
7. Advocate for Yourself
We no longer live in a world where it's smart or safe to leave our health care decisions solely to our doctors. Read, learn, and join support communities so you can be an effective an empowered advocate for yourself with the medical world.
Note: For years, I've had a dream of bringing together some of the nation's top wellness experts to help women master these seven keys. My dream is a reality: The Me Time Wellness Weekend, will take place March 3-6, 2016 in the Washington, DC area.