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Signs Of Early Menopause – What To Look Out For

At 41 I found out I’d gone through early menopause. But I hadn’t experienced any signs of early menopause! The doctor who told me was as shocked as me. At the time it was a devastating diagnosis because I was trying for another child. It was also very confusing as I thought everything was normal.

I was in a new relationship and had wanted another baby since my son was born nearly 10 years earlier. As we were both not exactly spring chickens, it seemed prudent to get a hormone check to see what the possibilities were. The results came as a huge shock.

signs of early menopause

There were several things going on that made it such a shocking diagnosis. Firstly the average age of menopause in the West is 51. So I was a whole decade early. I had absolutely no knowledge of menopause but had associated it with a much older woman, not who I considered myself to be.

I knew nothing about perimenopause let alone the signs of early menopause. And I felt catapulted into middle age. Gradually I realized that at 41 I was actually already middle-aged! With average life expectancy of 81 in the UK for women I was right smack in the middle of my life. So much for denial!

The second thing was that I’d experienced no symptoms whatsoever. Apart from the results of the hormone test, there was nothing to indicate to me that anything was amiss. I had a busy and quite stressful career, and I hadn’t even noticed my periods must have been either non-existent or certainly very patchy.

So to be told I had the hormone profile of a postmenopausal woman was surprising to say the least. I’m now convinced my high-pressure career and my inability to manage stress levels better were contributory factors to my early menopause.

I had recently left a very stressful job to go freelance and like when we suddenly get sick when going on holiday, I think my body was saying, I can’t sustain this level of intensity anymore and now I don’t have to, so here’s early menopause!

I also suspect nowadays the diagnosis would be different. Or perhaps with a different doctor, the diagnosis might have been different. Since it happened, I’ve learnt the knowledge of doctors (GPs) in the UK, of menopause, is woefully inadequate. This is crazy considering menopause affects 50% of the population!

Possible signs of early menopause

So if I had had any clue what I was going through, what would have been the signs of early menopause for me to look out for? The first thing may be quite obvious like a hot flush that you can’t explain. Or maybe you’re more anxious and irritable than usual.

I’ve learnt over the last decade that hormonal fluctuations during the perimenopause years are very normal and can be pretty extreme. Perimenopause is the years leading up to menopause. Menopause is defined as two years after your last period if you are under 50, and one year if you are over.

Some doctors are reluctant to test hormones for menopause when a woman is in her 40s because of these day-to-day hormonal fluctuations. But it would appear my doctor didn’t know any of that when he told me definitively I had gone through menopause.

But when your hormones start to fluctuate there may be several things to watch out for. Maybe you start forgetting things and not knowing that even that can be hormone related, you think you have early onset Alzheimer’s. You likely don’t, so stop worrying about that.

Infertility can be another of the signs of early menopause. I wish it was more well known that perimenopause can start so early and that for many of us, our fertility starts to drop at an alarming rate from our mid 30s. So if you want to have kids, don’t leave it too long. Older women giving birth may get lots of publicity but they are still relatively unusual.

If you feel out of sorts try to keep a track of your cycles. If those are beginning to get more irregular that could be a sign that hormones are changing. Start a log so you know exactly what’s happening.

If you are anxious or depressed that could also be hormone related. Remember, menopause is puberty in reverse so lots of changes all round. If you go to the doctor and are immediately prescribed anti-depressants, ask about whether it could be something to do with your hormones. Doctors may be reluctant to send you for a test, because hormones can be so changeable, but if there is a bunch of things going on, push to get one.

Getting help

Signs of early menopause can also be reversed! I found that out after a long and at times quite tortuous journey to find out more about what was happening to my body. Here’s what happened.

First, I had to come to terms with secondary infertility, re-evaluate where I was in my life and who I now was, and process everything that early menopause meant.

Standard medical advice then was to go on HRT because of the early menopause. That’s still the case depending on when early menopause hits. The reason I was given for going on HRT was to protect my bones and my heart from the 10 years less protection from estrogen they would normally have had.

Initially I really didn’t want to go on HRT. Even though it had come early, I still saw menopause as a completely natural process in a woman’s life and I didn’t want to take a drug for something I didn’t consider a medical condition.

I was offered Premarin which I discovered was made from pregnant mare’s urine so that put me off further. Premarin is still prescribed today which I find quite shocking given I now know there are other alternatives.  So for a couple of years I didn’t take any HRT and started exploring other avenues.

The first thing I did was to reach out to the Daisy Network which offers support and information for women going through early menopause. I went to their Daisy Day in June and found it incredibly helpful. Not only did it give me lots of information and great contacts, but it also gave me a reality check.

At 41 I was one of the oldest women going through early menopause. I already had one child. Most of the women at the event had gone through only menopause much earlier and before they had any chance of conceiving a child naturally. So what had seemed at first like a devastating diagnosis was quite abruptly put into perspective.

signs of early menopause

The women at the event who had children, had done so either through adoption or egg donation. There were also presentations from women who decided not to try either of those routes and were creating a life that did not include motherhood.

At the event I was introduced to two people who would play a major role in what happened next. First Dr Marilyn Glenville, a nutritionist who specializes in women’s health and particularly hormonal balance. Secondly Dr Nick Panay, a specialist in early menopause who has a clinic at Queen Charlotte’s Hospital in London.

Perhaps it was that someone mentioned Dr Glenville having some success in getting women’s periods back, I can’t remember, but I decided I wanted to meet her and get her advice. So my first action was a consultation with Dr Glenville.

This was very interesting and set me on my path towards wanting as natural a menopause as possible. Dr Glenville put me on a restricted diet, gave me a special tincture to take and within a month my periods had returned!

This was quite miraculous for me and in retrospect shows how wrong the initial diagnosis was because of the possibilities around hormonal fluctuation in the perimenopausal years.

So what did I do in terms of changing my diet? I was told to cut out all caffeine, sugar, alcohol, processed food and have regular meals and snacks so my blood sugar level remained constant.

The only sweet thing I was allowed was manuka honey in a very small amount. Even fruit was limited and bananas were certainly off the menu.  I was delighted to get my periods back and I quickly went for another hormone test. My doctor was astounded!

The hormone test came back showing a completely normal premenopausal profile. So we went full steam ahead on trying for a child again. But what Dr Glenville did not tell me is that even if I got my periods back, it might only be for a short while before my body resorted to what it actually wanted to do in the first place.

Within nine months I was back to my postmenopausal state. Maybe I didn’t keep up with the restricted diet, I can’t really remember. Talk about confusing!

When I went back to her clinic and spoke to her colleague, I found out the menopause reversal might not be a long-term one. Kinda wish I’d known that before!

When it became clear my body had again resorted to menopause, I decided I’d better at least consider other options and I requested a referral to Dr Panay’s specialist early menopause clinic. The only real symptom I’d encountered still at that stage was lower libido.

