Fortunately, many of the signs and symptoms associated with menopause are temporary. Take these steps to help reduce or prevent their effects:
• Cool hot flashes. Get regular exercise, dress in layers and try to pinpoint what triggers your hot flashes. For many women, triggers may include hot beverages, spicy foods, alcohol, hot weather and even a warm room.
• Decrease vaginal discomfort. Use over-the-counter water-based vaginal lubricants (Astroglide, K-Y) or moisturizers (Replens, Vagisil). Staying sexually active also helps.
• Optimize your sleep. Avoid caffeine and plan to exercise during the day, although not right before bedtime. Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, guided imagery and progressive muscle relaxation, can be very helpful. You can find a number of books and tapes on different relaxation exercises. If hot flashes disturb your sleep, you may need to find a way to manage them before you can get adequate rest.
• Strengthen your pelvic floor. Pelvic floor muscle exercises, called Kegel exercises, can improve some forms of urinary incontinence.
• Eat well. Eat a balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains and that limits saturated fats, oils and sugars. Aim for 1,200 to 1,500 milligrams of calcium and 800 international units of vitamin D a day. Ask your doctor about supplements to help you meet these requirements, if necessary.
• Don't smoke. Smoking increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, cancer and a range of other health problems. It may also increase hot flashes and bring on earlier menopause. It's never too late to benefit from stopping smoking.
• Exercise regularly. Get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most days to protect against cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and other conditions associated with aging. More vigorous exercise for longer periods may provide further benefit and is particularly important if you're trying to lose weight. Exercise can also help reduce stress.
• Try yoga. Preliminary studies show that yoga — an exercise regimen that involves controlled breathing, posing and meditation — may be effective in decreasing the number of hot flashes in perimenopausal women. Yoga classes are often offered at health clubs or through community education programs. Sign up for a class to learn how to perform yoga postures and breathing correctly.
• Schedule regular checkups. Talk with your doctor about how often you should have mammograms, Pap tests, lipid level (cholesterol and triglyceride) testing and other screening tests.