Monday, December 28, 2009

Menopause Sucks But Happy New Year Anyway!

Change is always complicated. Whether good or bad, it disrupts everything and demands attention.

It seems fair to classify menopause as mostly "bad" change, since it's never discussed and when it happens all the little things will blow your mind since you will have had NO IDEA what to expect. (Hey! I should write a book called What to Expect When You Are Menopausal!)

But I digress. I really just wanted to say Happy New Year and wish you a fit and healthy 2010. It will be a big year for me, one in which I want to make even more strides on the Fitness side of this journal.


Monday, November 30, 2009

Menopause and (No) Sleep - How I Conquered It

If you've been following this blog, you know that my major menopause complaint was sleeplessness. It's been months of trial and error, but I've finally found what seems to work for me. It requires forethought and was work to get it started, but it's routine now.

The Basics:

  1. I get up and go to bed around the same time every day

  2. Sleeping room is dark, quiet and well-ventilated

  3. No tv in bed (but I do read every night before going to sleep)

The Details That Help:

  1. Exercise - walking, biking, running at least 5 days a week for at least 30 minutes.

  2. Vitamins - I take a multi-vitamin (Emergen-C), and 1000 mg Omega 3 and 1000 IU of D3 every day.

  3. Food - Eat regular meals of healthy food with as few preservatives and additives as possible.

The Secret Element That Made The Difference (For Me):

  1. Calcium and Magnesium. I take multi Calcium (2000 mg), Magnesium (1000 mg), and Potassium (200 mg) every day in the evening. It's recommended to take at bedtime, but I've had better results taking it a couple of hours before bed.

Other things I've tried (like Chinese herbs) didn't do much for sleep, although certainly provided other support for my body in transition. Over the counter preparations like Remifemin didn't do much for me, but didn't harm me. Over the counter estrogen and progestin creams didn't seem to have much effect on me either.

In desperation, I cut out all alcohol (which made me sad because a glass of wine is one of life's joys) but saw no difference in my sleeping. I have now found that I can enjoy a glass of wine or beer with no problem (but more leads to sleeplessness.)

The calcium product that I am using is called Mega Food Calcium, Magnesium & Potassium and can be taken with or without food. It was highly recommended by the expert at my local organic food store. I think it rocks.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

What is a Hot Flash Anyway?

Basically, a hot flash is a brief feeling of intense warmth and sweating. It can be brief or extended in duration and intensity. While there can be other medical reasons for hot flashes, we'll concentrate on menopause-related hot flashes.

A hot flash begins as a sensation of intense warmth in the upper body, and can be followed by skin redness (flushing), drenching perspiration, and for some women, a final cold, clammy feeling. Typically, these symptoms begin at the head and spread downward toward the neck and chest, but they can also feel like they rise upward from the chest. Hot flashes can last from 30 seconds to 5 minutes, with the average being 4 minutes.

Hot flashes can be accompanied by other uncomfortable sensations, such as heart palpitations, a pressure feeling in the head, or feelings of dizziness, faintness or weakness.

Researchers do not know exactly what causes hot flashes. Current theories suggest that most hot flashes are due to a menopause-related drop in the body's level of estrogen. This drop affects the hypothalamus, an area of the brain that regulates body temperature. In a hot flash, the hypothalamus seems to sense that your body is too hot even when it is not, and tells the body to release the excess heat. One way the body does this is to widen (dilate) blood vessels, particularly those near the skin of the head, face, neck and chest. Once the blood vessels return to normal size, you feel cool again.

Hot flashes affect up to 85% of women during the years immediately before and after menopause. Hot flashes can begin as early as two to three years before the last menstrual period and can last for six months to as long as 15 years after the final period, but the average is two years.

Some women have only a few episodes a year, while others have as many as 20 episodes a day. Hot flashes occur in women who experience natural menopause, as well as in women who undergo surgical menopause because their ovaries have been removed or because they take medications that lower estrogen levels.