So menopause had again just happened without much warning other than periods just disappearing. But who knows if my lower libido was actually because of all the worry about what was going on, feeling a shadow of my former self (having bought into negative menopause narratives) and other life events at the time.

Dr Panay and his team were sensitive, knowledgeable and very helpful. I thought it such a shame that outside of that clinic, there was so little knowledge of early menopause in the NHS. My experience since has shown it’s menopause in general that still seems to be a mystery to many doctors.

To HRT or not to HRT

I reiterated I didn’t want to take HRT and was told that if my bones were in good shape, that would be okay. So I was sent for a bone density scan to check this out. The scan came back showing borderline osteopenia (the precursor to osteoporosis) in my hip. It was this news that finally made me accept having HRT as I thought, at that stage, it would be foolish not to.

Since then I’ve learnt a lot about how to build strength in bones and protect one’s heart. So I’m not sure I would do the same thing again. But then it seemed a sensible idea. I was also offered testosterone for my low libido but I decided against that. That seemed a step too far down the HRT route for me!

It was explained to me that going on HRT would mean I’d start having a regular monthly bleed again. This was very distressing to me. When I’d recently been back to the doctors surgery, a new doctor was heavily pregnant and I found it very difficult talking to her about my problems.

I had to actually make sure I never saw her again because I found it so distressing. That reaction from me told me I also didn’t want to be reminded monthly of my infertility by having a bleed that was just a bleed, and not anything suggesting my reproductive organs were still functioning.

So I asked if I could take the HRT in a way such that I wouldn’t need to bleed. I was allowed to do this, by taking the progesterone component of the HRT constantly, rather than having a break every three weeks.

So then I stayed on HRT until so-called ‘normal’ menopause age of 51. It was always my plan to come off HRT at ‘normal’ menopause age and that is what I did. I weaned myself off it and have managed both the transition and any symptoms since coming off, with a range of dietary and lifestyle changes that I’ve written extensively about elsewhere.

Key tips to help

So here are my key tips if you suspect or have had a diagnosis of early menopause:

  • Get yourself a hormone test if you can so you get an idea of what’s going on. But don’t assume the test reflects a permanent reality. Take a look at how much stress is impacting your life. As you can see from my story above, hormones can fluctuate wildly during the perimenopausal years, so bear in mind it could be just a snapshot.
  • If an early menopause is confirmed, get in touch with the Daisy Network as that will be a very good resource for you to get information, support and contacts.
  • Ask for a referral to a specialist early menopause clinic, especially if you are in the UK, or try at least to find a doctor who knows more than most about menopause in general and early menopause in particular.
  • Read up on Dr Marilyn Glenville’s website about how to manage menopause symptoms and consider getting an appointment with her or one of her team.
  • Make an informed choice about whether to go on HRT. Medical advice is still that you should if you are diagnosed with early menopause, at least until ‘normal’ menopause age.
  • Get help with the emotional aspects of going through early menopause – the Daisy Network will be good for this and I saw a therapist to try and deal with my diagnosis and begin to accept it.
signs of early menopause
  • If early menopause ruins your dreams of motherhood, consider ways to still achieve that – again the Daisy Network will be able to help. Don’t give up hope even now – I have an acupuncturist friend who got pregnant herself after having acupuncture after an early menopause diagnosis – so be open to everything. (She retrained having seen how powerful the acupuncture was.)
  • Get your diet sorted, change how you live if necessary and start putting in place things that will enable you to thrive long-term. There are many natural remedies to help and even if you are on HRT, these will be additional boosts for you. They will also help you transition off HRT when you are ready to do that. The changes I’ve made have, I hope, set me up better for long term health than before menopause.
  • Find people who understand what you’re going through. Early menopause can be a very lonely experience as none of your contemporaries are likely to be in the same boat. So reach out to women who are, because they’ll be able to help and support you as you come to terms with what is happening.
  • If you have a partner, take them on this journey with you. Don’t be tempted to try to cope alone. They may be as confused and upset as you are, and hopefully they will want to help.
  • This book is a little out of date now I think, but it was a very useful starting point for me: The Premature Menopause Book – I also read Wanting Another Child – Coping With Secondary Infertility

Remember that, as with most things in life, it will get better. You will come to an acceptance of what’s going on, but be sure to give yourself time to adjust and grieve (I had to grieve the dream of the second child I was never going to have and I needed to be able to do that).

Menopause is not the end of meaningful life – it can be a very powerful new beginning.

Early menopause may also turn out to be a gift – honestly! I certainly feel that way about mine. I wouldn’t be doing what I do now if it hadn’t happened. Life would have been very different!

There are also some great podcasts I’ve done about menopause: The Magic of Menopause With Darcey Steinke and Rethinking Menopause and HRT With Professor Joyce Harper

Feel free to reach out to me too. You can find me at rachel @ magnificentmidlife.com. Good luck!

Related posts: All You Need To Know About Symptoms Of Menopause, What It Helps To Know About (Peri)Menopause

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The 34 Symptoms Of Menopause

So you want to know about the 34 symptoms of menopause huh! You’re in the right place. Here’s the full list. Some people say there are even more (yikes) but this is the usual list. But why not just throw the kitchen sink in there for good measure! Take a look but don’t get too scared! The most common symptoms have a * next to them.

34 Symptoms Of Menopause

Read on at the bottom of the list because I’m going to explain how these aren’t really symptoms OF menopause at all! They’re actually something quite different. So stay tuned….

  • Hot flushes/flashes*   
  • Night sweats*
  • Irregular periods*
  • Mood swings*
  • Vaginal dryness*
  • Decreased libido*
  • Headaches
  • Breast soreness
  • Burning mouth
  • Joint pain
  • Digestive problems
  • Electric shocks
  • Muscle tension
  • Gum problems
  • Tingling extremities
  • Itchy skin
  • Fatigue*
  • Anxiety*
  • Disrupted sleep*
  • Hair loss
  • Memory lapses*
  • Difficulty concentrating*
  • Weight gain*
  • Dizzy spells
  • Bloating
  • Stress incontinence   
  • Brittle nails
  • Allergies
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Body odour
  • Irritability*
  • Depression*
  • Panic disorder
  • Osteoporosis

This is the full scary list and you are UNLIKELY to suffer the majority of these. If you do suffer badly, then it’s your body telling you something needs addressing. That could be something physical or emotional.

You may experience these ‘symptoms’ for a few months, several years, or NO TIME AT ALL! But what are all these things on the list if they’re not the 34 symptoms OF menopause? (I promise I’m not having you on here!)

You see, the only actual symptom or sign of menopause is the cessation of your menstrual cycle. All the others on that big scary list are symptoms ASSOCIATED with menopause.

