February Is National Heart Month

February 28, 2014 by StephanieBender

With February being ‘National Heart Month,’ let’s hone in on what you can do to keep your muscles toned — including the most important muscle of all, your heart. If just the word exercise makes you feel like you want to lie down, don’t worry. There are ways to get going gently with regular activity to avert the blues, boost your alertness and keep your heart healthy.

The connection between muscle (including your heart) and brain becomes even more critical during menopause than it has been in your entire life. Study after study shows that mature adults who are active not only live longer, with lower incidence of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, but they also report greater satisfaction with life and less depression. If exercise were a pill or a potion, it would be hawked as a powerful health solution, but it doesn’t have to cost a cent. It provides longevity, a brighter mood, more restful sleep and possibly even a revved-up sex drive. Regular activity today reduces your likelihood of a heart attack in the future. With claims like these, we’d probably all rush out to get whatever it was that could deliver these robust benefits. It’s always available, yet many of us let boredom or inertia get in the way of exercising, or we claim that we can’t find the time.

Which statement most closely reflects how you feel about exercise?

• I exercise only sporadically. I’ll stick with an exercise program for a while, but then I slack off.
• Exercise is a burden and a bore, and I hardly ever do it.
• I spend time thinking that I should exercise and then feel guilty because I don’t.
• I force myself to exercise, but I don’t enjoy it and I spend the entire time wanting it to be over.
• I’ve been doing the same kind of exercise for a long time, and I am bored with it now, but I don’t feel motivated to make a change.

You probably know all of this, but just in case you need a bit of a refresher, there are several reasons (including heart health) why you’ll want to make regular exercise part of your routine, as essential as eating, sleeping, drinking water and bathing.

Although we tend to worry more about breast cancer than other diseases, heart disease causes more deaths in women every year than breast, ovarian and lung cancer combined. One in four women dies from heart disease, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Estrogen has a protective effect on the heart, and the loss of this effect ups the risk for heart disease. Exercise offers a simple and achievable way to help counteract this risk. In a study of 27,000 women who took part in the Women’s Health Study, researchers analyzed heart disease risk factors and exercise levels. They found a 40 percent reduction in heart attack and stroke between the highest and lowest exercise groups. The highest exercise group took part in five or more hours of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking per week. The lowest exercise group had less than one hour of physical activity per week.

Exercise also helps you slim your hips and build up your hippocampus. It builds more muscle, which burns more calories than fat. Even moderate exercise boosts your metabolism, helps your clothes fit better, spikes your energy and alertness, and helps ward off bouts of teariness or anxiety. Another exercise bonus: It increases the size of your hippocampus, the brain structure that is essential to memory formation.

Exercise means better rest. If you’re exercising at night in bed by tossing and turning, try moving around more during the day to smooth out your sleep patterns. As part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, researchers analyzed a representative sample of more than 2,600 adults of all ages. Just over 20 minutes of exercise, or 150 minutes a week, was associated with a 65 percent improvement in sleep quality and less daytime sleepiness. Maybe you’re caught in that nasty cycle of feeling too fatigued to exercise because you sleep so poorly at night. Today is the day you can begin to reverse that trend, even if you start with just ten minutes of walking.

Your brain rewards you for your exercise efforts, big and small, by releasing endorphins, the body’s natural pain relievers. The endorphin payoff also includes a feel-good sensation, appetite modulation, release of sex hormones and a boost in your immune response. Even light activity/ exercise, helps. In a population study of more than forty thousand people, Norwegian researchers found that light activity — defined as any activity not leading to being sweaty or out of breath — was associated with significantly fewer depressive symptoms. Lots of women really like the part about not getting sweaty. Try a 10-minute morning walk. You’ll up your heart rate and metabolism, increase your blood flow and energy and feel more positive and alert.

A few more ideas; enlist a friend, sister, cousin, coworker, or neighbor to take a regular walk, and make a standing date. Knowing that someone is counting on you makes it harder to put off exercising. And don’t forget about the support you can get from a nonhuman exercise buddy. If you have a dog, add an extra walk — your pet will love you for it. No dog and don’t want to adopt one? You may have neighbors who wouldn’t mind at all if you took their pup for an extra stroll.

