Stay healthy after the menopause

Jane Murphy / 18 September 2015

Your risk of certain health conditions rises after the menopause, but there's plenty you can do to stay healthy for longer.



Osteoporosis risk after the menopause

The hormone changes that occur during the menopause puts women at significantly higher risk of developing the bone-thinning condition. Oestrogen has a protective effect on the bones, so this protection is diminished as production of the hormone dwindles. Bone loss becomes more rapid for several years following the menopause.

How can I reduce my risk? A healthy, balanced diet and regular exercise are essential for building strong bones. In particular, weight-bearing exercise, such as brisk walking, stair-climbing or dancing, helps strengthen the muscles, ligaments and joints. Moderate resistance work also helps. 

Key bone-building nutrients include calcium, found in leafy green vegetables, dried fruit, tofu and yoghurt; and vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium. Vitamin D is found in eggs, milk and oily fish, but the best source is sunlight. Try to get 10 minutes of sun exposure to your bare skin, once or twice a day, while taking care not to burn.

Learn more about osteoporosis

Find out more from the National Osteoporosis Society

Heart disease risk after the menopause

Risk of heart disease increases with age – particularly after the menopause when the effects of those hormonal changes make women more vulnerable to major risk factors such as high blood pressure or being overweight.

How can I reduce my risk? Again, a healthy diet and exercise regime are key. Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, wholegrains and non-dairy proteins, such as oily fish and eggs, and keep your consumption of saturated fats and sugars to a minimum.

It's also important to get your blood pressure checked. This can be done at your GP's surgery or some pharmacies. High blood pressure is almost always symptom-free, so the only way to know if you're affected is to get tested. Around seven million people in the UK are living with the condition without realising.

Learn more about cardiovascular disease

Find out more from the British Heart Foundation

Urinary incontinence risk after the menopause

Lack of oestrogen after the menopause can cause the urethral tissue and pelvic muscles to weaken, leading to poor bladder control. Urinary incontinence is twice as common in women as men.

How can I reduce my risk? You can strengthen these muscles – and so improve bladder control – with doing pelvic floor exercises. Squeeze and hold the muscles as if you're trying to stop yourself peeing, without holding your breath or tightening your stomach muscles. Do this 10 to 15 times in a row every day. As you progress, try holding each squeeze for a couple of seconds before releasing. 

Cutting down on alcohol, fizzy drinks and caffeine can also help.

Find out more from the Bladder and Bowel Foundation

How the menopause affects your risk of glaucoma

Glaucoma is the name given to a group of conditions that can affect sight, usually caused by a build-up of pressure inside the eyes. Risk rises with age – and various research has suggested depleted oestrogen levels may be responsible for increased risk following the menopause.

How can I reduce my risk? Glaucoma is often symptom-free until it's well advanced, so it's important to go for regular eye checks. If diagnosed during the early stages, glaucoma can usually be successfully treated with eye drops.

Find out more about eye conditions

Find out more from the RNIB

Breast cancer risk after menopause

Risk of breast cancer increases sharply with age: one in three women who get the disease are over 70. Research into the exact role hormones play in this is still ongoing – but we do know that after the menopause, women with higher levels of oestrogen and testosterone in their blood have a risk of breast cancer that's double that of women with the lowest levels.

How can I reduce my risk? Go for regular mammograms: all women between the ages of 50 and 70 are invited for screening every three years. As with all cancers, the earlier it is diagnosed, the better the chances of successful treatment.

A healthy, balanced diet and regular exercise are also important. In particular, cut down on saturated fats, such as red meat and dairy products: women who have a large amount of fat in their diets have a higher risk of breast cancer than women with lower levels.

Find out more about breast cancer

Find out more from Cancer Research UK

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.