Staying healthy

  • Health
  • Wednesday, 26 Apr 2006

KEEPING healthy with a positive lifestyle has a significant impact on health. Women in their late 30s and 40s can make lifestyle changes that will lower their risk of health problems when they get older. The perimenopause stage is a good time to pay more attention to health. 

Healthy diet 

A balanced diet that is high in grains, fruits and vegetables with an adequate intake of water, vitamins and minerals but low in fat contributes significantly to good health. The intake of sweets and fatty food should be limited. Fat intake should be less than 30% of daily calories. Women at perimenopause and beyond should be concerned about their diet as cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis are affected by diet. 

The recommended daily consumption of calcium in premenopausal and postmenopausal women is 1,000 mg and 1,500 mg respectively. This can come from leafy green vegetables, calcium-rich dairy products (low-fat or non-fat), calcium-fortified foods and juices. If this is not sufficient, calcium supplements may be used. 

The body’s absorption of calcium is increased by vitamin D, which can be manufactured by your body with about 15 minutes of daily exposure to the sun without any sunscreen, or with the consumption of certain fortified foods like milk, tuna and liver or vitamin D supplements.  


Physical inactivity is a risk factor for many conditions. Exercise is a remedy for many menopausal complaints and helps prevent disease. It can help a person lose weight and maintain the weight loss . It protects against cardiovascular disease and prevents osteoporosis. It gives a person more energy, improves sleep and stimulates the brain’s production of endomorphins, which get rid of negativity and depression, thereby relieving stress. It improves circulation, lowers blood pressure and increases muscle strength. 

If a person is not used to strenuous activity, it would be prudent to check with a doctor before commencing an exercise programme, especially if one is above 40 or overweight. 

Start each exercise session with a 10-minute warm up and at the end, cool down for 5 to 10 minutes. In a good workout, a person will need to exercise at the target heart rate for at least 30 minutes three times a week. A doctor will be able to advice on the target heart rate, which is dependent on a person’s age. 

If one finds difficulty in fitting exercise into his/her schedule, there are things that can be done to be more active e.g. walking rather than driving, and taking the stairs instead of the lift. 

Pelvic floor exercises strengthen the pelvic floor, which is composed of layers of muscle that stretch like a hammock from the pubic bone in the front to the end of the backbone. If the pelvic floor muscles are weak, urine may leak when a person coughs, sneezes or laughs. 

To strengthen the pelvic floor, close up the back passage as if trying to prevent a bowel movement. At the same time, draw in the urethra, as if trying to stop urine flow, and the vagina, as if trying to grip a tampon. Hold for five to 10 seconds. Repeat in sets of five about 10 times a day. 

Weight management 

Weight gain is not due to menopause. As a person ages, the metabolism slows so the body takes a longer time to burn up food. This means that consuming the same amount of food like you did when you were younger would result in weight gain.  

An overweight person is more likely to have cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, raised cholesterol, diabetes, and back problems. 

It would be best not to exceed the weight for one’s height. If one has to lose weight, discuss the matter with a doctor and dietician. A healthy rate of weight loss is 0.5 to 1kg per week. It isn’t advisable to go on crash diets. 


Tobacco causes and increases the risk of many diseases. It is the single most preventable cause of illness and premature death. Women who smoke shorten their lives by five to eight years. The risk of heart disease, osteoporosis and cancer of the cervix and vulva is doubled. The risk of lung cancer is increased 12 times. Smokers also reach menopause up to two years before non-smokers do. Family members exposed to second-hand smoke also suffer. 

Any time is the right time to stop smoking. The earlier smoking is stopped, the faster you will begin to enjoy the improved health. The circulation improves and breathing is easier within three months. The risk of a heart attack is decreased by 50% within a year. The risk of other serious smoking-related diseases drops to that of a non-smoker within a few years.  

There are various smoking cessation techniques and aids e.g. reducing and limiting the number of cigarettes smoked, nicotine gum or patch, anti-depressants, hypnosis and support groups. If a person has difficulty ceasing smoking on his/her own, medical help should be sought. 


Alcohol exerts a greater impact on women than men as their bodies contain less water to dilute the alcohol and the enzyme that digests alcohol is less in women. Alcohol slows reflexes and affects judgement and memory. It also interferes with calcium absorption and bone growth. 

A drink or two a day may be all right. Larger amounts have been associated with menstrual problems, early menopause, damage to heart muscles, high blood pressure and some cancers. Prolonged excessive consumption results in liver cirrhosis, which can cause liver failure and death .  

Reducing stress 

Although the menopause has not been shown to increase stress, many women at this age face situations, which may be stressful, thereby affecting health. There are some coping strategies, which can help reduce stress e.g. deep, slow, abdominal breathing, exercise, meditation, and yoga. It is beneficial to spare some time to relax every day. 

Preventing falls 

It is important to eliminate factors in the environment that can result in falls, thereby reducing the risk of fractures.  

Some of the things that can be done at home to avoid falls include keeping rooms free of clutter, ensuring floors aren’t slippery, installing grab bars and using a rubber bath mat in the tub or shower, avoiding obstacles that you might trip over, and switching on the lights if one gets up at night. 

Some of the things that can be done to avoid falls outdoors include wearing rubber-soled shoes, not walking on slippery surfaces, and using a walker or cane.  


  • Dr Milton Lum is chairperson of the Commonwealth Medical Trust. This article is not intended to replace, dictate or define evaluation by a qualified doctor. The views expressed do not represent that of any organisation the writer is associated with. 

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