34 symptoms of menopause

They can all be triggered by changes in our hormones. But there’s probably an underlying cause to the symptoms which is revealed once the protection of our reproductive hormones starts to drop. If they were symptoms OF menopause, most woman would likely get them, but we all go through menopause very differently.

If you’ve always been a bit anxious, you may find you’re more so during menopause. If you’ve always had trouble sleeping, that may get worse. Some of the symptoms on the list rarely happen. Some are common but not normal! If they were normal symptoms of menopause we would all have them and we don’t. Some of us barely notice anything.

I urge you to think of menopause symptoms as the canary in the coalmine, warning you that you need to make diet and lifestyle changes to stay healthy long term. Thank you menopause!

Is menopause really to blame?

It’s easy to attribute all these changes to menopause but actually it could also be because our bodies are just getting older.  For example, sadness might come because we’re languishing in the happiness U-curve which bottoms out in our 40s! Or we’re fed up with the life we have and relationships that no longer fulfill us and make us irritable.

Or we’ve bought into all the negative narratives about midlife, menopause and getting older as a woman (as I did at 41 which is when I was told I’d gone through early menopause), and that’s causing us to be both anxious and depressed. Or we have an overload of unnatural toxic products in our lives that are causing our bodies to be hormonally challenged.

To find out more about all these potential other issues impacting our hormones, as well as the many products in our environment that can impact hormonal balance, for example, listen to my wonderful podcast with naturopath Angela Counsel, or read the transcription of that fabulously informative interview here.

34 Symptoms Of Menopause

Menopause gets blamed for a lot and it’s not necessarily to blame. Weight gain may speed up around menopause with hormonal changes, but fundamentally it happens because our metabolism slows down as our muscle mass naturally declines with age. If we make sure to do weight lifting to maintain our declining muscle mass, we can reverse that trend.

Often it’s a hot flush/flash that alerts women to changes happening in their bodies. Sometimes there’s an overwhelming feeling of sadness and many women are prescribed anti-depressants when what they really need is a bit more hormonal balance in their lives. Or those negative midlife narratives have taken hold, not to mention ageism kicking in.

Or maybe it’s a sudden inability to shift those extra pounds that alerts you to changes. As we age, if we continue consuming and behaving as we’ve always done, we’re bound to put on weight and find it more difficult to shift it.

Many women fear they have early onset Alzheimer’s because they feel they are getting a bit more forgetful or less able to concentrate. But no, it’s just hormonal changes. Good to know huh!

If you’ve had a child, think pregnancy brain. You may have had difficulty sleeping while pregnant and the same may happen during menopause. It’s all caused by hormonal changes.


It’s just that no one talks about menopause, it’s still taboo, we’re not prepared for it, we don’t know how to take better care of ourselves and it can all go on for rather a long time!

Just for clarity, I’m talking here about symptoms associated with a natural menopause. If yours has come very early or been caused by illness or surgery in particular, then the sudden change in your hormones may lead to more of these symptoms occurring – but also not necessarily.

One woman I know had a hysterectomy in her mid 50s and the only symptom she suffered afterwards was trouble sleeping which she fixed with tapping meditation.

Managing and embracing your menopause

If you’d like to know about lots of natural ways to balance your hormones now and set you up for good general health long-term, check out our article on Natural Remedies For Menopause – All You Need To Know. You’ll find lots more resources on this website and also on our sister site which has its own menopause section.

When it comes to menopause, don’t expect the worst but also don’t suffer in silence. Get the help you need. The real trick is to embrace menopause as a natural process that actually empowers you. We’ve been working with our wombs all our lives. Midlife is not the time to start fighting them and the essence of our feminine power.

But many women can get a bit stuck thinking menopause is the end of meaningful life. After all that’s what the media and society seems to want us to believe. If that’s how you’re feeling, JUST STOP THAT RIGHT NOW! Be more whale – the only other creatures to go through menopause, who then become leaders of their pods! When we go through menopause, we become more valuable to our communities as leaders than as breeders. Find out more about this in Let’s Be More Whale.

If you want to hear more about the magic of menopause listen to my podcast interview with the amazing Darcy Steinke who was the first to alert me to whales becoming leaders post menopause. She wrote the book Flash Count Diary.

At Magnificent Midlife we’re all about challenging stereotypes and changing perceptions. We think of midlife and menopause as a time of re-evaluation and regeneration as we embark on the exciting second half of our lives.  I hope you agree.

Good luck! Don’t hesitate to get in touch if I can help you further. Just message me at rachel @ magnificentmidlife.com.

Why not check out Rachel’s workshop on Natural Menopause. Click here to check out our courses page.

34 symptoms of menopause
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What It Helps To Know About (Peri)Menopause

Did you know when most people talk about menopause symptoms, they really mean perimenopause symptoms? Perimenopause feels like a word in disguise, hiding in the shadows, waiting patiently for its day in the spotlight, when the world wakes up to its masquerading Big Sister menopause.

As if life wasn’t complicated enough! So what do perimenopause and menopause actually mean?

Menopause – the great pretender!

Menopause actually means one year after our last period – that precise point in time.  Perimenopause is the period leading up to menopause. The only real so-called ‘symptom’ of menopause is that we have already been a whole year without a menstrual bleed! Which usually happens around the age of 51.

The ‘menopause’ symptoms we experience before that specific point in time are technically perimenopause symptoms. We are most likely perimenopausal rather than menopausal. After menopause (when we’ve been without a period for a full year) we can be said to be post-menopausal.

But try telling the world at large! For many women, by the time they actually reach menopause, those pesky ‘menopause’ symptoms, if you’re lucky, may already be consigned to history. And you may be happily skipping off into a lovely post-menopausal, monthly bleed and PMT free life of liberty!

Symptoms of perimenopause (otherwise known as menopause symptoms)

So if you’re in perimenopause, what can you expect? Firstly, you may not even notice. I didn’t. It was a hormone test at 41 that told me I already had the hormone profile of a post-menopausal woman!  That was a bit of a shock!

You may experience symptoms for a few months, several years, or no time at all! Here are the main ones to look out for. These are usually attributed to menopause but are actually part of perimenopause and therefore may start much earlier than you expect.

  • Irregular periods
  • Hot flushes/flashes
  • Decreased libido
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Breast tenderness
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Brain fog
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Achy joints
  • Dry skin
  • Urine leakage

Time to talk

So we need to re-evaluate when symptoms are likely to start.  Perimenopause symptoms can begin several years before periods stop completely. Menopause symptoms can continue long after periods stop. But most women are still surprised when they start experiencing ‘menopause’ symptoms much before the age of 50. And even around 50, for many women, it still comes as a shock.

That’s because menopause is still taboo. Which it shouldn’t be. And it shouldn’t be surprising that women in their early to mid 40s are already experiencing symptoms of ‘the change’. It’s just perimenopause, not the Big Sister. 