In most women who undergo natural menopause, hot flashes generally subside within 2 to 5 years after the last menstrual period. In a small number of women, however, hot flashes can continue for 8 to 15 years after the last menstrual period. There is some evidence that women who go through menopause due to surgery may have more severe hot flashes for more years than women who go through natural menopause.

8 Ways to Beat Hot Flashes

If you are reading this, you are probably either menopausal or know someone who is. Either way, it sucks to be you right now. But you are a member of a club -- albeit unwillingly -- and we can learn from and help each other.

According to the National Institute of Health, a hot flash is a sudden temporary onset of body warmth, flushing and sweating. The intensity and frequency of hot flashes varies greatly from woman to woman. The Mayo Clinic reports that 75% of menopausal and post menopausal women experience hot flashes.

But the cause(s) of hot flashes remain somewhat mysterious. There are a multitude of theories to explain what causes them, but no single definitive answer. The most widely accepted theory is that hot flashes are caused by a deficiency in circulating estrogen as a result of declining ovarian function. Which is nice to know, but doesn't make a bit of difference if you are having one.

While every woman is different, here are 8 tips that may make lessen hot flashes or at least make them more bearable. Remember that more gentle therapies (like vitamins and herbs) may take 4-6 weeks for effects to be felt.

  1. Research suggests that foods rich in phytoestrogens (like soy) may have some benefit for reducing hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause. These plant hormones have weak, estrogen-like effects. It's best that you get your soy from foods rather than from supplements -- there are other benefits to foods containing phytoestrogens, like fiber and vitamins. Foods that contain soy include tofu, tempeh, miso, soy milk, and whole soybeans (edamame). With a bit of thought, it's easy to work more soy into your diet. Use soy milk for smoothies, on cereal, or in a hot beverage. Eat boiled edamame as a snack, have miso soup before a meal, and include tofu as a protein source once or twice a week.

  2. Black Cohosh is a popular choice for the reduction of hot flashes, although little empirical evidence exists about whether it is effective for menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats. According to the North American Menopause Society, despite the lack of definitive evidence, "it would seem that black cohosh is a safe, herbal medicine.”

  3. Natural progesterone has been found to provide relief for hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause for many women. It is available in over-the-counter cream, compound prescription cream or capsule, and in traditional prescription forms. Use according to directions - you already know how powerful hormones are!

  4. A study published in Gynecologic and Obstetric Investigation found that Vitamin E may help reduce the occurrence and severity of hot flashes and night sweats during menopause. The average dose is between 400 and 800 IUs daily. If you are diabetic or have high blood pressure, consult your physician first.

  5. Exercise at least 30 minutes every day. You can walk, run, ride a bicycle, or do another activity. You can break this into two 15 minute segments if needed. Try to avoid exercise within 3 hours of going to bed to help prevent insomnia and night sweats.

  6. Avoid dietary triggers that can start a bout of hot flashes. These include alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, aged cheeses and spicy foods. If your hot flashes seem to be worse after consuming these foods, try eliminating the offenders and see if the hot flashes subside.

  7. Drink a glass of cool water at the beginning of a hot flash. This seems to lessen discomfort in some women.

  8. Wear natural fiber clothes year round that allow your skin to breathe. Try dressing in layers so you can remove items as needed to maintain comfort.

Update: I don't mind if you want to add a link to your products by commenting here, but you have to take the time to actually make a comment that will be of interest to readers or it won't be published.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Yet Another Menopause Update

Aahhh, menopause. What is there to say? If you think menstruating is the "curse", wait til you try stopping.

It turns out that the first post that I did helped me to focus on what's going on to set a plan manage symptoms. The second update let me see how I kept to or failed in planning. I think the secret is to only identify a few things at a time so that they are more manageable.

So here's my two cents, and my own experience. Follow up to plan:

1. Menopause - I can report that it still sucks. Hot flashes come and go, currently in a "come" phase. I'm boiling hot in head and chest, freezing everywhere else. I have noticed that they are mostly triggered by stress or annoyance. On the plus side, it forces me to remember to breathe deeply and not feel stressed or annoyed. Still getting bad headaches, about every 28 days.

