Annabel and I have been emailing each other back and forth about menopause recently as we’re both writing books that cover the topic, in very different ways. Annabel’s book about creative women and insomnia, touches on the subject, because menopause can impact sleep dramatically. Her book is out next year. My book is much more directly about menopause and the role of declining reproductive hormones in how women age. And this book is out rather sooner – on April 27th (eek!). What has struck us both is that, despite researching ageing well for almost a decade, we have struggled to get clear information about the long-term impact of menopause on our health. Which is the exact reason why I wrote The Power Decade: How to Thrive After Menopause.
Everything Annabel and I have learnt about ageing well points to a time (for women at least) in their mid-60s when the chronic conditions of ageing, like diabetes, heart disease and dementia, are – statistically – more likely to kick in. And we know that our reproductive hormones do so much more than prepare us to have periods and babies, we have receptors for them throughout our bodies and brains. Oestrogen, in particular, helps keep bones strong, blood vessels flexible, brains firing and inflammation levels low. Essentially, it wraps us up in a cosy protective cloak to keep us safe and healthy while we’re able to reproduce, but once the eggs have run out – we’re on our own! Between the average age of menopause at 51, and that time in our 60s when the chronic conditions of ageing are more likely to kick in, we have a decade or so in which it’s vital to focus on our health.
Thank you, to you
I’m hugely grateful to the many, many followers of The Age-Well Project who filled out my survey on post-menopausal health last year. Your responses helped me shape the book, particularly in regard to the symptoms of menopause that may persist beyond the final menstrual period. This (highly unscientific) research showed me that there is no ‘normal’ in our 50s and 60s – around one-third of you weren’t suffering menopause-related symptoms, some were on HRT, some had simply left their symptoms behind, or had experienced very few as they went through the transition. Others were still experiencing symptoms, with insomnia, night sweats and brain fog forming an ‘unholy trinity’ of the most common.
Those of you in the 56-65 age bracket reported sleep issues as your worst symptom post-menopause. This was closely followed by night sweats and brain fog. The three issues are closely entwined: oestrogen activates the hypothalamus which controls body temperature. So what happens when oestrogen declines? We end up with a body thermostat that’s out of control, meaning we can’t sleep. The exhaustion we feel triggers mood and memory problems. Around half of women experience sleep disruption in midlife and 30-40% report chronic insomnia by the end of menopause. No wonder it’s the subject of Annabel’s next book!
You had plenty to say, too, on the joys of post-menopausal hot flushes. One survey respondent reported hot flushes, ‘for 16 years and counting!’ Another referred to them as, ‘useful in winter because I live in a cold house, not so good in summer!’
A new life stage
More broadly, it was fascinating to hear your thoughts about ageing. Some of you felt weighed down by the process, and the health concerns that come with it. Others felt the decades post-menopause were a time of freedom. These were a couple of my favourite responses:
‘This stage of life is a time to enjoy. It’s a time to seize opportunities and try new experiences.’
‘I am more confident, don’t have to answer to anyone, feel free to do what I want, no periods which is a bonus. I am enjoying this stage of my life.’
SAVE THE DATE FOR A VIRTUAL BOOK LAUNCH PARTY
To say thank you for being part of The Power Decade, for following us here and generally being fabulous, I’d love to invite you to the virtual book launch on Monday April 24th at 7pm BST. Annabel and I will be chatting about the book, and all things Age Well. I’ll share details of how to book a free ticket very soon, but please save the date for now.