It’s about time we talked more about what happens to women in midlife. If we’re lucky enough to live past 50, menopause happens to all women. It’s kind of like adolescence in reverse. And like many changes in life, embracing them rather than fighting, is a healthier way to go. How we approach perimenopause and menopause can significantly impact our experience of this stage in our lives.

A natural part of life

Perimenopause and menopause are completely natural. While we may go through a period of discomfort, neither should be considered illness. I think there is a real danger of over-medicalizing menopause, which is a totally natural time of transformation that happens to all women. And just because our society is fixated on youth doesn’t mean we have to accept the social norms relating to older women. Menopause doesn’t have to be a time of loss but a chance to embark on an exciting, less restricted and newly empowered second half.

For example, women often end up, after menopause, with more testosterone in their bodies, relatively speaking, than at any time since their 20s! I believe that levels the playing field between us and men, and may go some way to explain why there are so many powerful women in midlife and beyond on the world stage. We are no longer slaves to estrogen!

As a friend of mine likes to say, “When we’re done birthing babies, we’re ready to birth solutions”. It also means our sexual desire may be stronger post menopause. So try not to worry too much about any stray hairs on your chin and embrace the often positive impact of these hormonal changes.

Helping yourself

If you go to the doctor complaining of menopause symptoms and have a blood test which confirms you are in perimenopause, you may be offered HRT. But HRT remains contentious for many and there are lots of natural ways to try to manage symptoms before resorting to HRT. And it’s not an illness, so why not try other ways to help first?

What you put in place now will also help set you up for good general health in the long term.

1. Balance your blood sugar and sort out your diet

Start with what and how you eat. As Jackie Lynch writes in her book The Happy Menopause, the most fundamental component of good hormonal balance in midlife and beyond is making sure your blood sugar levels are as stable as they can be.  As we go through the perimenopause years, estrogen decreases. But it doesn’t go away completely. The ovaries stop producing it, but it’s still made in our adipose tissue and by our adrenal glands. It’s a weaker form of estrogen but still estrogen. The problem is that if we’re stressed and our bodies go into fight or flight mode, the adrenal glands prioritize production of our stress hormones in favor of estrogen. Then we get into trouble with menopause symptoms.

Stress can come in the form of bog standard emotional stress. Or it can be stress we put on our bodies, making them think they need to go into fight or flight mode by causing our blood sugar levels to be imbalanced. This happens either because we haven’t eaten when we should have, and blood sugar has dropped, or we’ve consumed the wrong thing that makes our blood sugar level spike. So eating (and drinking) regularly and the right things becomes ever more important. Caffeine, alcohol, sugar and refined foods can all cause our blood sugar to spike and then plummet when their effects wears off. All kinds of stress are bad.

So we need to start with reducing stress and eating/drinking in such a way that our blood sugar levels are balanced. A little and often, and eating protein and complex carbohydrates (such as beans, whole grains, and starchy vegetables), which are high in fiber, with every meal is a good way to go. Now is the perfect time to make your diet healthier overall and include lots of fresh vegetables. Cut out processed food as much as you can. Refined carbohydrates, in particular, are known to mess with our hormones generally, quite apart from the blood sugar spiking effect.

Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, reduce your alcohol, sugar, and caffeine intake, all of which mess with hormones and cause hot flushes, and eat natural phytoestrogens to replace the estrogen your body no longer produces with foodstuffs like flaxseeds, lentils, tofu and soy. Here’s a comprehensive list of foodstuffs that can help. Daily ground flaxseeds on my breakfast cereal as well as organic soya milk instead of dairy have massively helped me. Eating organic when you can will also help, as you’re cutting out any pesticide or hormonal additions to food that can have an impact on your own hormones.

2. Get plenty of exercise

As we age our metabolism slows down. It’s easy to blame menopause for middle-age spread but the natural ageing process is just as responsible. As estrogen leaves our body we need to work harder to maintain bone health. Regular exercise, both cardio and weight bearing will help in the long term as well as assisting through perimenopause.

Yoga is wonderful for maintaining strong bones and flexibility. It may even help reduce hot flushes/flashes.  If you’re overweight you’re much more likely to suffer from hot flushes. The better you feel about yourself and your general health, the more likely you are to have a positive experience of the change. Don’t forget your Kegel exercises too to sort out any urinary leakage issues!

3. Try natural remedies

Herbs such as black cohosh, sage and red clover can all help with symptoms particularly hot flushes. Take a fish oil supplement to help protect your bones. Sea buckthorn oil, taken as a supplement can help with vaginal dryness.  Coconut oil can be eaten, used as a personal lubricant, cleanser and moisturizer.

The YES organic vaginal lubricant range is excellent and available on prescription in the UK.  Here’s some advice on how to stay sexy through menopause and beyond.  Pjur lubricant is my current favorite. It’s not the most natural but it’s very good! A regular mindfulness or general meditation practice can really help ease mood swings and anxiety.

Finally, when it comes to perimenopause, don’t expect the worst but also don’t suffer in silence. Get the help you need. If your symptoms are bad and natural remedies don’t work, there is also HRT.

Having gone through menopause at 41, I was advised to go on HRT to protect my bones and heart until I reached normal menopause age, when I chose to come off HRT. I chose the body-identical yam-based HRT rather than pregnant mare’s urine. These are also available on prescription in the UK though many doctors don’t seem to know this.

Since turning 51, I have managed any midlife hormonal challenges with a combination of: no caffeine; natural phytoestogens every day in the form of soya (instead of dairy) milk, ground flax seeds (on my muesli) and chickpeas; limited sugar and processed foods; a relatively healthy diet with lots of vegetables; limiting (often unsuccessfully!) alcohol; meditation when I remember; running at least 3 times a week; yoga/stretching every day.

One natural remedy in isolation may not do much for you – but a package can really work.

You’ll find lots more information in our menopause resource section.

The real trick is to embrace perimenopause as a natural process that actually empowers you. We’ve been working with our wombs all our lives. Midlife is not the time to start fighting them and the essence of our feminine power.

At Magnificent Midlife we’re challenging stereotypes and changing perceptions. We think of midlife and menopause as a time of re-evaluation and regeneration as we embark on the exciting second half of our lives.  I hope you agree.

If you’d like to make your midlife and beyond magnificent, why not join our Members Club – just click the image below for details!

I also have a Natural Menopause Workshop for just $20 that goes into lots of detail about potential issues and what can help for each. (This is also available in the Membership Program.)

perimenopause
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Podcast

Episode 8: Staying fit and healthy long term with Lisa Swanson

An interview with Lisa Swanson, a certified health and nutrition coach, and personal trainer. She’s focused on helping women in midlife and beyond get and stay healthy long term.