2. Sleep - still my number one preoccupation. Slight improvement with a trial-and-error combination of approaches. More details separately.

3. Exercise - I'm getting plenty because I am walking 2 - 4 miles six days a week, and running at least a mile four days a week. I know this is a good thing, but I haven't lost any weight as a result. So disappointing.

4. Health - Remembering to wash hands very frequently, and so far not even a cold. This is very unusual for me. Also got a regular flu shot (but not H1N1.)

5. Eating - I eat pretty healthy, and not too many processed foods. But I still need to lose 100 pounds and it seems impossible.

I don't think I need a new plan at present - just keep working to reduce severity of menopause symptoms and maintain (and improve) overall health.

If you are just starting this menopause phase, I can tell you that I spent a year in panic as each new symptom started and seemed overwhelming. I'm more practical about it now, but managing menopause is a little bit like gardening - it takes time and patience to get to the end of the season.

How are YOU doing?


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

To Sleep, Perchance to...Sleep

I know my crappy little blog doesn't have many readers, but are all of you SLEEPING? (Not now, I mean in general. Although I wouldn't mind a comment or two if you wake up.) Sleep is so important that's it's considered a form of torture to keep someone awake.

I am really tired by 5:00 PM, and sort of speechless by 8:00 PM. I'm not that much fun in the evening, and if we do go out I'm looking forward to going home by 9:00. I've got to find a solution here. I think that there probably isn't one answer, and that everyone has to try and find the right combination for herself.

I feel like I'm on the right track with the herbal formula prescribed by my doctor of Chinese Medicine, but I'm not quite there yet.

Next up: adding more calcium and magnesium. Studies seem to show that it can be an effective sleep aid. I'll be adding 1500 mg of Calcium Citrate (in a divided dose), 1000 mg of Vitamin D3, and 750 mg of Magnesium.

I'll ask again: if you have trouble sleeping, what works for you?


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Another Short Update

The time just flies, huh? So another update is due.

1. Menopause. Sucks worse than ever. Back to getting a monthly migraine and bloating for which there are no descriptive words. It would seem impossible for any one human body to retain so much water without exploding. Recently I started getting hot flashes of intense intensity (yep. that's how they feel. don't question me.) Drenching, must-mop-my-face-like-a-day-laborer-because-otherwise-I-would-be-blinded hot flashes. Followed by what I can only call cold flashes where I am suddenly freezing and need a blanket. It's like I have no internal temperature regulator.

2. Sleep. Needs its own line now. It's been months since I had a full night's sleep. It's so bad that even hot flashes take a back seat. No problem falling asleep, but staying asleep? Impossible. Some nights I just wake for a few minutes every hour or so, but other nights I may be awake for hours. I have tried almost every single trick in the book:

a. I go to bed and get up about the same time every day.
b. I ease into sleep time with a calming routine.
c. I drink only one caffeine drink a day, in the morning.
d. I exercise 5-6 days per week.
e. No work in the evenings.
f. No tv in bed.
g. If I'm awake for more than an hour, I get up and read in another room.
h. Sleeping room is dark and well ventilated.
i. I use a C-PAP machine for sleep apnea, without fail.
j. OTC herbal sleep remedy made no difference.
k. Remifemin made no difference.
l. Custom Chinese herbs do not seem to make a difference, even tweaking the formula.

The only thing I haven't done is give up my single glass of wine or beer with dinner. *sigh* If that does the trick I will want to jump off a building. I'm stubbornly resisting it.

3. Fitness. Foot injuries have not really healed, but I'm running when I can and walking otherwise. Most days. When I'm not incredibly lazy.

Follow up to plan:

1. Went to the doctor for a full check up (good health, keep exercising, lose some damn weight.) I asked about my crap immune system and was told that I was fine and to wash my hands more. Damn if that didn't make a huge difference. I now consciously try to remember not to touch my nose or mouth after touching lots of public things (like being on the subway) until I can wash my hands.

