It takes some work, but staying healthy after menopause is not all that difficult. The concluding part on the series on menopause.

Taruna has always lead an active life. She does not want menopause to slow her down. She knows she has to maintain a healthy lifestyle to ensure good health for years to come. What should Taruna do to stay healthy after menopause?

Regular check-ups after menopause

It is important to see your gynaecologist at least once a year to make sure that you are healthy. A thorough physical examination, including a pelvic examination and a breast examination, will help detect problems before they can become serious.

A Pap smear is a simple test from the cervix (the mouth of the uterus) to look for changes leading to cancer.

A mammogram annually after the age of 50 will help in early detection of breast cancer. You should also continue monthly self-breast examinations.

A two-hour glucose tolerance test (GTT) will pick up diabetes. A test for thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) will diagnose abnormal thyroid function.

Since hypertension is common in Indians, blood pressure should be monitored every six months. A lipid profile annually will help pick up high levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, which can lead to heart disease.

Exercise to maintain a healthy weight. After menopause, it seems that you have to work harder to maintain a healthy weight. It is probably the lack of estrogen that encourages the deposition of fat, particularly over the abdominal wall. Exercise becomes particularly important as a woman ages.

The benefits of exercise

Regular exercise has multiple benefits: it protects the heart, postpones osteoporosis (thinning of bones) and helps regulate weight. The hidden advantage of exercise is that, by releasing mood-elevating endorphins, it acts as a mood enhancer. Women who exercise regularly will confirm that they have a better sense of well-being. Women who are physically inactive are more likely to suffer from coronary heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and osteoporosis. Sedentary women may also suffer from chronic back pain, insomnia, poor circulation, weak muscles, loss of bone mass, and depression. The many miseries blamed on menopause are, in fact, a direct result of lack of exercise!

Which exercises are the best?

Aerobic activities such as walking or swimming for 30 to 45 minutes, at least five days a week, can work wonders. If you like, you can turn on the latest film music, lock the door and dance! There are several gyms that offer aerobic exercises done to the rhythms of film music, which makes it fun. It is all about raising your pulse rate and using up calories. Exercise also helps raise HDL cholesterol levels, commonly referred to as “good” cholesterol. Weight-bearing exercises such as walking, as well as moderate weight training, help increase bone mass. This, in turn, prevents fractures in postmenopausal women, especially of the spine and hips.

Eat smart, eat healthy

Nutritional requirements change after menopause. It is important to pay attention to what you are eating, both to provide you with essential nutrients and to avoid putting on weight.

Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Make sure that you eat food with high fibre.

A handful of nuts such as walnuts and almonds contain monounsaturated fats, a significant amount of Omega-3 and have antioxidant properties. Many studies have shown that including a handful of nuts in your diet causes significant reductions in total and LDL (‘bad') cholesterol.

A heart-sparing diet eliminates the intake of ghee, butter, rich sauces and gravies, fatty meats, coconut, whole milk and ice-cream. Avoid deep-fried food. The white of eggs provides protein without fat. Cut down on sugar and salt. Pickles, chips and papads are common sources of excess salt. Avoid them.

Calcium and vitamins

After menopause, a woman requires 1200 mg of calcium per day. Since you cannot get this amount from your diet, it is essential to add a calcium supplement. The tablet should contain 500 mg of elemental calcium along with 250 I.U of Vitamin D3, which helps in the absorption of calcium. A 500 mg tablet should be taken twice a day with food. A multivitamin supplement containing B complex and folic acid is also essential. Folic acid is known to protect the heart.

The author is an obstetrician and gynaecologist practising in Chennai and has written the book ‘Passport to a Healthy Pregnancy'. www.passport2health.in

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