In this inspiring and wide-ranging interview we cover:

  • Why Lisa is passionate about helping women in midlife and beyond get health and fitness right
  • How her business enables her to do her other passion – rescuing dogs!
  • How diets don’t work and we should stop doing them
  • Why it’s different for women in midlife when it comes to staying fit and healthy
  • The other factors at play when it comes to taking care of ourselves
  • How the menopause gets a bad rap for some of our midlife issues
  • The importance of listening to our bodies
  • Getting enough of the right balance of macro-nutrients
  • Understanding the importance of muscle failure when doing weight lifting
  • How Lisa’s anxiety was most helped by proper nutrition and exercise
  • The dangers of a sedentary lifestyle
  • The importance of having goals for your health and wellness
  • Working out what lifestyle works for you
  • Tracking your food and exercise
  • How being busy shouldn’t be a badge of honor
  • Coping with the current anger in the world
  • How we need more yin energy in the world
  • Challenging derogatory language such as song lyrics
  • Making the most of an empty nest
  • Lisa’s morning routine

And lots more!

Find out more about Lisa: bodyandsoulcoaching.com

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How To Thrive Through Menopause

Why is menopause still taboo? It happens to all women and is just another stage in life’s rich pattern. But it’s not something most of us feel comfortable talking about, even with friends. It seldom gets a mention in the media and when it does, is it ever positive?

And doctors often automatically hand out pills for it as though it is an illness rather than a natural stage in life. Imagine doctors giving out pills for puberty without considering other ways to help first!

If it’s so natural, then we need to talk about it and make sure we know how to thrive through menopause.

A new stage of life

The very wise Dr Marilyn Glenville, the UK’s leading nutritionist specialising in women’s health, has this to say:

“The menopause is not an illness. If you subscribe to the standpoint currently held by the conventional medical profession, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was. Women in many other cultures do not experience the menopause as a crisis demanding medical intervention.

Many of them simply do not suffer the physical and emotional symptoms that women in the West are programmed to accept as inevitable. In our society the focus of the menopause is one of loss.

Women are programmed to dwell on loss – the loss of periods, the loss of the ability to create life, the loss of hormones, the problems of the ’empty-nest’ syndrome. In other societies, this time in a woman’s life is seen as one of gain, a time of great wisdom.

A time when the emphasis shifts away from doing the chores, working in the fields, to the role of lawmaker and counselor to younger couples, where maturity and experience make a significant and valuable contribution to the family and society.”

Depends where you live

Menopause is certainly a time of change. But it doesn’t have to be seen only as a time of loss. In Asia, for example, where older people are revered, this period in a woman’s life is often welcomed for the transition away from a mainly nurturing role into one where experience and wisdom are put to good use.

And interestingly Asian women don’t report half as many menopausal symptoms as women in the West nor as much breast cancer! Is that because of different diet, environmental factors, circumstances or mental attitude? Or a combination?

It’s certainly not just genes, on the women’s cancer front at least. When Asian women move to the West, for example, their rate of breast cancer becomes similar to that of women brought up in the West.

Challenging the perceived wisdom

In her book, The Second Half of Your Life, Jill Shaw Ruddock quotes an International Menopause Society study which found that British women suffer the worst menopausal symptoms in the world. Could the prevalence of alcohol in our society be a factor perhaps?

We know for a fact that alcohol effects hormones. Or our love of dairy products that are not yet so popular in the East? Phytoestrogens, found in soya, which is a common foodstuff in Asia, for example, are known to help with menopausal symptoms.

Or are Western menopause symptoms at least partially in the mind? There’s a contentious thought! Perhaps our youth obsessed culture coming back to bite us in the arse? Who knows?

Magnificent Midlife is all about challenging established perceptions of women in midlife and inspiring women to embrace all that life offers, take the lead and do great things. When we surveyed women over forty about what they like most about the age they are, they talked of being more self-confident, calmer, more free, having perspective and wisdom.

At the same time, they hated the idea of  becoming invisible and continued to crave learning more about the world, and finding more purpose and meaning in their lives.

Far-sightedness, thinning hair and lower metabolism are certainly tedious, but those afflict both men and women, so they can’t be blamed on the menopause! Changing how we feel about the menopause might just help us thrive through it.

A new beginning

There’s another reason why menopause can and should be seen as a new beginning. After menopause, you’ll have lost 100% of your progesterone, 99% of your oestrogen and 70% of your testosterone. Do the maths. Which is the dominant hormone in your body? Testosterone.

And that doesn’t just mean whiskers on your chinny chin chin!  You may, in fact, have as much testosterone in your body after menopause, as you had in your twenties. So your sex drive may be raring to go, even if your body’s response is different.

Having more testosterone in your system than other hormones, can also mean you are on a hormonally more level playing-field with men. You may feel less impulse to nurture others, if that has been important before, and more desire to push ahead and conquer the world!

So men may discover more of their emotions as testosterone converts to oestrogen in their bodies as they age, but we may be less encumbered by ours.

Symptoms of menopause

Many women sail through menopause without noticing anything more than the end of their periods. For others, symptoms often attributed to the menopause can include:

  • Hot flushes (flashes)
  • Sweating
  • Irregular periods
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Headaches
  • Aching joints, muscles and feet
  • Breast tenderness
  • Weight gain
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Changes in skin and hair
  • Irritability and forgetfulness
  • Anxiety and feelings of insecurity
  • Diminished sex drive
  • Vaginal dryness

Helping yourself

Doctors often prescribe HRT if you visit complaining of menopause symptoms. If you are well below the average age of menopause (51-52), with bad symptoms, there is a case for taking HRT, because it may help with symptoms and is also thought to protect your bones and heart (particularly useful with early menopause).

If you decide on HRT, ask about body-identical (often also called bio-identical) hormones – or ones that are as ‘natural’ as possible and made from yams. Some HRT comes from horse urine, for example! Do we really want that in our bodies?

HRT carries increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer, which needs to be balanced against the benefits. Body or bio-identical hormones are available from your GP in the UK.  Some private practitioners also promote ‘bespoke’ very expensive bio-identical hormones, but in the UK you can get good enough body-identical HRT on the NHS.

Instead of necessarily depending on HRT or as well as, a good diet, exercise and several natural remedies can all help alleviate some of the symptoms of the menopause.

Start with what and how you eat. As Jackie Lynch writes in her book The Happy Menopause, the most fundamental component of good hormonal balance in midlife and beyond is making sure your blood sugar levels are as stable as they can be.  As we go through the perimenopause years, estrogen decreases.

But it doesn’t go away completely. The ovaries stop producing it, but it’s still made in our adipose tissue and by our adrenal glands. It’s a weaker form of estrogen but still estrogen.

The problem is that if we’re stressed and our bodies go into fight or flight mode, the adrenal glands prioritize production of our stress hormones in favor of estrogen. Then we get into trouble with menopause symptoms.