2. If I'm not running, I try to at least walk for a couple of miles every day. It still seems to aggravate the foot injury so I'm trying to find the right mix.

3. Ran in another 5K with my Skull n Bones team in July. I didn't want to, didn't feel trained for it, but I did it. And because I am stubborn, I ran every step. I was the dead last finisher. (And the world didn't end, and I didn't die of embarrassment, contrary to my expectations.)

4. Eating Plan. So NOT up to speed on this. I have no idea what my blockage on this topic is.

So NEW plan:

1. Owlette must SERIOUSLY lose weight. Perhaps a full time food-nanny?

2. Keep up exercise program. The latest is that for the relay marathon next year, the team has decided that we will all shift one position. That means I start with a 10k (6 miles) run. Last year my cousin did it with a sprained ankle (obtained in mile one.) So there isn't a lot of room for excuses.

3. Exhaust (ha ha) all avenues re: sleep - so important! - before resorting to prescribed western pharmaceuticals.

Does anyone have any tricks to share for sleep issues? I'm all ears.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Short Update

How has so much time gone by? So brief updates are in order:

1. Menopause. It still sucks, but is slightly more manageable post D&C. I had a period, and while it lasted longer than usual there were no cramps to speak of. Still getting the occasional vicious headache, usually around the time I would get my period. I started taking some herbal supplements and using some over-the-counter estrogen/progesterone cream but stopped both. More on that in a dedicated post.

2. Fitness. Good and bad. Ran in that relay marathon, had a blast and finished with my best time ever. See what fear can do? I got to be the one to cross the finish line and everyone was applauding and my team and family were all there and it was AMAZING. But... I ended up with shin splints and plantar fasciitis so have been sidelined. And bizarrely, I miss running. I've had a crap immune system for the past couple of months, so between the injuries and being sick I have not been able to keep up with running or bicycling.

The plan:

1. Full general checkup to see why my immune system is so weak.

2. Back to running/cycling in such a way as to not aggravate injuries.

3. Run in a 5K in July with my relay team.

4. Figure out how to STAY on an eating program that will result in healthy, consistent weight loss. (It might be easier to run a MARATHON than do this.) I don't aspire to look like I did at 25, but I *would* like to be at a healthier weight. I mean, I know HOW to do it, but the actual DOING is hard.

What do YOU do to stay on track?


Sunday, April 5, 2009

Fat or Fit? Exercise. Ugh.

So with this relay marathon coming up, I have been thinking a lot about exercise.

Plus size fitness programs are unique, in that anyone can work out, regardless of their current size. A women’s exercise program that is beyond your current level of physical capability will be frustrating, hard to stick with and could cause you to injure yourself. It’s really important to walk the fine line between pushing yourself to improvement and going overboard to injury and quitting.

Any women’s exercise program should include aerobic, anaerobic, relaxation and stretching. Each type of exercise works together to provide benefits, and to increase fitness and enjoyment of physical movement.

Aerobic exercises get your heart pumping. The goal is to move rhythmically, gradually increasing the pace until you breathe hard, but not to the point of breathlessness.
Anaerobic is muscle building activity. Depending on your current condition, even these toning exercises may make you breathe a little harder and that’s okay. You can alternate aerobic with anaerobic activity or choose a session that includes both.

Relaxation techniques come in different varieties. If you often feel nervous, anxious or worried, you may want to consider a women’s exercise program that includes yoga. Yoga is anaerobic activity that allows you to stretch your muscles and tendons. It will increase your flexibility and improve your posture. Because it is a low-impact activity, it does not put excess stress on your joints.

Stretching warms up your muscles, joints and tendons prior to exercise, and cools them down afterwards. It makes it easier to complete your exercise goals, helps prevent injury, and just feels good.

For plus size fitness, the goal is to improve your physical health, strength and endurance. Over the short-run, you will see your energy levels and your mood improve. You can expect to sleep better and generally feel that the quality of your life has improved. Over the long-run, other benefits will become noticeable – things like an improved immune system, greater physical endurance, and a more fit body.