Dancing is a terrific exercise! If you’re not a natural exerciser (I’m not!), try this: Put on just one fast song that you love and dance to it in the privacy of your home. You’ll bump your heart rate and give yourself the awareness, for just a moment, of how good it can feel. It may just prompt you to do it again.

You’ll do your body (including your heart) and your spirit a favor when you try some of these ideas on staying active. Keep an open mind and remember that you don’t have to sign on to any activity forever. Try one activity for a week and see how you like it. Reward your exercise effort at least once a month with a small bouquet of flowers, a new book, a movie, a pedicure — something that reinforces the good feelings you get from exercise. Experiment, have fun, seek company and I’ll guarantee you’ll like the way you look and feel. And, most importantly, your heart will benefit too!

 

The Key To Surviving A Hectic Holiday

February 28, 2014 by StephanieBender

As we find ourselves in the holiday season, too many of us find that we are in a time of year when rushing around with too much to do is commonplace. We are working, running errands, dropping off kids and grandkids (even dogs at ‘doggy daycare’) all the while answering cell phones with computers blinking at us in the background. It’s exhausting!

If we listen, life’s messages to slow down purposefully, meditatively takes on new meaning during this time of year. Let’s use it as an opportunity.

So often, we women focus on everyone else’s needs, neglecting our own and being unfaithful, in a sense, to ourselves. Finding and connecting with your spiritual core is both intensely personal to your beliefs, needs and outlook as well as deeply necessary for strength and replenishment. We need to find time every day to stop, detach momentarily from the hectic pace of ticking things off the to do lists, and take part in a relaxing or meditative activity.

With everything we have to do, one might think that finding time for meditation is impossible. Here are three things to remember about daily meditative time:

• It doesn’t have to take hours. Try meditation for just three to five minutes at a time.

• You can create your own meditative moments, in the style and at the time that pleases and suits you. This is not someone else’s scripted protocol.

• Quiet, meditative time is just as important to your health as good food, rest and exercise.

Where and when you choose to take this time is up to you. I frequently hear, “I can’t turn off the chatter in my mind.” If a thought or worry threatens to intrude on your few moments of peace, picture yourself placing those thoughts into a box labeled NOT NOW. Remember, your meditation doesn’t have to be silent if you don’t want it to. Is there a genre of music that helps you connect with the part of your being that is joyful and creative? Try playing it while keeping the volume fairly low and let your mind relax and declutter. Or, imagine (just for 1 to 2 minutes) sitting on a beach alone while you count the waves slowly washing in to the shore.

Women often say flat out, “I can’t do this.” Some say that they can’t shut off the noise in their minds, or that this kind of quiet time makes them feel anxious or perhaps even sad. It may seem a bit scary at first, to take this absolute time for yourself, brief as it may be, to listen to the language of the spirit. Remember that there are no shoulds when it comes to experiencing a meditative time — simply making the decision to stop for a few minutes every day is healthy and restorative. If you find yourself wrestling with feelings of sorrow or nervousness during a more quiet time, practice simply taking a few deep breaths. Observe what you are feeling without trying to judge the emotion or make it go away.

If you are the type of person who keeps very busy, so much that a few unscheduled moments become unsettling, you may want to take this as your cue that you need more, not less, of this kind of uninterrupted, tranquil interlude.

Meditative time recharges our commitment to our health and renews our focus on the spirit. As a daily habit, meditation allows a reflective, thoughtful, or even prayerful time — whichever is most comfortable and familiar to you — that subtly shifts you from rushing around to a more deliberate way of thinking about what you are doing and why. When you meditate, you replenish the well that allows you to flourish in the fullness of all your experiences, both the positive and the not so great.

The holidays can be (and frequently are) hectic with finding the perfect gift for someone else. It’s time we consider giving ourselves the gift of learning the language of the spirit — our spirit. Happy Holidays!

