Life & Living

Health & Fitness

Chantel Heath

INSTAGRAM: @chantelheathfitness

I’m a 41 year old mother of two girls and one French bulldog, and I’m a Personal Fitness Coach. I work one to one with clients aged 18-80, and have additional specialisms in pre and post natal training, GP exercise referral, cancer rehabilitation and pilates. I also run community fitness classes in the Suffolk coastal area.

You’ve probably noticed this being mentioned quite a lot in the press in recent months. If like me, you thought the main issues of menopause were hot flushes and no more periods, you might be wondering what all the fuss is about. You also might be wondering why on earth I’m mentioning it in a fitness column?!

Let me explain. Studies have shown that the hormonal changes that occur affect almost all of the organs and processes in our bodies, some of which can potentially lead to some serious health problems.

The good news is that we can positively impact all of these issues by making healthier lifestyle choices and keeping our bodies fit and healthy.

We are classed as officially reaching menopause when we have not had a period for 12 consecutive months. Although the average age of menopause is 51, perimenopause symptoms can start months or even several years before this.

It’s during this time that our hormone levels start to naturally decline and this is what causes most of the symptoms and potential health issues. The main culprit is oestrogen decline which we now know can put us at increased risk of the following:

Heart disease

This is the number 1 cause of death in women under 75, killing more than twice as many women as breast cancer. Our risk of heart disease increases significantly around the time of menopause. Oestrogen has a protective effect on the heart and blood vessels. When the levels decline, the blood vessels become stiffer and less elastic and our cholesterol levels can increase.


Bone density starts to naturally decrease from around the age of 30, but falling oestrogen levels affect it even more. This leaves us open to breaks and fractures, which could potentially lead to further health issues.

Loss of muscle mass and strength 

Declining oestrogen  also leads to muscle loss. Muscles help to protect our bones and joints, help us balance and to move and function on a day to day basis in general!

Loss of elasticity in our tissues

This is everything from skin and hair, to blood vessels, and ligaments. We already know that this can affect the heart, but it can also affect our joints making movement difficult and painful. 

Increased body fat

Low oestrogen levels are associated with insulin resistance, which leads to increased fat storage, and potentially Type 2 diabetes and obesity.

Cognitive impairment

The brain fog! Oestrogen helps the brain utilise glucose for energy. Lower Oestrogen means that the brain has less energy, with some studies suggesting a 25% drop! This explains the day to day forgetfulness and confusion!

You can see that most of these issues are closely linked and have a knock on effect on each other. But it’s not all doom and gloom! There are lots of things we can do to help offset these negative effects.

So how can we help ourselves?


Aim for at least 150 mins of moderate exercise across the week. This doesn’t necessarily mean going to the gym, anything that elevated your heart rate slightly counts. This will help with heart health, blood pressure, balance, joint health, weight management and supporting bone density. For added bone health, make sure you add in some resistance exercises using either your own body weight, or actual weights


Many doctors specialising in menopause, such as Dr Loiuse Newson, recommend following Mediterranean diet principles. This is high in veg, nuts, beans, cereals, fish and unsaturated fats. It is low in highly processed foods and dairy, and low in salt and sugar. Choosing wholegrain carbs over white, refined carbs such as in white bread, pasta, rice and pizza can help to stabilise blood sugar levels, which can in turn also affect mood.


Good quality sleep, and enough of it is super-important. Aim for a minimum of 7 hours sleep per night and try to avoid using screens immediately before you settle down to sleep as studies have shown this affects your ability to drift off. When we sleep the glymphatic system in our brains removes toxins, sort of like a deep clean. If we don’t get enough good quality sleep this function is impaired. Long term impairment has been linked to an increased risk of neurodegenerative disease such
as dementia.

Sleep (or lack of) also has an impact on the hormones which control our appetite. Even a single night of poor sleep  causes a rise in ghrelin levels, which is the hormone that tells us we
are hungry.


Our brains depend on proper hydration to function optimally.
So if you are already struggling
with the dreaded brain fog, check
your hydration levels!  Water can also help to control our appetite, and is needed for your body to produce the synovial fluid that allows your joints to move freely!

Useful resources