Low-impact exercise is important for plus size fitness. Low-impact aerobics include walking, biking and swimming. High-impact activities include jumping, running, and jogging. While these activities are harder on your joints, they tend to improve your cardiovascular fitness buy getting your heart rate up. A mix of low impact and high impact exercise, like alternating biking with jogging, offers a good plan.

Using the buddy system can help you be successful. If you and a friend decide to begin a women’s exercise program together, you are more likely to attend on a regular basis. You can support each other. Usually, at least one of you will “feel” like working out and can talk the other into doing it.

Remember to set small personal goals. Goal-setting helps keep you focused on “why” you are doing this in the first place. You may have learned that your blood pressure is too high or your blood glucose levels are getting close to the level of type II diabetes. You may just want to “feel” better, but try to think of something that you want to be able to do next month. For example, climb a flight of stairs without getting out of breath or bicycle for three miles without resting.

Plus size fitness is possible, and imperative. It doesn’t matter what you weigh, how old you are, or what size you wear. With just a little effort, you can be successful.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Owlette's Mysterious Giveaway - Passing On the Goodness

I've been catching up on reading blogs and checking out some random ones that I found from interesting tweets on the Twitter. One caught my eye today, and sparked my sense of mystery.

Maritzia's Thoughts offered a giveaway for the first 7 people to comment on her post. The rules are that I have to do the same thing here. So, the first 7 people to comment on this post will get something from me with the following caveats:

  • I make no guarantees that you will like what I make.
  • What I create will be just for you.
  • It’ll be done during 2009.
  • You have no clue what it’s going to be.

The catch is that you have to post this in your blog (and consequently create things for others) if you want me to do something for you! The possibilities are wide open. Won't it be fun to make something for a random stranger?

So, go ahead and comment! I’m waiting with bated breath to see if I even *have* 7 readers.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Fitness: Getting Started or, Yes You Can

Yes, getting started is hard.

You are overweight and discouraged. Dieting is hard enough. And now you are menopausal on top of everything else. It's more important than ever to get an exercise program together that you can live with.

You don't have to run a marathon, or swim the English Channel, or ride a bike from Maine to Florida. Even though you already know what to do, I'll spell it out for you:

What you do have to do is move your body every day.

You can start with easy steps - literally - by simply walking more in your everyday life. Take one extra flight of stairs, get off the bus two blocks before your stop, park your car at the far end of the lot, walk around the block after lunch, walk to someone's office instead of calling.

Once you start doing these things, you'll find that it seems ridiculous to wait for the elevator for a few flights of stairs, to wait for the local bus when you can walk, to fight for a close parking spot at the store, to eat a meal without moving afterward, or to waste time on the phone when you can get your questions answered quickly with the added benefit of personal interaction.

Every little bit helps in getting you started to the more fit, more healthy you.

As a certain athletic apparel company notes: Just Do It.

My Menopause Symptoms - and Yours

I'm like a walking textbook of menopause symptoms. *sigh* But here's the thing, and it's really important - why didn't I know what the symptoms were before they started? Because no one talks about it, that's why.

Here is a basic list of symptoms, culled from various places around the web:

  • A change in the pattern of periods. Shorter or longer, lighter or heavier, more or less time between periods - you know your body and when there is a change. You may still be able to get pregnant at this time, due to the irregularities
  • Hot flashes and/or night sweats. Sometimes these can be followed by a chill
  • Trouble sleeping through the night, with or without night sweats
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Mood swings, feeling crabby and crying spells, which may be caused by lack of sleep
  • Quick, unreasonable anger
  • Feeling mixed-up, confused or unfocused
  • Short term memory problems
  • Hair loss or thinning on your head
  • Hair growth on your face
  • Racing heart
  • Low energy
  • Breast tenderness
  • Headaches
  • Dry eyes
  • Itching
  • Joint and muscle aches and pains, especially in the morning
  • Change in sex drive
  • Bladder control problems

I'm not a medical professional, but I think it's reasonable that if you are experiencing any one symptom that is interfering with your life; and/or at least three of the above, that you go to the doctor and begin to discuss how to handle this change in your body.