Breast Cancer Awareness and Football: They Go Hand in Hand

February 28, 2014 by StephanieBender

Female news anchors wore pink dresses and male news anchors wore pink ties on October 1, marking the beginning of breast cancer awareness month. The color pink is everywhere; even in the professional ranks of football players, sporting pink shoes, pink gloves, pink sleeves on pro football uniforms, even pink ribbons on footballs, maybe even pink underwear… you get the idea. Pink ribbons appear on sides of buildings, and billboards while pink cupcakes are the featured bakery items. And, campaigns for breast cancer walks begin, even though most of them don’t take place until the following summer. Within the past year Angelina Jolie’s decision to undergo a bilateral mastectomy made national news. The awareness and importance of breast cancer detection and treatment has grown by leaps and bounds. WebMD reports that “For menopausal women, the awareness of breast cancer risks are of even greater importance.” They go on to state, “The rates of many cancers, including breast cancer, do increase with age.” However, published early online October 4, 2013 in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, it was noted that researchers from the American Cancer Society have found that walking at least seven hours per week is associated with a 14 percent lower risk of developing breast cancer after menopause.

Although football and breast cancer make strange bedfellows, some of the principles of football apply to us as menopausal and postmenopausal women. We need to know our game plan, just as pro players do. For us it includes:

• Having regular mammograms and doing monthly self-breast checks
• Including at least five servings of fruits and veggies daily
• Limiting alcoholic beverages to one per day
• Keeping our weight within “normal” limits
• Exercising regularly

Just as important as the ideas listed above is remembering the camaraderie and support that we have to share with each other. In hearing a dear friend who experienced a bilateral mastectomy in 1991 relay her experience “back in the day,” I realized that things were much different then. Support groups were nonexistent for her. Hotlines to call for information, options and reassurance were nowhere to be found. She was one of the fortunate ones who had friends that rallied around her with visits and emotional support. And, she had the good fortune to be someone who not only survived, but thrived. When I asked her what she thought made the difference for her, she replied, “my positive attitude.”

Yes, attitudes can and frequently do make the difference. As women with “can do” attitudes, we’ve changed so many things in the field of women’s health. And, although this may sound like yawning material, that we’ve all heard before… we all need to take notice and responsibility for our health as we have in the past and will continue to forever.

The Art of Aging Well

February 28, 2014 by StephanieBender

It seems incongruent; menopause and sensuality/sexuality, right? Enter Sharon Stone, the 55-year-old lovely, who recently stated, “It’s not like 50 is the new 30. It’s like 50 is the new chapter.” She went on to say, “We’re a very colorful generation that is leading once again.” She speaks of sexuality and sensuality in the same breath that she addresses the issue of “the art of aging well.” Indeed, she seems to have mastered that art. Aging well is a concept that is foreign to most of us. Certainly, using the word “sensual” in the same conversation with the word “menopause” would be a stretch for the vast majority of our population.

Ms. Stone, openly voiced her opinion regarding her own considerations (past and present) about plastic surgery. Granted, her natural beauty doesn’t hurt and may well position her to discard the idea (for herself) of conforming to the idea that for menopausal women, “the art of aging well,” sounds like pleasant-speak for getting older. It also sounds like a foreign language for almost everyone we know. While her comments regarding herself included the disclaimer that plastic surgery is a very personal decision for each of us to make individually, her remarks were a breath of fresh air and extremely welcome. Perhaps they are even an indication that “change” (not to mention THE CHANGE) is occurring and can be welcomed instead of dreaded. Her reference to us being a colorful generation touches on the fact that our generation has been instrumental in creating change in many arenas. As a matter of documentable fact, we proudly have been, and continue to be, agents of change.

Our generation changed the way America gave birth and gave each of us a voice by insisting that ‘knock out/ drag out childbirth’ was no longer acceptable. We also demanded that PMS be validated and that hormonal imbalances were NOT “all in our heads” or figments of colorful imaginations. As we pressed forward (and continued aging) we coined a new word; perimenopause, the transitional decade of changing hormones. Perimenopause also needed validation and exploration to understand exactly how our bodies and hormonal balances changed gradually, over time. It was not like falling off a cliff, but rather a natural, steady progression that moved us forward towards menopause.