Stress can come in the form of bog standard emotional stress. Or it can be stress we put on our bodies, making them think they need to go into fight or flight mode by causing our blood sugar levels to be imbalanced. This happens either because we haven’t eaten when we should have, and blood sugar has dropped, or we’ve consumed the wrong thing that makes our blood sugar level spike.

So eating (and drinking) regularly and the right things becomes ever more important. Caffeine, alcohol, sugar and refined foods can all cause our blood sugar to spike and then plummet when their effects wears off.

All kinds of stress are bad. So we need to start with reducing stress and eating/drinking in such a way that our blood sugar levels are balanced. A little and often, and eating protein and complex carbohydrates (such as beans, whole grains, and starchy vegetables), which are high in fiber, with every meal is a good way to go.

Cut out processed food as much as you can. Refined carbohydrates, in particular, are known to mess with our hormones generally, quite apart from the blood sugar spiking effect. The more natural your diet the better.  Increase your intake of calcium, magnesium and vitamin D.

Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, reduce your alcohol, sugar, and caffeine intake, all of which mess with hormones and cause hot flushes, and eat natural phytoestrogens to replace the estrogen your body no longer produces with foodstuffs like flaxseeds, lentils, tofu and soy. The easiest way to take flax seeds, which are not particularly appetizing, is to grind them (and add to other cereals, for example) or soak them over night and drink both the water and the seeds in the morning. Check this video to see how I prepare my flaxseed.

Here’s a comprehensive list of foodstuffs that can help. Eating organic when you can will also help, as you’re cutting out any pesticide or hormonal additions to food that can have an impact on your own hormones.

If hot flushes are an issue, cut down or cut out chocolate, lemon, red wine, caffeine, dried fruit, cheddar cheese and any foods that contain sodium nitrate such as processed meats. (Here’s my definitive guide to How To Deal With Hot Flushes/Flashes and Night Sweats.)

Red clover, which can also be found in health food stores, is also a good source of phytoestrogens and especially good if you sprout it yourself according to the book Grow Your Own HRT. Here’s a fantastic article on our sister site The Mutton Club on Food for Menopause Symptoms.

Black cohosh and sage are both thought to help with hot flushes and night sweats. Black cohosh can be found as a supplement in health food stores.  Also, if you think of hot flushes as power surges, they become a lot more palatable!

Regular exercise is also key to thriving through the menopause. Think several sessions a week and enough to get your heart really going. Mix up aerobic exercise such as running or a vigorous exercise class with yoga and or pilates to stretch out your muscles. Check out these features on running and yoga to help you stay in tip top condition.

Marilyn Glenville’s page on the menopause is a wealth of information and her best selling book Fat Around the Middle has lots of  ideas to also shift middle-age spread that can afflict many of us during menopause!  Of course, eating a healthy, balanced diet and getting plenty of exercise is also going to help you limit extra weight gain! Apple cider vinegar is thought to be good at kick-starting your metabolism and helping to slow down weight gain too.

Your pelvic floor may also need exercise, particularly if you’ve given birth vaginally. Women in menopause and beyond are at increased risk of urinary incontinence, as changes in oestrogen levels can cause thinning of the urethra lining combining with weaker muscles as we age.  This is not, however, an inevitable result of ageing and regular pelvic floor exercises can radically improve muscle strength and even cure urinary incontinence completely. Such exercises have the added bonus of also intensifying orgasms!

Diminished sex drive and vaginal dryness are issues for some women during and after menopause. And can really affect our self esteem. But remember what we said earlier about increased testosterone levels and the impact this can have on your sex drive. By the way, if testosterone is found to be lacking, this can also be prescribed as HRT. Apparently sprouted fenugreek is great for libido according to the Grow Your Own HRT book too.

But there doesn’t have to be a physical reason for diminished sex drive and we need to consider our emotions too. We have lots of great ideas to help in our Sex and the menopause feature so check that out for more tips.

With a proactive approach and maybe also a shift in mental attitude, you have a much better chance of thriving through the menopause.

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Menopause Age – Not A Reliable Or Consistent Number!

At 41 I found out I’d gone through early menopause. Yes 41! The doctor who told me was as shocked as me.

At the time it was a devastating diagnosis because I was trying for another child. I was in a new relationship and had wanted another baby since my son was born nearly 10 years earlier.

As we were both not exactly spring chickens, it seemed prudent to get a hormone check to see what the possibilities were. The results came as a huge shock.

There were several things going on that made it such a shocking diagnosis. Firstly the average age of menopause in the West is 51. So I was a whole decade early, or so I thought.

I had absolutely no knowledge of menopause but had associated it with a much older woman, not who I considered myself to be. I knew nothing about perimenopause. So I felt catapulted into middle age.

Gradually I realized that at 41 I was actually already middle-aged! With average life expectancy of 81 in the UK for women I was right smack in the middle of my life. So much for denial!

The second thing was that I’d experienced no symptoms whatsoever. Apart from the results of the hormone test, there was nothing to indicate to me that anything was amiss.

I had a busy and quite stressful career, and I hadn’t even noticed my periods must have been either non-existent or certainly very patchy. So to be told I had the hormone profile of a postmenopausal woman was surprising to say the least.

I’m now convinced my high-pressure career and my inability to manage stress levels better were contributory factors to my early menopause. I suspect nowadays the diagnosis would be different.

Or perhaps with a different doctor, the diagnosis might have been different. Since it happened, I’ve learnt the knowledge of doctors (GPs) in the UK, of menopause, is woefully inadequate.

This is crazy considering menopause affects 50% of the population! I’ve learnt over the last decade that hormonal fluctuations during the perimenopause years are normal and can be pretty extreme. 

Perimenopause is the years leading up to menopause and can start as early as your 30s though most women start this process in their 40s. Menopause is defined as two years after your last period if you’re under 50, and one year if you’re over.

Some doctors are reluctant to test hormones for menopause when a woman is in her 40s because of these day-to-day hormonal fluctuations. But it would appear my doctor didn’t know any of that when he told me definitively I had gone through menopause.

So began a long and at times quite tortuous journey to find out more about what was happening to my body. I had to come to terms with secondary infertility, re-evaluate where I was in my life and who I now was, and process everything that early menopause meant.

Standard medical advice then was to go on HRT because of the early menopause. That’s still the case depending on when early menopause hits.

The reason I was given for going on HRT was to protect my bones and my heart from the 10 years less protection from estrogen they would normally have had.

The first thing I did was to reach out to the Daisy Network which offers support and information for women going through early menopause. I went to their Daisy Day in June and found it incredibly helpful.

Not only did it give me lots of information and great contacts, but it also gave me a reality check. At 41 I was one of the oldest women going through early menopause. I already had one child.

