Music: The secret weapon for menopause relief
How to taxi along the Menopause Runway
You may not have heard of the term menopause runway before. But think of it like the sleep runway – the things you do leading up to bedtime that have a significant impact on the quality of your sleep.
Similarly, the things you do leading up to perimenopause/menopause will have a significant impact on how you experience it. This has become very apparent to me in my work with private clients and employers over the past two years.
Women in their 40s and 50s are suffering greatly from menopausal symptoms, as outlined in the ‘PPL PRS Guide to Menopause’. This is being exacerbated by the fact that their underlying health needed improving. Think of it in construction terms – if you build a house on weak foundations, that house is more likely to fall down.
Most of us don’t think about menopause until our 40s or 50s but the menopause runway actually begins in your 30s, with a few small bumps in the road which can set you up badly for a turbulent time in menopause.
Road bumps in your 30s, during the menopause runway:
Changes to our bodies
Our lifestyles may add a pound or so to our weight every year. This particularly happens around Christmas time, and we never successfully lose it. A few pounds lie unnoticed each year, but the cumulative effect of gaining one or two pounds annually from the age of 30, means that by the time you reach perimenopause, you may notice a change to your body shape.
Music licensing company PPL PRS found in a survey that over half of the women who responded (55%) noted weight gain as a symptom when they reach menopause. The way we eat (not just the amount) can also wreck the diversity of our gut bacteria. Weight gain and declining gut diversity can amplify many menopausal symptoms down the line.
Life during our 30s is hectic. We’re juggling working life, home life, relationships, families, social networks etc. The arrival of smartphones has driven bad habits in the evening. Our exposure to artificial blue light from screens means that our Circadian sleep system becomes confused, and this damages our natural sleep quality.
This fact, combined with eating late, drinking alcohol, and too much caffeine, is quietly building a damaging sleep debt throughout your 30s. It’s also a routine of bad habits that won’t help you cope with sleep deprivation in your 40s and 50s – one of the most common symptoms of menopause. PPL PRS found that 73% of women surveyed dealt with troubled sleep as a symptom of menopause.
We live in a very stressful world. Our ancient, evolutionary biology doesn’t know the difference between a stressful commute and being chased by a lion. Lots of things in our modern existence are frequently triggering that fight-flight-freeze survival response. This results in a chronic drip of stress chemicals that have damaging results in the body and brain over time.
We allow stress to become a “normal” part of everyday life in our 30s. We just cope with it and eventually don’t even notice it. This acceptance of stress can interfere with our ability to stabilise our mood in later life. It also begins to drive brain fog and an inability to focus (also linked to our sleep debt).
We were born to move, not sit down all day in front of screens. This lifestyle is colossally damaging to our health. It compromises our digestion, our bowel movements, our calorie burn, our bone density, our musculature, and the critical circulation around our brain and body.
Our activity level can dramatically decline during our 30s due to the increasing demands on our time, and full entry into working life. We use the lift instead of stairs, the car instead of our legs, chairs instead of our feet. These habits also negatively impact all the factors I’ve already listed above.
The good news is, there are menopause runway tools!
There are several tools we can use during the menopause runway to help build rock solid foundations for the rest of our life. Many of them are now referred to as “biohacks” because they naturally hack into our underlying biological responses.
Here are a few examples:
Changes to the body and gut diversity
Adopting a simple fasting habit can help build better nutritional habits, control weight, and boost gut health. We’re not meant to be eating all day and night long. Give your digestive system a break by eating breakfast later and eating dinner earlier. For example, trying to eat within an 8-10 hour window during the daytime has been seen to be very effective for many people.
Getting early daylight exposure is how your Circadian sleep system regulates itself. Step outside as early in the morning as possible. Use dimmer switches in the evening and avoid screens as much as possible. Music is also a superb and simple biohack, because the ears lead to the brain. Listening to calming music in the lead-up to bedtime helps tell your brain it’s safe to be asleep. A critical piece of information that’s required for your ancient biology to know it can go off-duty.
Again music is a highly effective biohack, especially when you synchronise your breathing with it. Slowing your breathing helps calm the nervous system, and when combined with music you love, it will also help boost positive mood chemicals in the brain.
Singing is also an excellent stress buster, particularly because of the extended exhales it requires. During exhales, our stress system is switched off. Learning musical instruments can also help lower stress, as well as boosting cognitive reserve and neuroplasticity (building new connections between brain cells). And if you spend a majority of time at work, listening to the radio at work is another way to get the tunes into your routine.
We now know that gyms are not required for basic wellness. We simply need to stand more often and walk more often, to reap significant benefits (especially when done outdoors in nature). Dancing to our favourite songs also drives brilliant positive effects, both due to the movement but also because of the nostalgia effect relating to the memory of the songs. You can do this alone at home or in an exercise class that plays music.
The way you travel along the menopause runway can put you in the perfect position for take-off into your menopause experience. Think of it as a tuning phase. It’s a period (excuse the menopause pun) when you can embed some really simple, lifelong, habits that will protect you against some menopause symptoms and also a myriad of chronic diseases in later life.
Enjoy your flight.