Now, we are hearing from a member of our own “colorful generation,” that the art of aging is (or at least, can be) associated with sensuality/sexuality. What a paradigm shift! We are shifting our thoughts and beliefs from being ‘over the hill’ to moving into a new, promising chapter. A new chapter that we collectively are writing. Sharon Stone’s comments are not only refreshing, but long overdue for all of us to consider and ultimately embrace. And, by embracing this concept; we not only benefit as members of our generation, but for the generations of women that are following in our footsteps.

Understanding Angelina Jolie’s Choices

February 28, 2014 by StephanieBender

Angelina Jolie’s bilateral mastectomy and possible oophorectomy (removal of her ovaries) are shocking headlines in women’s health news. At 37 (soon to be 38), her choices in taking control of her future health have made her a role model for different reasons this time around. In Angelina’s case, a significant risk of breast cancer appears to have driven her very personal decision. However, these choices don’t come easily or without considerations of the consequences that may accompany them. As women, we all make sometimes difficult decisions which affect our health and therefore, the people who love us as well. No one is entitled to question or judge such personal decisions; and such is the case with Angelina Jolie. If Angelina opts for an oophorectomy (removal of her ovaries), she will experience “surgical menopause.” Surgical menopause allows for no gradual transition into menopause.

Our ovaries don’t turn on and off like light switches in the natural course of life. A myth, as inaccurate and dangerous as any that pervades American society, is that women enter menopause as if falling off a cliff. One month we’re fertile, sexual, high-spirited women; the next, we’re changed and no longer fertile, fraught with mood disorders and lacking stamina. The truth couldn’t be more different. Far from falling into menopause, we change gradually, subtly; hormonally physiologically and psychologically over the course of about a decade. Usually, in the transitional decade of our forties, the changes are minute and myriad, but each one makes biological and psychological sense in our evolution towards maturity. Although not well known, one term encompasses the gradual process that takes place (usually from approximately age 40 through 50) in women; perimenopause. The prefix PERI means “about” and I like to think of it as applying in two senses:

• The PERI in perimenopause refers to the issues, events and developments that surround and cluster “about” menopause.
• And, the PERI in perimenopause refers to what the process is all “about”; that is, the full meaning of menopause in the course of human development.
When we transition slowly, naturally into menopause we may experience symptoms such as:
• Diminished libido (sex drive)
• Hot flashes/ night sweats
• Mood changes (which can include irritability, anxiety and depression)
• Insomnia
• Changes in weight/ and body weight distribution
• Memory changes
• Vaginal dryness
• Diminished energy

However, when the ovaries are surgically removed, the “gradual” process doesn’t occur and our body may experience what sometimes is referred to as “hitting the wall.” With surgical menopause, the ovaries are removed and the production of the hormones that they produce is abruptly halted. Given the fact that hormones are our body’s “natural coping chemicals”; and as the list above mentions, this sudden change can affect quality of life issues as well as heart and bone health.

Knowledge is everything. Knowing what roles our hormones play, both physically and psychologically, gives us a “heads up” regarding what we may experience if menopause happens very suddenly, due to surgical menopause. And, we can explore all of our options which of course include the old standbys of diet, vitamins and exercise; but also nontraditional (complementary) as well as traditional options. Remembering that we each make decisions that are intensely personal and private regarding our health care, encourages us to support (certainly not judge) our best friend, sister, co-worker, etc. if their choices are different than our own. There is no “One size fits all” in women’s health, so each of us needs to do our homework and make choices based on what is best for us; knowing that those choices can always change, just like we do.

Menopause: Is There an App to Turn Drab Into Fab?

April 18, 2013 by StephanieBender

In the next five years, 32 million women, the tail end of the baby boom population curve, will begin to sweat. Not in anticipation of some looming, sci-fi apocalypse, but as they reach the transition from perimenopause to menopause, with flushes of heat by day and drenching sweats by night. Add to that dwindling libido, an expanding waistline in spite of a seemingly sparse diet, bouts of weeping, a befogged memory, and a mirror harshly revealing bristly, sprouting chin hairs and once lustrous hair, now a bit drab.

