Lifestyle changes to help manage early menopause: Women’s experiences

A healthy lifestyle, including maintaining a healthy weight range, exercise, stopping smoking, limiting alcohol intake, and adequate intake of calcium (preferably dietary) and Vitamin D, can help with some of the symptoms of early menopause (EM) and protect against bone density loss and heart disease, potential long-term risks of premature ovarian insufficiency/EM. Alcohol, caffeine and spicy foods can be triggers for hot flushes in some women. Maintaining a cool environment may help manage hot flushes, for example by adjusting clothing, using a fan and drinking cool liquids. Weight gain may make hot flushes worse and weight loss in women who are overweight has been shown to reduce hot flushes. Exercise is beneficial for heart health, and weight-bearing exercise (e.g. weights or resistance training, running, dancing, tennis) for bone health. Exercise may also improve mood and sleep.

Lifestyle changes: What women knew

Most of the women we interviewed were aware of the potential role of lifestyle changes to help manage symptoms of EM and protect against long-term health risks. This was following advice from their health practitioners, their own research and reading, or through personal experience.

Melinda’s endocrinologist told her that in addition to taking HRT, exercise and getting enough calcium were important. 

Lifestyle changes to protect bone and heart health

Concerns about loss of bone density as a result of EM were mentioned by many women (see Long-term health effects of early menopause). Most said they were taking a calcium supplement and/or Vitamin D to help with calcium absorption, as well as trying to increase dietary calcium and do weight-bearing exercise. To protect against heart disease, a few women described dietary changes such as avoiding ‘fried’ foods, cooking low fat meals, and generally ‘eating well.’ Women were less likely to discuss exercise in relation to promoting heart health than in terms of helping with bone health, mood and relaxation.

Alex, who experienced surgical menopause following an oophorectomy for ovarian cancer, recounted the advice she had received about protecting her bones and heart.

Lydia’s bone density declined after having a bilateral oophorectomy to reduce her risk of breast and ovarian cancer. She described her efforts to look after her bones and heart health.

EM symptoms

Lifestyle changes were also helpful for easing or reducing EM symptoms such hot flushes or anxiety. Women described limiting some drinks or foods (e.g. alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and spicy food) that made hot flushes ‘worse’, or adding others that they found ‘cooling’ (e.g. sage tea, watermelon, cold water). Maddy found sugar and caffeine increased her hot flushes: ‘a little bit of chocolate or something (…) can make me feel really horrible. The next day or a bit later that day I can feel just irritable, or I can even have a coffee and I have a bit of a sweat an hour later.’

After experiencing spontaneous EM, Maddy cut back on caffeine as found it triggered hot flushes.

Exercise was seen as beneficial for anxiety and sleep problems women associated with EM, as well as overall wellbeing.

Kirsty, who experienced spontaneous EM, found exercise beneficial for her mood and sleep.

Challenges of making lifestyle changes

Some women found changing their lifestyle challenging. Exercising, eating healthily, or remembering to take calcium or Vitamin D supplements (for those who had been recommended to take them) could be difficult while recovering from cancer, coping with EM symptoms such as hot flushes or fatigue, or while dealing with other health conditions at the same time. Jenni, who experienced spontaneous EM, struggled to find ‘motivation’ to exercise: ‘I don’t want to go to a gym because I find that intimidating. I do a lot of walking. It kind of gets boring on your own. So yeah the social isolation [means] I’m not getting the exercise that I know I need.’

Kate was having ovarian suppression therapy (goserelin and an AI) as part of her breast cancer treatment and had not found a medication to alleviate her hot flushes. She wanted to be able to exercise more but found it difficult.

Ella found having several chronic conditions as well as EM made it difficult for her to look after her bone health.

Weight gain after EM could also make it challenging for women to stay motivated to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Mary sometimes wondered what ‘the point’ of exercising was as had found losing weight very difficult following early menopause.

Adapting to lifestyle changes

Other women described gradually adapting to changes to their diet and lifestyle. As Yen-Yi, who experienced menopausal symptoms as a result of ovarian suppression therapy following breast cancer, commented: ‘I’m happy that now I’ve at least got a routine with the exercise. It’s no longer dragging myself to the gym and things like that.’

Anna described the lifestyle changes she had made to accommodate living with symptoms of EM after she stopped taking HRT.

Further information:

Talking Points (Women)

Talking Points (Health practitioners)

Other resources