Peri-menopause is a time in a woman’s lives where her world is changing. The children in her life may be growing up. She may be questioning her career path. She may be craving new intellectual challenges. She may be exploring her life purpose and seeking more fulfilment. She is passionate about making a meaningful difference in the world around her. Many women are excited to reclaim, or to just start, focusing on themselves.
In midlife, we stop feeling invincible health-wise. Some of our friends now have chronic illness or disease. Some may have experienced cancer, depression, anxiety or other mental illness, some have auto-immune diseases, while others are living with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or high blood sugars. We realize how much we need our health to be able to enjoy living our lives. We start to see that living a longer life is indeed a privilege.
I’d like to shift the focus of my blog writing off weight in midlife. While weight gain and weight loss in midlife can invite more attention to our nutritional intake, being preoccupied with scale weight may misguide our attention away from what is more important: supporting and nurturing our strength, functionality and health for our future.
We are so much more than our bodies. I’d like to shift the focus of my writing to that of supporting the bodies we are in and setting the stage for future good health and vitality. Healthful eating is for everyone. Healthful eating is attainable for everyone, in the bodies they are in right now.
What you eat and how you live can make a big difference to your health now and in your future. I’d invite you to shift your focus to how you can support the body you are in *right now* for your best life. Longevity is a marathon, not a sprint, so let’s figure out an approach to supporting your health that you can *live* with.
Let me share with you four areas of your health profile to consider supporting with a healthful diet and supportive lifestyle.
1) Bone mass – Women achieve peak bone mineral density around the age of 30. From there, women’s bone mineral density reduces with age, with rapid losses being associated with menopause. There are many bone building nutrients including calcium, as well as magnesium, vitamins C, vitamin D, Vitamin K, zinc, and protein. Focusing on your dietary pattern to include these nutrients, while also including weight-bearing exercise are helpful in preserving bone mineral density and preventing falls and fractures.
2) Cardiovascular health – After menopause, women’s rate of cardiovascular disease (CVD) increases. Diet and a healthful dietary pattern can help to improve our blood pressure, our cholesterol levels, which could then translate into preventing CVD. A dietary pattern that supports our cardiovascular health includes vegetables, fruits, plant-protein, fish, healthy fats, as well as low-fat dairy, while also being lower in refine grains, added sugars and salt.
3) Cognitive health – Feeling forgetful and having memory lapses are distressing yet common experiences in midlife. The decline in estrogen after menopause can contribute to cognitive and memory impairment. Research shows that a Mediterranean dietary pattern, which includes consumption of foods rich in antioxidants, unsaturated fatty acids and B vitamins can reduce the risk of dementia.
Wondering how Mediterranean is your diet? This Eating the Mediterranean Way resource can help you assess your own diet!
4) Cancer risk – Our dietary pattern, how much alcohol we drink, how physically active we are, and if we smoke, can all influence our risk for different cancers. Following a healthy eating pattern at all ages can reduce your cancer risk.
A dietary pattern that supports a reduced risk for cancer is one that includes a variety of colorful vegetables and fruits, whole grains, plant-based proteins and foods that are high in nutrients. This dietary pattern is also one that limits red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, and highly processed foods and refined grains.
Growing older is a privilege that is denied to many people. Stop dieting and start caring for your body so that you can keep living. What would shift for you if you cared for the body you have right now? And as you think about caring for your health, widen your lens to be bigger than just your physical body. Consider the health of your other “bodies” – emotional, psychological, social, intellectual, creative, and spiritual.
If you are given the opportunity to grow older, think about how you want to spend that privilege. How do you want to live?
References consulted in writing this blog post:
Kostecka M. The role of healthy diet in the prevention of osteoporosis in the perimenopausal period. Pak J Med Sci. 2014 Jul-Aug; 30(4): 763–768. Available from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4121694/
Gardener SL, Rainey-Smith SR. The role of nutrition in cognitive function and brain aging in the elderly. Current Nutrition Reports. 2018. Vol 7: 139-149. Available from: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13668-018-0229-y
O’Connor DL, Blake J, Robinson N, Tumback L, Cheung A, et al. Canadian consensus on female nutrition: adolescence, reproduction, menopause and beyond. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology Canada; 2016 (May); 38(6): 508-554. Available from https://www.jogc.com/article/S1701-2163(16)00042-6/fulltext#secsectitle0010
Rock CL, Thomson C, Gansler R, Gapstur SM, McCullough ML, Patel AV. American Cancer Society guideline for diet and physical activity for cancer prevention. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians 2020; 70(4): 245-271. Available from https://acsjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.3322/caac.21591
World Cancer Research Fund. Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer: A Global Perspective 3rd Expert Report. 2018. Available from https://www.wcrf.org/sites/default/files/Recommendations.pdf