Menopause, isn’t there an app for that yet? End Your Menopause Misery, is the next best thing.

A 2011 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed that a surprising 25 percent of our Neanderthal sisters lived past the age of 40, contrary to earlier evidence of a far shorter lifespan. Anthropologists don’t know if these elderly Neanderthal women went through menopause, but women’s experiences today may not be much different, 40,000 years later. While women throw off down comforters rather than animal skins in the middle of night sweats, this symptom and others are timeless and women continue to experience them with a mix of alarm and confusion.

Escalating dry cleaning bills and outsized loads of laundry are a real, but less discussed aspect of the menopausal transition, as women’s bodies betray them by sweating and leaking, always it seems, at the most inopportune times. The rush of heat to the face and torso in the middle of the day or rivulets of sweat by night can mean discomfort, inconvenience, interrupted sleep and more time spent changing clothes and bedding.

While hot flashes and night sweats were once believed to be a part of vascular problems occurring when women’s hormone levels decline, a review of medical information from 60,000 women who took part in the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study showed that women who had hot flashes early in menopause had fewer cardiovascular events than women who had them late in menopause or not at all. No one understands the exact mechanism behind hot flashes. One theory is that your body’s waning production of estrogen interferes with the function of the hypothalamus, the area at the base of your brain that regulates temperature. Your body heat doesn’t actually spike, but your brain responds as if it did, so the blood vessels underneath your skin dilate in order to cool you down.

Let’s look at other ways to keep your circulation steady that don’t require mopping your brow or changing your sheets. What you had for lunch could have triggered that afternoon outbreak of sweat, just as your dinner can be related to that damp 1:00 a.m. wakeup. Hot foods and spices, as well as alcohol, are notorious for bringing on a rush of heat and sweating in menopausal women.

Remember to eat to stay cool. When you enjoy spicy foods in Thai, Mexican, Indian or other restaurants, eat a smaller portion and balance it with a cooling green salad with cucumbers or a fruit salad with strawberries and watermelon sprinkled with chopped, fresh mint. And, wait until your food cools down a bit before you eat it. Hot flashes can be triggered not only by the heat of spices, but food that is very hot in temperature can also make you break a sweat. Even one cocktail or one glass of wine can bring on a bout of flushing and sweating. Swap out that celebratory toast for sparkling water or juice.

Move to stay dry. Your exercise routine also goes a long way in helping you to control hot flashes and night sweats. “But wait,” you might say. “How does getting sweaty from exercise help me to stop sweating?” Exercise may diminish the surges of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) that occur in midlife. FSH dilates the tiny blood vessels under the skin’s surface. When blood rushes into the dilated capillaries, it feels like the room temperature is 98.6 degrees! Getting your heart rate and circulation up boosts your endorphin level too, you feel better overall. Even moderate exercise appears to help ease the frequency and severity of hot flashes.

Stress worsens hot flashes — as any woman who has felt herself beginning to drip during a high-pressure meeting or in the middle of a (literally) heated conversation knows. When that prickly, hot feeling starts to come on in an intense situation, take slow, deep breaths to keep your stress at bay. Excuse yourself for a restroom break, whether or not you need one, to diffuse the tension.

You can also help yourself with staying cool at night. Keep the ambient temperature in your room cooler. Add a quiet fan on a low setting to help keep the room from getting stuffy, which can trigger night sweats. In addition to a cool room, you may want to try a cooling pillow. They are made with gel-filled beads or crystals that are designed to stay cool during the night.

These simple changes may help you feel less damp and irritated as you go through your days and less prone to waking up in what feels like your own little pool at night.

This article was featured on the Huffington Post. To see the article, click here.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: In Menopause, Can We Have it All?

March 2, 2013 by StephanieBender

Sometimes it’s the mirror that delivers the shock; sometimes it’s a photo. Changes in hair and skin show up during our menopausal transition, often bringing an unwelcome sense that our attractive years are over. This isn’t true.

