Canyon Ranch Blog

Staying Healthy After Menopause

When you begin the transition to menopause, your first thoughts are likely to be about how to handle the symptoms, especially hot flashes and their nocturnal cousin, night sweats. But you’ll also want to consider your long-term health now. While the menopausal transition (and its unwelcome symptoms) doesn’t last forever—it averages three to five years—its effects can have lasting repercussions on your health.

Menopause increases your risk of chronic conditions such as heart disease, stroke and osteoporosis, and simply getting older bumps up the risk of breast cancer. And while hormone replacement therapy is the most effective treatment for menopause symptoms, it may also increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, blood clots and breast cancer.

While this may all sound a bit scary, it’s actually an opportunity to reevaluate your lifestyle and make changes that may be long overdue. “Your symptoms may be getting all your attention, but the menopause transition can be the perfect time to take a look at your overall health,” says Cynthia Geyer, M.D., medical director of Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Mass. “You can make choices now that will help keep you healthy for the next 40 or 50 years.”

Here’s how to protect your health as you begin the next stage of your journey:
Your Heart

The estrogen your ovaries produce before menopause affects nearly every tissue in your body, and it’s especially protective of your heart. Estrogen increases HDL cholesterol (the good kind), lowers LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) and relaxes, smooths and dilates blood vessels so that blood flow increases. The hormone helps keep the lining of your arteries—the endothelium—elastic and responsive. A healthy endothelium protects you from developing high blood pressure (a major cause of stroke) and cholesterol-laden plaque, which can lead to coronary heart disease. Although your ovaries can still produce small amounts of estrogen after menopause, the marked reduction means that your risk of heart disease climbs then. Simply getting older also plays a role, in part because of type 2 diabetes—a major risk factor for heart disease—becomes more common with age. Here’s what you can do to offset these changes:

  • Maintain a waist-to-hip ratio of less than 0.8. To calculate this, divide the circumference of your waist by the circumference of your hips at their widest. For example, if your waist is 33 inches and your hips are 42 inches, your ratio is 0.78, which is within the healthy range.
  • If you smoke, work on quitting.
  • Exercise regularly—at least 30 minutes five days or more a week.
  • If you consume alcohol, drink in moderation: up to five drinks spread out over the course of a week. (One drink equals 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer or 1½ ounces of liquor.) Alcohol may protect the heart by increasing small amounts of HDL, reducing blood clots and fighting cell-damaging free radicals with antioxidants. But too many drinks can raise your level of triglycerides (a type of fat found in the blood) and blood pressure, not to mention pack extra disease-causing pounds onto your waist. (If you don’t drink, don’t start.)
  • Eat a Mediterranean-style diet rich in olive oil, fish, nuts and seeds and low in saturated fat and high-glycemic foods.

This may sound like a lot to pay attention to, we know, but it’s worth it: In one study, women who adhered to all five of these habits were 80 percent less likely to have a heart attack and 90 percent less likely to develop diabetes than women who didn’t. “No drug on the planet can lower your risk to that degree,” Dr. Geyer says.

Other ways to improve the elasticity of your arteries include deep breathing, biofeedback therapy and a diet that includes plenty of foods rich in magnesium, folate, omega-3 fatty acids and phenolic compounds (found in deeply pigmented foods such as blueberries and pomegranates, as well as in green tea and dark chocolate).
Your Bones

Estrogen helps maintain bone density. During the five- to eight-year window around menopause, bone loss is accelerated, which can lead to osteoporosis and a higher risk of fracture.

To protect your bones:

  • Aim for a calcium-rich diet that supplies about 1,200 mg of the mineral per day (1,000 mg if you’re younger than 51), preferably through foods. In addition to dairy foods, dark green leafy vegetables, fish, nuts and seeds are good sources. Greens are also rich in other nutrients your bones need, such as vitamin K, B vitamins and magnesium.
  • Make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium. Sunshine, fortified dairy foods and oily fish like salmon all increase vitamin D levels, but many women still need supplements (1,000 to 2,000 IU daily) to get enough.
  • Limit sodium, which mostly arrives on our plates in processed foods. “The more sodium you eat, the more calcium you lose in your urine,” Dr. Geyer explains.
  • Incorporate weight-bearing exercises like walking, jogging and strength-training into your routine. In addition to bulking up your bones, exercise will help you control your weight, improve your heart health and mood, keep your brain sharp and reduce your breast cancer risk (more about that below). “It’s the closest thing we have to a magic bullet,” Dr. Geyer says.

