Menopause is one of the major turning points in a woman's life. It is a normal part of the natural aging process, marking the end of a woman's menstrual period and her ability to become pregnant. Natural menopause has occurred when a woman has not had a menstrual period for a full year.

Symptoms of menopause include:

  • Irregular periods
  • Vaginal changes (dryness, itching, pain during sexual intercourse)
  • Hot flashes
  • Night sweats
  • Insomnia
  • Emotional changes (mood swings, changes in sexual interest)
  • Weight gain and slowed metabolism
  • Changes in appearance (thinning hair, dry skin, weight gain)
  • Loss of breast fullness

Hot flashes

Hot flashes are the most common menopausal complaint. They are sudden feelings of warmth, which are usually most intense over the face, neck and chest. Your skin may redden, as if you're blushing. Hot flashes can also cause profuse sweating and may leave you chilled.

To reduce the uncomfortable feelings associated with hot flashes, avoid any hot flash triggers, wear lightweight clothing and dress in layers, use a fan, exercise regularly and keep the bedroom cool when you're sleeping.

Healthy habits during menopause and beyond

Women today can expect to live as much as one third of their lives beyond menopause, but it's important to pay special attention to your health in order to enjoy these years. After menopause, your risk of certain medical conditions increases such as:

A woman may feel healthy since these conditions are often silent and have no symptoms. By taking action now, you can help keep your body healthy and strong for a long time. Here are some suggestions.

Eat right

A healthy diet can lower the risk of developing chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and diabetes. It may help protect against osteoporosis and certain types of cancer.

To help prevent osteoporosis, eat calcium-rich foods, including low-fat dairy products, tofu, beans (kidney and white), broccoli, kale, spinach and fortified orange juice. If you think your diet does not include enough calcium, talk to your health care provider about taking supplements.

To control and possibly prevent high blood pressure, cut back on salt and sodium. Try seasoning foods with pepper, garlic, ginger, herbs, onions or lemon juice.

Get moving

During and after menopause, regular physical activity helps control weight, prevents and controls high blood pressure and diabetes, and helps reduce the risk of heart attack. Exercise also helps prevent osteoporosis by maintaining bone and muscle. Regular physical activity means 30 to 60 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week.

Exercise may also relieve some common menopausal complaints, including insomnia, mood swings and hot flashes.

Stop smoking

Quitting smoking at any age can help reduce the risk of lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, emphysema and osteoporosis.