Comedian Lily Tomlin quips that she needs a “wattlectomy” to correct the midlife folds in her neck. In an episode of The Golden Girls, Dorothy laments new and unwanted facial hair, plaintively telling Blanche and Rose, “One day I woke up, and I had a little beard.” As menopausal women, these quips make us laugh and cringe at the same time.

We can thrive and shine as we go through menopause; it just takes a little effort and some different techniques. Make the commitment right now to swap out the old for some new. You’ll breathe new life into your image in the mirror.

Hair may change due to changing hormonal levels. Our hair is producing less oil now and may not need to be shampooed every day. Try a volumizing shampoo if your hair has become thinner, and add a bit of gel for more body. Most of us do the drill of: shampoo, condition and rinse in rapid succession so we can scramble out of the shower and get on to the next thing. We all need to slow down, and this is one area where we can do it. Instead of the rapid fire approach, put the conditioner in your hair, get out of the shower and wrap your hair in a warm towel. Before you rinse your hair, wait for 10 or 15 minutes while you read a magazine, have a cup of tea, or just sink into a comfortable chair with your feet up. It’s a mini-break that helps your hair and your psyche.

Skin changes in menopause and can be a part of what we don’t like seeing in that “mirror, mirror on the wall.” Less collagen and elastin, which makes our skin pliant, can mean more wrinkles. Some considerations to make those reflections in the mirror more appealing include washing your face with a good, moisturizing cleanser and applying a moisturizer with at least SPF 15 to protect your skin from the damaging effects of the sun. Be sure to apply the moisturizer when you first get out of the shower, while your skin is a bit moist, and the pores in your skin are more open. Along with skin changes, lips can change too. Subtly outline your lips with a soft-colored lip pencil, and add a touch of clear or lightly tinted gloss either alone or on top of your lipstick to accent a lovely part of your face. While some women use lip plumpers to puff up their lips, the ingredients in these products work by irritating the skin on your lips so that they swell slightly in response. Most of us in menopause don’t subscribe to the philosophy that we must suffer to be beautiful, so you can skip anything that makes you feel like you’ve been stung by a wasp!

They say that “the eyes are the window to the soul.” Brighten and wake up your eyes with a bit of matte shadow in a neutral color, such as cream or cocoa, that matches your skin tone. Avoid anything shimmery around your eyes because the sparkle can accentuate wrinkles and lines. You can draw attention to your eyes and brows with just a hint of color that you apply with a brush or soft pencil. This quick, easy eye makeup routine shows off the natural gleam in your eyes while softening the effects of time.

Tend to the rest of your skin, too, by massaging your hands and feet with moisturizer regularly — you increase your circulation and give yourself a few extra moments to unwind. Choose a gentle scrub that soothes you and apply it all over your body with a soft mitt or loofa. Or, make a sugar scrub by filling a plastic jar with natural cane turbinado sugar (found in the baking aisle of the grocery store) and then pouring olive oil over it to soak in and saturate the sugar. After that, use it as a sugar scrub to exfoliate and moisturize your skin while you’re in the shower. If you like the idea of a moisturizer that is inexpensive and easy to apply every day, pick up a spray bottle of olive oil (yes, that too is in the baking aisle of the grocery store) and spray it on your body before you dry off, after your shower. Then, rub it in and pat yourself dry with a soft, fluffy towel. It’s a marvelous moisturizer that very few of us think of using in the bathroom, rather than in the kitchen.

Whether you favor home remedies, minerals, botanicals or other makeup formulas, your most important cosmetic, the one you absolutely can’t do without, is your smile. More than anything you can put on your face, your smile shows the world (and you) that you are relaxed, confident and comfortable with who you are. Consider the words of Bonnie Prudden, the amazing rock climber and fitness expert who lived a vigorous and exciting life until she died at age 97. She said, “You can’t turn back the clock, but you can wind it up again.” Looking and feeling marvelous in menopause doesn’t mean trying to recapture the way we looked in another decade. It does mean winding up the clock again and going forward with radiance and joy, content with who we are.

This article was featured on the Huffington Post. To see the article, click here.

Menopause Blues: Is Depression Getting the Best of You?