Your Breasts

Menopause itself doesn’t increase your risk of developing breast cancer, but simply having more birthdays does. A 30-year-old woman’s chance of developing breast cancer over the next 10 years is 1 in 227, but it jumps to 1 in 28 by age 60. A healthy lifestyle can lower your risk, though. Here’s what makes a difference:

  • Getting your body mass index below 25 with diet and exercise. “The biggest factor for breast cancer that you can reverse is weight gain after menopause,” Dr. Geyer says. Fat tissue takes over estrogen production from the ovaries after menopause. Extra body fat from the weight we put on in middle age and beyond produces too much of the hormone, which promotes certain types of breast cancer. Those pounds also increase insulin levels, which may factor into whether some women develop breast cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends getting 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise every week to reduce the risk of all cancers. A diet that includes more inflammation-fighting foods, like fish, healthy oils and antioxidants, may help protect your breasts while also keeping your weight in check.
  • Eating folate-rich foods if you drink. “Alcohol is tricky, because moderate alcohol protects the heart but may increase breast cancer risk,” Dr. Geyer explains. This is especially true for women who are already at high risk, such as those with a family history. There’s evidence that folate, a B vitamin, reduces alcohol’s contribution to breast cancer risk. You can get dietary folate from leafy green vegetables and enriched grain products, as well as beans and legumes, dairy products, poultry, meat, eggs and seafood. You might also want to talk to your doctor about whether folate supplements could help you.

5 Ways to Lower Your Breast Cancer Risk
What Is Menopause?
Natural Remedies for Menopause Symptoms
Considering Hormone Replacement Therapy

Nutrition for Strong Bones
Why you need more than milk to strengthen your skeleton
Read More
5 Functional Strength Moves for Everyday Life
Train your body to carry out your daily activities now and in the future
Read More
Older, Wiser, Happier!
A conversation with Gary Frost on why age is really just a number and the art of living ...
Read More
Healthy Nut Choices
Crack into the differences between almonds, pistachios and more
Read More
Vitamin D: A Healing Nutrient Profile
This vitamin does more than play an integral role in bone building
Read More
5 Ways to Lower Your Breast Cancer Risk
You may find it empowering to know that you can affect your future when it comes to this ...
Read More
8 Ways to Reach Your Healthy Weight and Stay There
Find out if you’re doing all that you can to achieve your goals
Read More
10 Ways to Boost Your Immune System
Do what you can to keep your body's natural defense strong
Read More
Massage for Pain Relief
Learn which type of rubdown is best for what’s hurting you
Read More
Managing Seasonal Lows
If you suffer from winter sadness, try these ways to lift your spirits
Read More
Spirituality & Your Health: A Q&A with Dr. Finley
Nurturing this connection can support your wellness journey in powerful ways
Read More
11 Stress Relievers for a Healthier Brain
Sound strategies for managing negative thoughts and supporting positive brain changes
Read More
The Big Benefits of Losing Small Amounts of Weight
You'll reap rewards even before you reach your ultimate goal
Read More
15 Things You Can Do to Live Longer
Do what you can to maximize your odds for a longer and healthier life
Read More
7 Myths About Drinking
Learning the truth about alcohol can help you make healthier choices
Read More
Book Online or Contact Us
Book Now Contact Us

Questions & Reservations

Tucson, Arizona +1 800 742 9000
Lenox, Massachusetts +1 800 742 9000
Kaplankaya, Turkey
SpaClub®, Las Vegas +1 877 220 2688
Groups: +1 877 862 0583
SpaClub®, At Sea Queen Mary 2: +1 866 860 4662
Oceania Cruises: +1 877 329 1924
Regent Seven Seas: +1 877 329 1924
Celebrity Cruises: +1 844 860 4662