Menopause and lifestyle

Don't let menopause keep you from leading a fulfilling life.

We interviewed Dr. Vivien Brown, a family physician in Toronto who is certified by the North American Menopause Society (NAMS) as an expert in menopause and women's health. NAMS is a leading North American non-profit organization that helps to promote the health and quality of life of women through the understanding of menopause. Dr. Brown gave her opinion on some frequently asked questions about sex and menopause and lifestyle changes to make.

How would you advise a menopausal woman who is afraid to be sexually intimate with her partner because she finds intercourse painful?

Whatever the age, if she's having intercourse pain, it's better to not proceed at the time. It may build up the expectation that intercourse will always be painful. If a woman is expecting pain, she is tense and she won't be a willing participant. It is important that she communicate with her partner that it is a problem to do with her, not necessarily a problem created by her partner. Both lubricants and prescription products can make sex more comfortable. She doesn't have to experience painful intercourse - there is something she can do about it. I would recommend that she see her doctor, and she may find it helpful to invite her partner along.

What lifestyle changes would you recommend to a woman going through menopause?

During the time of menopause, a woman may find herself with more time to spare as circumstances in life take a change. It's also a time to look at making life as healthy as possible. She can start exercising, doing yoga or Pilates. She can look at intimacy with her partner and ways to reconnect.

This is a time when a woman can really start to look at and care about her health - cholesterol, diet, exercise, and sex life. People are often more open to making changes at these times, since life may be less hectic.

In general, good health habits in women experiencing menopause are also good health habits in general. Here are some tips:

  • Get about 150 minutes of exercise each week.
  • Drink no more than 9 glasses of alcohol per week (1 per day or, rarely, 2 per day).
  • Follow a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet.
  • Try to maintain healthy weight for your height.
  • Maintain bone strength. The physical activity you do each week should include weight-bearing exercises at least 2 times each week. Canadian guidelines now recommend daily intake of 1,500 mg of calcium and 1,000 IU of vitamin D to keep bones healthy.
  • Quit smoking.
  • See your doctor regularly. Get a regular Pap test, mammogram, bone density test (if recommended by your doctor), and bowel exam.
  • Ensure your immunizations are up-to-date.
  • Practice safe sex - some women become sexually active again after not being so for a long time.

Women today are living into their 80s, so they are spending one-third of their life in menopausal years. We want those years to be healthy and vibrant, not housebound or fragile.

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