March 2, 2013 by StephanieBender

If you’ve found that depression has come along with menopause, you have lots of company. Estimates on the number of women who report feeling depressed in the menopausal years range from 11 to 33 percent, but the numbers may be even higher. Many women may not report their depression or seek help for it but instead try to tough it out. We may feel embarrassed of being depressed, thinking that we have no real serious life issues or crises that merit depression and that we are therefore not entitled to feel the way we do. Remember, none of us have to adapt to a state of tedium.

Hormones can strongly influence these feelings of depression. But, it can be difficult to sort out how much of the blues is due to hormones declining, and how much is the result of life changes that tend to come fast and hard during menopause.

Menopause was once discreetly referred to as “the change of life,” usually in a lowered tone and generally not in mixed company. Remember that “going through the change” doesn’t necessarily have to be all about hot flashes or feeling wistful for times gone by. In my book, “End Your Menopause Misery,” I suggest that we all take stock of our personal and professional relationships. Which support your happiness and which impede it? Deciding to move on or limit your interaction with people who don’t bring anything positive to your life doesn’t have to involve confrontation or acrimony — it means that we make the choice to emphasize the people and things that boost our spirits and make us feel good. Take the time to write down the names of people who are welcome in your life. I did, and I realized that some of the people from my past weren’t on the list. That’s okay. As we move through this part of our lives, we have the opportunity to be more discerning in who we choose to interact with. And that’s a good thing.

We can spend valuable time and energy fighting what we’re feeling or trying to run from sadness, regret or anxiety. Accepting a feeling doesn’t mean it will be there forever. But there may be times when the antidote to stress or despondency is telling yourself that you’re going to live with it for a specific amount of time. You decide how long that will be — the next hour, afternoon, or day — and then you’re going to either set it aside as something that can’t be changed or something you’ll face again when you’re ready.

Another idea: get outside to lift your spirits. Instead of a coffee or lunch date, make a walk date and pick a new venue, a different lake, beach or trail where you can walk and talk. Try the opposite of a power walk occasionally — change the pace and move more deliberately so you can listen, smell, touch and observe what’s around you. Maya Angelou said, “Bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” Go outside and replenish your well as you listen to birdsong, feel the sun pour in, hear the wind rustle or the rain fall and breathe in the scent of the water or flowers.

Not all mood changes in midlife need to disquiet us. We can also feel grateful that the uncertainty and insecurity we may have felt as younger women now gives way to a more reflective and discerning way of regarding the world, and a certain sageness in viewing ourselves. Our wisdom — some hard earned, some gently and slowly acquired over time — can be trusted to serve us well as we experience menopause.

This article was featured on the Huffington Post. To see the article, click here.

Don’t Let Menopause Affect Your Sex Life

January 17, 2013 by StephanieBender

Menopausal straw poll: Would you rather sleep or make love? The majority of women would choose the former (depending on who asked the question, of course), and roughly half of those who claim they’d rather make love might not quite be owning up to the truth.

In the years leading up to menopause, a decline in testosterone, the hormone of desire, paired with the steep drop in estrogen and progesterone, often produces a similarly sharp fall in sexual desire and enjoyment. Decreased blood flow to the genitals slows arousal, and vaginal dryness and burning can make intercourse feel more like sanding than something sensuous. In addition, tissue atrophy in menopause can narrow the vagina, also causing discomfort with sex.

I wrote the book, “End Your Menopause Misery,” to help us get our mojo back the way we want it, while acknowledging that the nature of intimacy can change. But that this isn’t necessarily a negative thing. As women, we are often unsure of where to begin to reignite the spark of desire, feeling wistful, embarrassed or depressed about this change in our sexuality. Fortunately, many menopause-related changes in vaginal tissue are reversible with prescriptions and over-the-counter options to make intercourse more comfortable and pleasurable again. This is a start, but a fully reinvigorated sex life involves heart, mind and body.

