arrow-small-left Created with Sketch. arrow-small-right Created with Sketch. Carat Left arrow Created with Sketch. check Created with Sketch. circle carat down circle-down Created with Sketch. circle-up Created with Sketch. clock Created with Sketch. difficulty Created with Sketch. download Created with Sketch. email email Created with Sketch. facebook logo-facebook Created with Sketch. logo-instagram Created with Sketch. logo-linkedin Created with Sketch. linkround Created with Sketch. minus plus preptime Created with Sketch. print Created with Sketch. Created with Sketch. twitter logo-twitter Created with Sketch.

Looking after yourself

During menopause, it’s important to look after yourself. Healthy lifestyle choices will help to improve physical and emotional symptoms at every stage of menopause.

Topics on this page

Healthy weight

Many women think weight gain is part of menopause, but it’s more likely due to ageing and associated lifestyle changes.

Women tend to gain weight as they age, whether they are experiencing menopause or not. On average, women between the ages of 45 and 55 years gain about half a kilo per year.

Ageing causes a decrease in muscle mass, which slows down your metabolism. So, if your diet stays the same, you are likely to gain weight.

Weight gain and increased abdominal (belly) fat is common among women at midlife.

Studies show that reduced levels of oestrogen around menopause cause fat to be stored on the waist, rather than the thighs and hips. In fact, belly fat in postmenopausal women accounts for between 15% and 20% of their total body fat. This compares with 5% to 8% in premenopausal women.

It’s not healthy to carry too much weight, but weight around your stomach has significant health risks. Fat stored in this part of your body is also known as 'visceral fat'.

Unlike the other type of fat (that you can pinch with your fingers), visceral fat lies deeper in your body. It can wrap around your vital organs such as your liver, gut and pancreas.

Excess visceral fat is linked to:

  • an increased risk of heart disease (one of the leading causes of death for women in Australia)
  • type 2 diabetes
  • breast cancer
  • dementia.

Increased belly fat also increases menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes.

A review published by the Mayo Clinic shows women can prevent weight gain at midlife. They can do this by adopting a healthy lifestyle and addressing menopausal symptoms.

Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight during perimenopause is very important. Looking after your health during the perimenopause years can prevent weight gain during menopause. This will also help you reduce the risk of chronic disease.

Menopausal hormone therapy (MHT) may also help to reduce belly fat after menopause , but MHT should not be prescribed specifically for weight management.

Download the Menopause and weight fact sheet.

Healthy diet

What you eat matters. Diet can be especially important to help prevent weight gain during midlife. Making healthy food choices is one of the best ways to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

A healthy diet will improve your energy levels, keep your blood glucose stable and help you manage your weight.

You can try:

  • filling half a plate with vegetables and have a palmful of lean protein at each meal
  • eating different coloured fruits and vegetables so you get lots of vitamins and minerals
  • including legumes and pulses such as beans, lentils and peas in your meals
  • eating more whole grains like brown rice
  • including calcium-rich foods like yoghurt, canned sardines and parmesan cheese
  • including healthy fats from fish, olive oil, seeds and nuts, such as linseeds and macadamias
  • eating breakfast every day
  • reducing alcohol, sugary snacks and caffeine
  • eating mindfully and enjoying what you eat
  • eating smaller meals more often to maintain your metabolic rate.

If you are overweight or gaining weight, you can talk to your doctor, dietitian or a nutritionist about the best way to lose weight. They may suggest a low-calorie or low-carb diet, together with physical activity.

Find delicious and nutritious recipe ideas here.

Podcast: Jean Hailes naturopath Sandra Villella talks about menopause and nutrition. Listen now

Physical activity

Menopausal symptoms can make it harder to do physical activity, which may contribute to weight gain. If you don’t feel like your normal self during this time, it may be hard to stick to regular exercise and healthy eating.

Physical activity is a vital part of being healthy, especially as we age. It can reduce the risk of chronic disease, falls and osteoporosis. It can also help you manage your weight and your menopausal symptoms. If you want to lose weight, you will need to combine regular physical activity with reduced calorie intake.

It’s recommended that adults aged 18 to 64 years be active on most (preferably all) days of the week. This activity should include:

  • 2.5–5 hours of moderate-intensity activity each week
  • 1.25–2.5 hours of vigorous-intensity activity each week.

It’s also recommended you do muscle-strengthening activities at least 2 days per week.

You don’t have to do this in one go. You can accumulate shorter bursts of activity during the day. On days when you feel a bit tired, try a gentle walk.

Other tips to keep active include:

  • moving more and sitting less
  • walking or cycling part of the way to work
  • taking the stairs instead of the escalator or lift.

Signing up for a team sport or taking dance classes is also a great way to get active and have fun. Research shows that exercising with others makes it more likely you’ll stick with it. You’re also more likely to spend more time exercising. Exercising in a group can also improve your mental wellbeing and help you manage the emotional aspects of menopause.

Before starting an exercise program, you can talk to your doctor or an exercise physiologist. They can recommend a program to suit your current situation and health goals.

