While the plus side of menopause is obviously no more periods, and the hassle that can come with them, the hormonal changes you experience during perimenopause and menopause can leave you susceptible to developing certain health conditions associated with aging.

Research shows that the risk of certain health conditions increase after menopause, because your body produces less of the hormones estrogen, progesterone and testosterone.

The hormone estrogen is especially important in keeping our bodies healthy and happy. A lack of estrogen can not only cause symptoms, but have an impact on your heart, bone and brain health too.

Two conditions to be particularly aware of are cardiovascular disease (issues with your heart) and osteoporosis (the weakening and thinning of your bones). Your risk of these conditions increases significantly after menopause, because estrogen levels are lower.

The risk of developing type 2 diabetes, mental health issues (such as depression) and dementia also increases after menopause. This is because all of these conditions are affected by a lack of circulating hormones. Some women also find it more difficult to control their weight and this bothers them.

While our bodies are beautiful in every shape and size, if you’re worried about changes to your weight, or the impact your weight is having on the way you feel physically and emotionally, check out our resource on eating for healthy hormones. It contains lots of tips on how to make sure you feel your best regardless of what’s going on with your hormones.

Following the principles of a healthy lifestyle will help to manage future health risks. Try to think about:

  • eating nutritiously
  • cutting down on alcohol and caffeine
  • stopping smoking
  • exercising on a regular basis
  • prioritizing sleep
  • make time to rest and unwind
  • keeping good connections with your social network.

You can read more about all these healthy habits here.

As well as making these changes to your lifestyle, using hormone therapy (HT) may be an option for you. While certain risks associated with HT increase if it’s been 10 years or more since you went through your menopause, if you start HT before this time, it can actually provide benefits that protect against developing conditions associated with aging.

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Did you know, heart disease is the leading cause of death among women in America, so it’s crucial that you know how to reduce your risks and ensure your heart stays healthy through adopting certain lifestyle changes.

Estrogen helps to keep your blood vessels open and healthy. It also helps to balance your cholesterol levels. When your estrogen falls during perimenopause and menopause, your cardiovascular disease risk increases, because less estrogen is circulating in the blood.

Evidence shows that the risk of disease to the heart and blood vessels (including having a stroke) can be reduced by using hormone therapy if it is started before the age of 60 or within 10 years of your menopause.

Estrogen helps to keep your bones healthy and strong. Around the time of menopause, you lose bone tissue at a greater rate than the body can make it, so your bones lose their density (strength) over time.

If the bone tissue loss and weakness are severe, you may be diagnosed with a condition called osteoporosis and will be more at risk of bone fractures.

Osteoporosis rates vary depending on your ethnicity. In over 50-year-olds the occurrence is:

  • 5% among black women
  • 10% among latina women
  • 20% among white and Asian women.

There isn’t a huge amount of evidence that explores why these risks vary but it’s likely to relate to things like genetics, body size and composition, social determinants and lifestyle. A DEXA scan can reveal how dense your bones are and measure any loss of bone strength over time.  Screening for osteoporosis is recommended for women who are 65 years old or older and for women who are between the ages of 50-64 and have certain risk factors. If you have gone through an early menopause, have a family history of osteoporosis or you have broken a bone in your 40s or 50s, you may want to find out more about your bone health by having a DEXA scan.

Close to two-thirds of people that develop Alzheimer’s disease are women. For years, researchers have tried to better understand whether menopause could be a factor connected to this due to women’s dropping levels of estrogen.

If this is the case, it stands to reason that using HT could help reduce women’s risk of developing dementia.

Research exploring these links show mixed results. Some studies suggest there could be a relationship between the estrogen and conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, while others find the connection to be less convincing.

Because of this, it’s difficult to say for sure whether using something like HT could mean you are less likely to develop dementia. What we do know is that many women find that using hormones helps them to feel cognitively sharper.

Along with using HT, there are other things that can be done to help improve your cognitive skills. Keeping up with social connections where you engage in stimulating conversation is great, as well as challenging yourself with mental exercises like crosswords and puzzles.

In many ways, our future health is out of our hands, but there are things we can do to make sure we continue to age well. Following a healthy lifestyle routine that prioritizes social connection is particularly important. As many of us know, social isolation and loneliness can be a major factor that impacts or puts strain on our health. This being the case, while using HT and eating well is one part of the puzzle, making sure you are doing things that make you feel happy and like yourself are essential. Reach out to friends, join community groups, and get out in nature in order to boost your happy hormones.

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If you would like to feel more connected to a community of women who are navigating hormonal changes, be sure to check out our Hormone Allies page, where we communicate people’s stories and look to foster community.