Menopause is a natural part of aging, experienced approximately one year after your last menstrual cycle, usually around age 40 to 50. As you approach menopause, you might experience hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, weight gain and decreased sex drive.
In addition to these temporary and treatable side effects, menopause can also lead to more serious conditions — loss of bone density and osteoporosis.
As estrogen levels decline, your risk for osteoporosis increases, causing your bones to weaken and increasing the risk of fractures. Through their mid-30s, women build more bone than naturally breaks down. After 35, the balance shifts and bone loss overtakes new bone growth.
To counter bone density and other menopause-related concerns, Dr. Smith offers the following tips:
- Eat a healthy diet, high in calcium and vitamin D
- Get at least 30 minutes of weight-bearing exercise, like walking, each day
- Make healthy lifestyle changes: quit smoking, decrease or eliminate alcohol consumption, and avoid caffeinated drinks
- Practice meditation, yoga and breathing techniques to decrease stress and relieve symptoms
"A lifelong healthy lifestyle is the best way to ensure bone health," says Dr. Smith. "The most important aspect of managing the natural history of aging is to raise healthy girls to become healthy women. The consistency of exercise in moderation and a healthy, well-rounded diet are really what matters."
Osteoporosis cannot be reversed, however, you can slow the loss of bone density and even improve bone mass by eating calcium-rich foods and participating in weight-bearing exercises at least four times a week. If you have concerns about menopause or menopause-related bone loss, talk with your doctor about appropriate medical treatments and the lifestyle changes you can make now.