Sleep

Sleep is important for everyone, but it’s very important during menopause. Lack of sleep can contribute to menopausal symptoms and make them worse. This in turn can make it hard for you to exercise regularly.

Research also shows that poor sleep (one of the symptoms of menopause) is associated with a greater intake of food and poorer food choices.

If you develop good sleep habits and seek help for any sleep problems, you might find it easier to manage your weight and menopausal symptoms.

Learn more about managing sleep disturbance.

Alcohol

Drinking too much alcohol can impact menopause by:

  • contributing to unwanted weight gain
  • interfering with sleep
  • causing changes in your mood which may affect your relationships
  • triggering hot flushes and night sweats.

In the long term, heavy drinking can also lead to an increased risk for developing some cancers, depression, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and poor bone health.

Australian Alcohol Guidelines recommend that you:

  • drink no more than 10 standard drinks a week
  • drink no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day
  • avoid alcohol if you’re pregnant, planning to become pregnant or breastfeeding.

If you have a problem with alcohol, talk to your doctor.

Read the Australian alcohol guidelines.

Smoking and other drugs

There is no safe level of smoking or drug use. Smoking is one of the worst things you can do for your health. It can reduce your life expectancy and quality of life. It can also increase your risk of developing other health conditions and dying early.

Women who smoke generally reach menopause earlier than non-smokers. They are also more likely to experience early menopause.

Women who smoke also have more severe and frequent hot flushes and night sweats, and difficulty sleeping.

If you smoke or use illicit drugs, speak to your doctor about ways you can stop.

For health advice about smoking visit Quit.org.au

Emotional wellbeing

There are many practical things you can do look after your emotional wellbeing.

For example:

  • talk to someone you trust about your feelings (e.g. your friend, family member, doctor or psychologist
  • keep a diary of your symptoms
  • take time for yourself and do things you love doing
  • get quality rest when you can
  • do regular physical exercise, especially in a group or with friends
  • practise relaxation techniques
  • pay attention to your inner voice and practise using positive affirmations.

Learn more about managing mood and emotional health.

Talk to your doctor

If you are experiencing strong emotions, anxiety or depression, see your doctor.

Sex and relationships

Sexuality is an important part of our human experience, but hormonal changes at menopause can lead to reduced libido (sexual desire). While this is normal, it can be frustrating and may affect your relationships.

Many factors can influence how you feel about changes to your sexual desire.

For example:

  • your attitude to sex
  • your age
  • how menopause has affected you
  • whether you’re in a relationship
  • whether you want to have sex
  • your physical and mental health.

What can affect your sex life?

Changing hormones

The National Ageing Research Institute and the University of Melbourne conducted a large study of women called the 'Women's Healthy Ageing Project'. This study found that as women go through menopause, they may have a significant decline in sexual function. The study also found that reduced sexual function is associated with reduced levels of oestradiol (the main oestrogen hormone), but not testosterone.

Sexual problems may be worse for women who have early or premature menopause, due to a sudden change in hormones.

Menopausal symptoms

It’s common for different menopausal symptoms to affect sexual desire. For example, hot flushes, moodiness, sleeplessness and fatigue.

Relationships

As you approach menopause, it’s important to discuss your thoughts and problems openly with your partner.

Your partner may not know about menopausal symptoms or what you are going through.

You can ask them to read current information about menopause so they can support you through this time.

If you think these conversations may be difficult, you can:

  • visit your doctor with your partner and discuss your concerns together
  • visit a psychologist who specialises in couple's therapy.

If you are experiencing menopausal symptoms or health issues that affect your daily life (including your sex life), it can have an impact on your relationship. It’s important to ask your partner for their understanding and support during this time.

Stage of life

At this stage of your life, you may have added pressures that affect your sex life. For example, children moving out of home, caring for elderly parents or work pressures.

You may also feel differently about your body at this age and may not want to be intimate with your partner as often as you used to.

Dry vagina and pain during sex

The loss of oestrogen at menopause causes changes in the tissues of your vagina and vulva. This means your vagina becomes drier and less elastic, which can lead to vaginal irritation, vaginal atrophy and pain during sex.

The Study of Women Across the Nation (SWAN) tracked more than 2,400 women over 17 years. It found that more than 50% of women don’t report vaginal dryness and less than 4% use any of the proven therapies to treat this condition.

Learn more about treatment options for dry vagina and pain during sex.

Managing low libido

If you are concerned about having low libido, it’s important to discuss this with your doctor. They might suggest different options to improve the way you feel about sex. For example, a trial of menopausal hormone therapy (MHT), or vaginal moisturisers, lubricants or oestrogen to improve vaginal dryness.

Testosterone therapy

The area of wellbeing and libido is very complex, and research tells us these are likely to be influenced by psychological factors more than testosterone. But testosterone therapy may be a suitable treatment for postmenopausal women who feel distressed by their loss of sexual desire. This condition is known as hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD).