Most of the women at the event had gone through only menopause much earlier and before they had any chance of conceiving a child naturally. Just recently I saw a BBC TV interview with a 15 year old girl who had already gone through menopause. How devastating! She was incredibly brave.

But for me, what had seemed at first like a devastating diagnosis was quite abruptly put into perspective at the Daisy event. The women there who had children, had done so either through adoption or egg donation.

Their menopause had kicked in before they’d got around to trying to make babies. There were also presentations from women who decided not to try either of those routes and were creating a life that did not include motherhood.

At the event I was introduced to two people who would play a major role in what happened next. First Dr Marilyn Glenville, a nutritionist who specializes in women’s health and particularly hormonal balance.

Secondly Dr Nick Panay, a specialist in early menopause who has a clinic at Queen Charlotte’s Hospital in London. Perhaps it was that someone mentioned Dr Glenville having some success in getting women’s periods back, I can’t remember, but I decided I wanted to meet her and get her advice. So my first action was a consultation with Dr Glenville

This was very interesting and set me on my path towards wanting as natural a menopause as possible. Dr Glenville put me on a restricted diet, gave me a special tincture to take and within a month my periods had returned!

This was quite miraculous for me and in retrospect shows how wrong the initial diagnosis was because of the possibilities around hormonal fluctuation in the perimenopausal years. So what did I do in terms of changing my diet?

I was told to cut out all caffeine, sugar, alcohol, processed food and have regular meals and snacks so my blood sugar level remained constant. The only sweet thing I was allowed was manuka honey in a very small amount.

Even fruit was limited and bananas were certainly off the menu.  I was delighted to get my periods back and I quickly went for another hormone test.

My doctor was astounded! So menopause age had changed for me again! The hormone test came back showing a completely normal premenopausal profile.

So we went full steam ahead on trying for a child again. But what Dr Glenville did not tell me is that even if I got my periods back, it might only be for a short while before my body resorted to what it actually wanted to do in the first place.

Within nine months I was back to my postmenopausal state. Maybe I didn’t keep up with the restricted diet, I can’t really remember. Talk about confusing!

When I went back to her clinic and spoke to her colleague, I found out the menopause reversal might not be a long-term one. Kinda wish I’d known that before!

When it became clear my body had again resorted to menopause, I decided I’d better at least consider other options and I requested a referral to Dr Panay’s specialist early menopause clinic.

The only real symptom I’d encountered still at that stage was lower libido. So menopause had again just happened without much warning other than periods just disappearing.

But who knows if my lower libido was actually because of all the worry about what was going on, feeling a shadow of my former self (having bought into negative menopause narratives) and other life events at the time.

Dr Panay and his team were sensitive, knowledgeable and very helpful. I thought it such a shame that outside of that clinic, there was so little knowledge of early menopause in the NHS.

My experience since has shown it’s menopause in general that still seems to be a mystery to many doctors. After a bone density scan showed borderline osteopenia in my hip, I decided to take the doctors advice and take HRT and I stayed on it until so-called ‘normal’ menopause age of 51.

It was always my plan to come off HRT at ‘normal’ menopause age and that is what I did. I weaned myself off it and have managed both the transition and any symptoms since coming off, with a range of dietary and lifestyle changes that I’ve written extensively about elsewhere.

So perimenopause/menopause can pretty much start at any time. Menopause age is not only completely different for each woman but can even change for the same woman as it did for me!

Shame no one tells us that when we’re learning about the reproductive cycle at school. For many women in their 50s it still comes as a surprise!

It’s not until the age of 56 that it starts to becomes a bit late if you haven’t already gone through the change. So bear in mind that menopause age is a moveable feast! 

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How To Stop Feeling Invisible? Wear Your Top Colours!

If you know what suits you, colour is one of the quickest ways to lessen feeling invisible.

In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t pay to get my colours done but neither have I received any payment from House of Colour.

I couple of years back I had my colors done! Now there’s a strange turn of phrase. I’d recently been to a 40+ bloggers event and met the impossibly glamorous author of the Midlife Chic blog Nikki Garnett. I always like to know more about interesting people I meet so I had a good nose around her website. She mentioned having had her colours done and that it had been very useful. What did that mean, I wondered? What was colour analysis?

I’d never heard of people getting their colours done but I’d often wondered if my choice of colours and outfits necessarily worked. Sometimes I’d see a photo of myself in a colour I particularly liked and think, oh, I don’t look very good in that after all. I’m also conscious that as we age and our skin tone and hair colour change, perhaps we need to adapt our colour choices too and not stay wedded to what worked in our youth.

So after a quick google and some emailing, I arrived at a terraced house in North London and was met by the impeccably turned out Fiona Ingham, a consultant for House of Colour. I went down some steps into her basement, a bright and airy colour lair. A large rack of coloured scarves took centre stage.

On the wall was a wheel of colours. She proceeded to explain the science of analysing one’s colours and how it can inform the choices we make about clothes. It turns out it’s not just about which colours each of us can or can’t wear. It’s about which tones of each colour work best for us. And what determines that is our hair colour, our skin tone and the colour of our eyes.

The theory behind colour analysis was influenced by the work of the great masters and their individual pallets. Think summer colours from Monet and autumn ones from Constable.  Their work has been distilled into a system which groups colours into warm and cold. These are further broken down into four quarters of a colour wheel. The names of these quarters are the seasons of the year. The warm colours are Autumn and Spring, the cool colours Winter and Summer. This applies to neutrals just as much as it does to colours.

It turns out the only people who can successfully wear true black and pure white are those who fall in the Winter section of the colour wheel. Wearing any old colour and choosing the absolute right colour for you is apparently the difference between looking fabulous and looking rather washed out! Fiona showed me some of the coloured scarves on herself demonstrating how some colours lit up her face, while others drained it of both colour and energy. It was surprisingly easy to see exactly what she meant. I found it fascinating.

Next it was my turn. Fiona sat me in front of a mirror and covered me in a white cape so she had a blank canvas with which to work. I’d been instructed to come with little or no makeup on and what I had, I removed with a cleansing wipe. The canvas was completely bare. I tried not to crack the mirror. Fiona then began her analysis by assessing whether I fitted best within the warm or cool colour range.

The colours of Autumn

I’d already suspected I was likely to be in the warm category. I’d been told by makeup consultants I have a slight yellow tone to my skin and I have auburnish hair and hazelish eyes. So I wasn’t surprised when Fiona confirmed I was indeed warm. This meant I was either Autumn or Spring when it came to the colour wheel. I was rather disconcerted to learn I should probably retire most if not all of my black wardrobe therefore. And certainly not wear it next to my face again. I now understood why I have never looked good in photographs wearing white. When black and pure white were draped around my neck together I looked like a nun!

Fiona then used a number of different coloured scarves to work out which season of the wheel I fitted in. She told me she had an idea what I would be, but would still need to see all the colours against my skin to make a final decision. It was amazing to see the difference in my eyes and skin tone with different colours next to my face. If I’d not seen it myself, I wouldn’t have believed it.