I suggest a plan to address all three, beginning with the mouth. Yes, use your mouth to kiss, lick, nibble and so on, of course; but more important, use it to talk with your husband or partner about how you feel. Some of us need guidelines in clearly and honestly communicating with our spouse or partner about our changing needs. It’s okay to say, “I’m not feeling like making love right now.” Remember that women and men may experience a lessening sex drive in midlife. And, that by expressing our own concerns we encourage our partners to express theirs.

Try out a communication activity to do together, with your partner. It will not only help you think through how you’re feeling, but it’s also a way of letting your partner know that you’re actively seeking to increase your sexual enjoyment. Choose a place where you’re relaxed and comfortable, and add any amenities you like: a fire in the fireplace, a shared glass of wine, some candlelight. Take turns reading each question aloud and responding. Be clear with your partner that this is a fun, sexy activity with no right or wrong answers. See what happens!

I PREFER MAKING LOVE:
a. In the dark
b. With the lights on
c. By candlelight

MY FAVORITE TURN ON IS:
a. When you put your arms around me
b. Nuzzling my neck
c. Kissing
d. None of the above, but I really like _______________________.

I LOVE TO MAKE LOVE MOST WHEN:
a. You’re naked
b. You let me undress you, and you undress me
c. One (or both) of us still has some clothes on

You get the idea, right? Now, try it out!

Consider the words of Bonnie Prudden, the amazing rock climber and fitness expert who lived a vigorous and exciting life until she died at age 97. She said, “You can’t turn back the clock, but you can wind it up again.” Hormonal changes do not have to signal the decline of sexual desire or pleasure. The challenge is to remember that this is yet one more stage in our life’s journey. And it is a part of the journey that we can enjoy and savor when we actively pursue changes that enhance “the change.”

This blog post was featured on The Huffington Post. Click here to see the article.

This is not your Mother’s Menopause

November 12, 2012 by StephanieBender

As a family physician, I find that a comprehensive, holistic, and personalized approach to menopause provides the best outcome for my patients. I see many women who are uncertain about how to cope with sleeplessness, depression, low libido, difficulty concentrating, hot flashes, and other signs of hormone imbalance. They worry that menopause marks the beginning of a decline. They want answers but frequently feel overwhelmed about where to begin. End Your Menopause Misery: The 10-Day Self-Care Plan by Stephanie Bender and Treacy Colbert fills a great need with a step-by- step plan to help you sort out what’s best for you. At the end of ten days, you’ll feel like you’ve gained a significant measure of control over your health and well-being.

Millions of women suffer daily from uncomfortable and bewildering hormonal changes associated with perimenopause and menopause, but they don’t have to. Recognizing and proactively managing these symptoms becomes much simpler and more straightforward with End Your Menopause Misery. This concise guide will help you improve your health, quality of life, and relationships.

The powerful motto “one day at a time” applies to this book. Each chapter is devoted to one day, offering specific tips and strategies aimed at easing a particular menopause symptom. Clear and uncomplicated, the plan tells you what to eat, what to avoid, how to find new ways to enjoy being active, and how to think about intimacy with a renewed outlook. The discussion covers everything from restoring sound sleep to lifting your mood, increasing your heart and bone strength, and you’ll find flexible recommendations that let you adapt the approach to suit your lifestyle and preferences.

End Your Menopause Misery also unpacks the issue of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), demystifying the subject and explaining it succinctly. After reading this book, women who choose to explore HRT with their health care provider can begin the conversation with a solid understanding and with confidence that their decision will be well thought out and right for them.

End Your Menopause Misery reassures women that they can not only manage their menopause symptoms, but they can also rediscover their happier, sexier selves. I will be pleased to advise my patients to read this valuable guide to a healthy and happy stage of life.

Fred Grover Jr., MD

Dr. Grover is a board-certified family physician practicing in Denver. His special interests are integrative medicine, anti-aging medicine, bioidentical hormone replacement, mind-body balance and aesthetic dermatology. He spends more time with patients, seeking ways to improve their health through nutrition, exercise and mindful activities before reaching for the prescription pad. He says, “Modern medicine plays a major role in my practice, but if there is a safe, functional, nonprescriptive way to improve a patient’s health, I always offer that first. I also encourage spiritual balance, and healthy lifestyles in my patients’ lives.”