Menopause refers to a natural drop in reproductive hormones that accompanies the end of menstruation. Itâ€™s a normal part of aging and typically occurs in your late 40s or early 50s (1).
Over 80% of people going through or nearing menopause experience uncomfortable symptoms, such as hot flashes, mood swings, irritability, or difficulty sleeping (1).
The good news is that your nutrition and fitness choices can ease these symptoms.
This article provides numerous helpful diet and exercise tips to support your body during menopause.
Nutrition needs during menopause
Itâ€™s hard to pinpoint exactly when menopause-related hormonal changes begin. Oftentimes, theyâ€™re signaled by various symptoms, including (1):
- hot flashes
- problems sleeping
- vaginal dryness
- night sweats
- mood swings
- aching joints
If these symptoms begin before your periods stop, youâ€™re likely in a transitional phase called perimenopause. You may also experience lighter or shorter periods that may come either more or less often than usual (2).
Twelve months without a period is the more definitive marker of menopause (3).
In terms of your diet, youâ€™ll want to hone in on foods that help keep your heart healthy, your bones strong, and your brain sharp â€” while lowering your intake of foods that trigger symptoms. Whole foods like fruits, veggies, and whole grains may be particularly helpful.
Although the right diet wonâ€™t eradicate your symptoms, it may help you feel better and alleviate day-to-day side effects.
Maintain lean muscle mass
Sarcopenia, or the progressive loss of lean muscle mass, is common as your body ages. In fact, a 3â€“8% loss of lean muscle mass per decade is thought to begin in a personâ€™s 30s (4, 5, 6).
As you age, this percentage becomes significant because the loss of lean muscle mass increases your risk of fractures and falls (4, 5, 6).
Nonetheless, eating 25â€“30 grams of protein at each meal may protect against this loss of lean muscle mass (5, 6).
For context, a 3-ounce (85-gram) portion of salmon packs 22 grams of protein. Visually, this amount is the size of a deck of cards or a bar of soap (7).
Other high quality protein sources include eggs, beef, seafood, and poultry like chicken or turkey. Plant-based foods â€” such as nuts, some meat alternatives, soy products like tofu, and beans and other legumes â€” can also contribute to daily protein needs.
Eating foods that are high in leucine, a building block of protein, may also optimize muscle creation and retention in older adults. Most protein sources contain leucine. Animal products and some plant proteins, such as soy, are particularly good sources (4, 5, 6).
Preserve bone and brain health
Osteopenia is a reduction in bone mass thatâ€™s more common in older adults.
If left untreated, it may lead to osteoporosis, which is a porousness in your bones that makes you particularly susceptible to sudden breaks or fractures (8, 9).
Foods rich in calcium and vitamin D help keep bones strong, which is pivotal during menopause â€” especially since osteopenia and osteoporosis are common right before, during, and after menopause due to the decrease in estrogen (3, 10).
Dairy products, sardines, tofu, salmon and leafy greens are all good sources of calcium (11).
Other foods naturally rich in vitamin D include seafood, egg yolks, and certain types of mushrooms.
Identify what triggers your hot flashes
Some people experience more hot flashes when they eat spicy foods, alcohol, and caffeine (12, 13, 14).
As such, one strategy the next time you experience hot flashes is to write down what you last ate. Doing so may help you identify trigger foods that you should limit or avoid to reduce how often or intensely you experience hot flashes.
Keeping a more robust food journal may also help.
Increase your intake of omega-3s
Some research suggests that eating more foods high in omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce hot flash and night sweat symptoms â€” although one review notes that results are inconclusive (15, 16).
Omega-3-rich foods include fatty fish like salmon, sardines, tuna, and mackerel, as well as certain nuts and seeds. Notably, these foods may also bolster heart health (17).
Eat more soy and other phytoestrogens
Declining levels of estrogen and other sex hormones alter how your body metabolizes carbs and fats during menopause, which may contribute to weight gain (18).
Phytoestrogens are plant compounds naturally found in some foods that may act as a weak estrogen in your body. In turn, they may help diminish the symptoms brought on by the decline in estrogen that accompanies menopause (16).
While more research is needed and results are mixed, some studies suggest that phytoestrogens may benefit people undergoing and nearing menopause (19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24).
Foods rich in phytoestrogens include soybeans, tofu, tempeh, grapes, beans, flaxseeds, linseed, sesame, and black and green tea (25).
When going through menopause, be sure to get enough protein and other whole foods while avoiding foods that trigger hot flashes. Additionally, it may be helpful to increase your intake of omega-3s and phytoestrogen-containing foods.
