I fully believe that life can be rich, beautiful and fulfilling no matter our age. However, one of the realities of living in a human body is that we all experience physical changes as we get older. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing! They key is to understand the changes and prepare for them as best as we can.
One important change for women is that when we hit our mid-30s, our hormone levels start to decline, particularly estrogen and progesterone. This is the early beginnings of perimenopause, which continues into our 40s.
During this phase of life, we might start to notice the effects of our lifestyle habits in our 20s and 30s catch up with us. Nights of partying and drinking, long hours at work, juggling relationships and family, and perhaps not enough attention paid to rest, relaxation and self-care all accumulate as stress in the body.
For some women, this is a gradual progression, while for others, it can be like waking up one day and feeling like you were hit by a truck! This could look like suddenly gaining weight, feeling extra exhausted, having difficulty sleeping, having a decreased libido, and feeling moody.
Our transition into perimenopause (and beyond) doesn’t have to be a bumpy ride. There are things we can do to help make the transition smooth and easeful.
Manage Your Insulin
In our teens and 20s, most people’s bodies can handle almost anything, from mountains of sugar to heaping plates of pasta. As we age, our bodies don’t have the same tolerance for carbohydrates due to changing hormone levels.Eating too many carbs in our 40s might make us feel sluggish, bloated, crampy and we might be prone to gaining weight.
It's important to eat in a way that's going to manage insulin so that we can lessen the severity of these symptoms – or better yet, try to avoid them. This applies whether you have diabetes or not. All bodies use insulin, which is the hormone that controls our blood sugar. And we all have to be a little more careful as we age.
The best way to keep insulin under control is to limit sugar. This means all forms of sugar, including table sugar, artificial sweeteners, natural sweeteners, and simple carbs like bread, crackers, cookies, and refined grains. The more of these foods that we ingest, the more insulin the body produces.
Eventually, if there’s too much insulin, we end up gaining weight because insulin is a fat-storing hormone. Another consequence of too much insulin is that the body will produce more cortisol, the stress hormone. Insulin and cortisol are closely linked. When cortisol increases due to stress, this increases insulin production. So it’s a vicious cycle.
It’s also important to know that from a breast cancer standpoint, we always want to manage our insulin because cancer cells have 10 times the amount of insulin receptors compared to healthy breast cells. Cancer cells need insulin to grow, so by limiting the amount of insulin in the body, we can limit the potential for cancer cell growth.
Balance Your Plate
One of the best ways to manage insulin is to make sure you balance your plate with tons of veggies for fiber, plus some good quality protein and fat. This combination will help slow down digestion so that insulin doesn’t spike, which slows down the release of glucose into the blood. This will help you feel fuller longer, which can help you avoid excess snacking. This can help you manage your weight as you age.
You should aim to fill half your plate with vegetables. Choose primarily non-starchy varieties like dark leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, bell peppers, tomatoes and mushrooms. There are so many possibilities! Try to eat a variety of different coloured vegetables to ensure that you get a diverse range of nutrients to support good digestion, a robust gut microbiome and overall bodily functioning.
Choose the best quality protein you can and include some at every meal. This can include pasture-raised, grass-fed, wild-caught, and organic meat and fish. It can also include organic and non-GMO legumes.
Add a small amount of healthy fat to your plate to increase flavour and mouth feel as well as satiety. Good options include extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, avocado flesh, coconut oil, nuts, seeds and fatty fish such as salmon.
In addition to eating well, it’s super important to keep the body moving as we age. Aim for 20 to 30 minutes at least 3 to 5 times a week of gentle to moderate exercise such as yoga, pilates, brisk walking, swimming, cycling or resistance training. This will keep your blood flowing, your joints lubricated and your mood and energy elevated. Exercise can also help control weight, reduce inflammation, lower stress and protect the immune system.
Slow Down and Take it Easy
With all the demands we put on our bodies, it’s essential that we give ourselves time to rest and restore. If we’re constantly busy and overburdened, this increases our stress load. As mentioned, stress is a trigger for cortisol, which is closely linked to insulin. Managing stress is an important way to manage insulin.
Try to find some down time for yourself each day, whether it’s reading a book, taking a bath, meditating or doing some gentle stretches. This will pay off in a big way by encouraging your nervous system to come into the “rest and digest” state, which is what we need to promote healing.
For more helpful tips to support you holistically, click here to download my free mini course on the 3 vital steps to thrive after breast cancer!