Testosterone therapy is only recommended for women diagnosed with HSDD. There is no evidence to support using testosterone in premenopausal women for low libido or any other condition such as low mood or depression.

Professor Susan Davis is a leading researcher and endocrinologist. In this podcast she discusses testosterone therapy as a treatment option for low libido in postmenopausal women.

How is testosterone used?

A testosterone 1% cream (specifically for women) is now available and approved for use in Australia.

The cream is applied every night to the lower abdomen or outer thigh. Your doctor will usually test your testosterone level after three weeks to make sure it is not too high, and again after 12 weeks. Your doctor should then see you every six months for a check-up and to monitor blood testosterone levels.

If testosterone therapy is going to improve your libido, you will start to notice this after about four weeks. If there is no improvement after six months, you should stop testosterone treatment.

Side effects of testosterone therapy

You may experience some side effects when you use testosterone therapy, although these are rare if you use the right dose of testosterone.

Side effects from excessive use of testosterone may include:

  • developing male characteristics, such as acne and excess body hair
  • fluid retention
  • adverse effects on blood cholesterol.

If you experience any of the above, see your doctor.

Testosterone therapy is not suitable for:

  • women with severe acne
  • women with severe excess body hair
  • women who are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • women who have a suspected cancer.

Contraception during menopause

Your fertility will decline as you age, but while you still ovulate it is possible to get pregnant. In the lead-up to menopause, you can ovulate twice during one cycle. And you can still ovulate up to three months before your final period.

The possibility of pregnancy in women aged 45–49 years is estimated to be 2–3% per year. After the age of 50, it’s less than 1%.

When is it safe to stop contraception?

If you’re younger than 50 and you don’t want to fall pregnant, you should use contraception for at least two years after your final period.

If you’re 50 or older and you don’t want to fall pregnant, you should use contraception for at least one year after your final period. Keep in mind, MHT is not a contraceptive.

Talk to your doctor about the best contraception for you.

Menopause and work

Menopause is a normal part of life for most women. Symptoms can affect women at home and at work. The transition into menopause is now recognised as an important workplace issue, but not all workplaces support women going through menopause.

Many employers don’t fully understand the symptoms of menopause. And women may also feel uncomfortable talking about their experience in case they’re seen as ‘too old’ or unable to do their job. It’s estimated that around 10% of women stop working due to severe menopausal symptoms.

The good news is that more employers are developing policies that acknowledge and include menopausal health as an important part of employee wellbeing.

How menopause impacts work

Menopause can impact work in many ways. Physical symptoms like hot flushes, fatigue, poor concentration and poor memory can all impact the quality of your work. They can also reduce your ability to function normally. Symptoms such as loss of self-confidence, low self-esteem, anxiety and depression can make things worse.

Studies show that menopausal symptoms can impact work attendance and performance. Sometimes symptoms are interpreted as poor performance or lack of commitment. Other women may be misjudged as having a mental illness or other health conditions.

Symptoms can also stop women from applying for promotions or cause them to retire early.

What can you do?

You can let your employer know about your situation and how you can be supported in the workplace.

Be open and honest

Talk to your employer or manager if you have symptoms that make work difficult. Explain what your symptoms are and how they impact your work. You might also like to share some of the information from our website with your employer.

Be clear about what you need

Ask your employer to make reasonable adjustments if needed. This may be flexible working hours, or the ability to work from home if you need to manage fatigue. It may also include changing the temperature of your office or using a fan to help keep you cool if hot flushes are a problem.

Support others

Women make great advocates for one another in the workplace. If you feel up to it, offer to help develop policies that support menopause at work. Take part in training or induction programs that include information about menopause. Offer formal or informal support for others in your workplace who are going through menopause.

Look after yourself

Looking after your own health can help you manage symptoms and help you cope better at work. You can try:

  • dressing in layers that you can add or remove
  • eating regular, healthy meals to help boost energy levels
  • going for a walk at lunchtime, as this can help to improve your mood
  • prioritising sleep and developing a good bedtime routine to help beat fatigue.

Talk to your doctor

If menopausal symptoms are impacting you, talk to your doctor about treatment options. Managing your symptoms can help you cope better at work.

Seek other support

If you feel your manager is not supporting you through menopause, seek other support. You can talk to your organisation’s human resources staff or discuss the issue with advocacy bodies, such as trade unions or professional associations.

Remember:

  • menopause is an entirely normal and natural stage of life for women
  • workplaces are legally obliged to look after the health and safety of their staff
  • workplaces must prevent discrimination around age and medical/health issues
  • you should receive the same kind of support and understanding from your employer as anyone else with an ongoing health condition.

Menopause at work provides information and resources to help workplaces support women during the menopause transition.

Download our fact sheet

This web page is designed to be informative and educational. It is not intended to provide specific medical advice or replace advice from your health practitioner. The information above is based on current medical knowledge, evidence and practice as at August 2022.

References

Last updated: 03 October 2022 | Last reviewed: 19 August 2022

Was this helpful?

Thank you for your feedback

Related Topics