As always, our gal Oprah has compiled lots of the newest info on her website She's a lifesaver, right?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I'm Running in a Relay Marathon!

Here's my big secret - I committed to running in the Jersey Shore Relay Marathon. We have a team of five and each of us runs one leg of the 26-mile-385-yard course.

I'm running the shortest leg - 3.41 miles - and I'm terrified that I won't be able to do it and will humiliate myself. In fact, just writing this brought on a hot flash.

Our team has only two rules:

1. No walking
2. No one over 75 can pass you

That shouldn't be too hard, right? But I have seen some fast 75+ year olds, so I'm a little worried. Seriously - I don't want to have to trip a senior citizen.

I'm less nervous when I know what to expect. So here is my plan:

1. Add .25 mile every week so that I'm running 4 miles at the beginning of April.
2. Walk or bicycle whenever possible to increase endurance.
3. In early April, go down and run my part of the course.

It feels like a HUGE deal to me to be doing this. I suspect I'm being just a wee bit dramatic, but...

Every journey of 1,000 miles starts with a single step, right? (Repeat ad nauseum)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Post Surgery + Fitness Update

Wow - it's taken longer to recover from surgery that I thought. Still bleeding eight days later, but feel more like myself. I can't tell what was surgery after-effects and what's plain old hormones though!

On the fitness front, it's just too icy in NYC now for me to run. I just made an attempt, but Beloved and I had a major blowout on the corner. She thinks it's just fine; I was slipping and sliding. When I attempted walking in the street (a garbage truck was blocking ALL traffic from the street) she had a huge hissy fit.

And I just don't have the patience I used to for dealing with drama. I don't understand why SHE can't understand that if I run a couple of miles and then have to walk home for another mile over ice, that makes me uncomfortable. I am tired after running and it's also only 23 degrees, so picking my way home over the icy patches will be COLD as well as slippery. We just have to do our running separately, I guess.

And now I'm mad at her for wrecking my workout. When did I give her all that power? I think this temper thing (which is not normal for me) is one of the worst aspects of the change.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

This Is Not For The Squeamish

As if menopause has not been smacking me around enough, I'm having a D&C tomorrow. From eMedicineHealth:

The dilation and curettage procedure is called a D&C. The D stands for dilation, which means enlarging. Curettage (the C) means scraping. Together, this procedure involves expanding or enlarging the entrance of a woman's uterus so that a thin, sharp instrument can scrape or suction away the lining of the uterus and take tissue samples.

Scrape the inside of my uterus? Yuck and gross. Makes me feel like a clogged drain and you *know* what that looks like when you start pulling the gunk out.

Intellectually I know that this is a relatively simple procedure, and that it will help with excessive bleeding and cramps. But emotionally I feel sort of wrecked. I suspect it's a function of hormones running amok, but still... I'm all out of proportion nervous. The risks are not excessive, but I'm always leery of anaesthesia.

I'm also kind of pissed off at my body. I've taken pretty good care of my reproductive organs and don't understand why they are treating me so badly right now.

It doesn't help that I haven't slept for the whole night for weeks, and that I have a headache today and random hot flashes for no damn reason. I suspect I'm not alone in feeling betrayed (by my body), confused (hormone-induced fogginess), and scared (it is SURGERY after all) but why doesn't anyone ever tell you this stuff or talk about it?

UPDATE: The surgery was not really all that bad, actually. Thank goodness I feel that way since it was a giant FAIL due to an uncooperative cervix and I have to do it all again.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Happy New Year!

Just a quick post to say Happy New Year! I was so busy working at the end of the year, and figuring out what I want in 2009 that I had no time (or inclination) to post.

Lots of ups and downs with nasty menopause symptoms; they sure take an emotional toll. I'm working on taking it all in hand and developing a coping plan, but more on that later.

On the Fitness Front I'm still plugging away at fitness-building exercise. And it's still hard. But I have a plan there, too.

But for now, all the best for 2009 in health, fitness, and happiness.