Staying active during menopause
Itâ€™s vital to stay active when youâ€™re going through menopause.
Thatâ€™s because bone density declines during this phase, making you more susceptible to fractures. Yet, exercise may counteract bone density loss while boosting your mood, reducing anxiety, and improving sleep (8, 26, 27, 28).
Weight-bearing exercises help keep your bones strong.
For instance, lifting weights or doing Total Resistance Exercise (TRX) â€” a suspension-based exercise system â€” may help build strength, while aerobic exercise like running, high intensity interval training (HIIT), and certain types of dance or yoga may benefit heart health (29).
Low impact movement like walking, swimming, dance, and yoga helps keep your joints healthy. These activities may be particularly suitable if youâ€™re new to exercise or havenâ€™t worked out in a while (30).
Weight-bearing, aerobic, and low impact exercise may benefit your health during menopause in several ways, including by helping prevent loss of bone density.
Other precautions and considerations during menopause
When going through menopause, itâ€™s important to speak with your doctor before making any drastic changes to your diet or exercise routine. They may want to discuss the best options for you while considering your medical history and medications.
Itâ€™s important to get enough nutrients by way of whole grains, protein, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats. These foods keep your body nourished and protect against age-related muscle loss, as well as reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes (8, 31).
Youâ€™re at a higher risk of heart disease after menopause due to decreases in estrogen and alterations in how your body metabolizes fats, so a balanced diet becomes especially important in lowering this risk (31).
You should avoid regularly eating high sodium foods, as a high sodium diet has been associated with lower bone density in menopausal women (32).
If you have kidney issues, such as chronic kidney disease (CKD), you should speak with your healthcare provider before increasing your protein or dairy intake (33).
Whatâ€™s more, you may want to consider curbing your alcohol and caffeine intake. Doing so may not only reduce sleep disturbances but also take stress off of your bladder should you be experiencing urinary incontinence, or loss of bladder control (34, 35).
However, itâ€™s worth noting that while alcohol exacerbates hot flashes in some women, one study found that one drink per day relieved this symptom in some women, while a recent review noted that hops and other compounds in beer also brought relief (36, 37).
More research is needed to understand the relationship between alcohol, caffeine, and menopause symptoms.
Always work out in well-lit spaces and safe areas to avoid falls or accidents.
Remember to start any new exercise routine slowly, and listen to your bodyâ€™s cues. Wear supportive footwear thatâ€™s stable and comfortable.
Be sure to speak with a trainer or healthcare professional before starting a new exercise regimen.
Women are 2.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with depression than men, and theyâ€™re at particular risk of depression while transitioning into menopause (16).
If youâ€™ve been feeling unlike yourself or exhibiting any of the telltale signs of depression, such as irritability, difficulty sleeping, and constant sadness or numbness, consider talking with a therapist.
Remember that youâ€™re worthy of a nonbiased space in which to process your experiences, including menopause. If the COVID-19 pandemic makes in-person therapy a prohibitive concern, virtual therapy options are now widespread.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) typically involves supplementing hormones like estrogen or progesterone that decrease throughout menopause (38, 39, 40, 41).
Estrogen can be prescribed in many forms, including pills, patches, and vaginal foams or rings. Low-dose estrogen is typically administered in the vagina via foam or rings and can treat symptoms like dryness, painful sex, hot flashes, and night sweats (42).
If started within 10 years of menopause onset, HRT may protect against heart disease and ease menopause symptoms. This is especially important if common symptoms like depression, bone loss, insomnia, and hot flashes are disrupting your quality of life (43).
Although potential risks â€” including stroke, blood clots, gallstones, and cancer â€” make HRT controversial, evidence suggests that it makes the most sense for those who experience menopause unusually early (38, 39, 43, 44).
Women under age 60 are best positioned to benefit from HRT with little risk (43, 44).
The type of HRT and length of treatment depend on a variety of factors, such as your age, health history, symptoms, and onset of menopause. Speak with your doctor if youâ€™re curious about HRT.
Tending to both your physical and mental health is important during menopause. Be sure youâ€™re getting all the right nutrients, keeping your body moving, and seeking help when you need it.
The bottom line
Menopause is a natural transition in a personâ€™s life.
Although the end of menstruation is accompanied by several uncomfortable symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, depression, and weakening bones, adequate nutrition and physical activity may diminish the severity of these symptoms.
Eating enough protein and other whole foods like fruits, grains, vegetables, and healthy fats is key. Furthermore, regular exercise supports your mood, bone health, and lean muscle mass.
Be sure to speak with your doctor before making any major changes to your diet or fitness routine.