Eventually I had around 14 different swathes of colour piled up around my neck and shoulders. They alternated good and bad colour choices against my skin. Fiona then removed them quickly in turn to show me what each looked like. I wasn’t surprised to be told I was an Autumn although I had hoped to be a Spring. The Autumn colours reminded me of my mum. (Sorry Mum!) But the Spring colours looked very unimpressive next to my skin.

My Autumn wallet.

Fiona then took each of the Autumn coloured scarves in turn and tested those against my face. She wrote down in an official House of Colour notebook how each performed. So I now have colours that are excellent and that I can wear head to toe and look fabulous in, colours that work well as part of an outfit and a few colours I should probably just stick to accessories in. After all that she decided I was a Blue Autumn. Good. I like blue.

She then presented me with a wallet with my 36 colours in it to take with me next time I went shopping. Unfortunately she also confirmed my life long addiction to silver jewellery and silver occasion wear was probably not the best choice! A beautiful fuchsia pink French Connection dress I bought the previous year probably wasn’t going to see much wear in the future either.

I hadn’t realised the colour analysis session would also include make up. Fiona gave me advice on lip colours and blusher in particular that would accentuate the Autumn colour aspect for me. She thought my favourite blusher was too pink and I could see I looked quite good in a rather nice coral one. Along with a rust coloured lipstick! Was I turning into my mother after all?

Apparently, while your colour ratings (in the notebook) may change as you age, your season doesn’t. But the gap between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ colours grows wider with age, so getting your colours done when older is even more valuable. It can also give guidance as hair colour and skin tone change, or if we need glasses. Fiona says a good lipstick can be one of the best ways of increasing colour contrast in the face as we grow older. I’ll vouch for that!

OCD or what?

I asked how the process translates across different races but apparently there’s no data on that. That would be really interesting. I can see it works well for white skin but just how relevant it would be for brown and black skin, I don’t know.  All the marketing and case studies I have seen seem focused on white women.

I think if you’d told me I would find such an exercise fascinating a few years prior, I would have laughed. How ridiculous! What nonsense! But now I’m really glad to have experienced colour analysis myself. I spent the afternoon of the following day sticking little gold stars on my top colours in my colour wallet. (I need an app for that!) Don’t judge me. I also browsed the website of Kettlewell which groups its clothes by the seasons of the colour wheel. I read some interesting blogs on their website but they seemed very pricey.

Since then I’ve thrown out a few clothes I’d not worn in years and which weren’t in my palette. (Is there a connection I wonder?) In shops now look at clothes I would never have considered before. One potential thorn is that my other half isn’t always very impressed with my new colour choices both in clothes and lipstick. He let slip that his mum had her colours done in the 70s and he didn’t sound impressed. Apparently it was popular back then but later fell out of favour with the fashion press. But what do they know? (Since then he’s had his colours done too and he now loves it!)

But honestly and truly, I never feel invisible when I’m wearing my top colours. Unless I’m really having an off day, I feel great. And I feel confident that I look good too. So if you’re feeling invisible, why not check out colour analysis too!

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Finding The Magic Outside Your Comfort Zone

Magnificent Midlifers Go On An Adventure….

The older I get, the more I find myself setting challenges. I’ve found setting a specific challenge that is going to really take me outside my comfort zone is both hugely motivating for action and immensely satisfying once complete. As Will Smith likes to say, “the comfort zone is a beautiful place but nothing ever happens there.”  The really magical stuff is found just outside.

I reckon the challenge-setting thing is probably going to be an annual event now. The trouble is I keep setting bigger challenges, so who knows where I’ll end up. Last year it was my first half marathon at 50. And this year it was a 25 km country hike. Not sure how I’ll top either.

On the last weekend in September (I really should have known better weather-wise) I took part in the DofE Adventure  – a 25 km hike through the UK Peak District.  The Duke of Edinburgh scheme is familiar to most UK schoolchildren. It runs a series of awards, bronze, silver and gold for which young people have to plan and carry out expeditions as well as completing other challenges. It’s great for building skills, confidence and stamina. For big kids too it turned out.

Our Adventure was the adult version (complete with a bar tent at the end) and we were raising money to enable more young people to take part in similar expeditions. I even managed to convince four other Magnificent Midlifers from our private Facebook group the Flock, to come with me. More crazy women! Here are two of them.

Setting off with my fellow walkers Caroline and Anna. There were two more Magnificent Midlifers in front on the hike but we failed to catch them until the evening, speedy pair that they were!

The walk was pretty challenging in itself. It was the longest distance I’ve ever walked in one day. We had to carry backpacks with provisions and changes of clothing including waterproofs (thank goodness), and if you’ve ever been to the Peak District, you’ll know it’s quite up and down!

I’d been nervously checking the weather forecast for days and while it started out reasonably positive, as the big day approached, it looked more and more likely we would be trudging through rain. I have a wonderful app on my phone called Dark Sky and it gives hyper-local weather forecasts. If it’s raining now in your location, it can tell you with a pretty high degree of accuracy how many minutes it will be before the rain stops.

When I opened up Dark Sky last Saturday morning and saw solid rain from 3pm until well into Sunday, my heart sank. The heavens opened even before we reached the starting line and waterproofs were quickly dug out of rucksacks. But it was not so much the walk in the rain that worried me, as the night to follow. You see, we were also spending a night under canvas! In a sleeping bag. On a sleeping mat. In a field. In the rain. Yikes!

It didn’t rain constantly, at least during the day, but it was enough to make us fairly soggy and to really test out our waterproof clothing. Luckily we had motivational slogans and glorious scenery to distract us even when traipsing through mud, as well as wonderful refreshment stops along the way. We even took a short detour to climb the very highest peak.

We had lots of giggles along the way. I discovered I’m not cut out to be a camera woman. Check this out:

I was exhilarated but exhausted on reaching base camp where we were to spend the night. Sore thighs twinged every time I had to cross a stile on the downward slope. But down at the bottom was a large marquee, live music, great hot food, wine and our Magnificent Midlife team mates who we’d failed to catch up with during the day. Told you it was the adult version! The DofE Scheme had done a brilliant job organising the day and over 600 people took part!

We finally caught up with the speedy Liz and Maureen in the bar tent. What a great Saturday night!

But have you ever tried camping with 600 people in individual tents in a waterlogged field? I guess it wasn’t that different to the regular Glastonbury experience. I went twice to that 20 years apart and when I went the second time, I remembered why I’d left it 20 years.

Suffice to say there was an awful lot of mud. Just trying to make my way to the loo block felt like an epic journey. And my weak midlife bladder didn’t help.

The organisers kindly put up our tents so we only had to stagger into them. We were also allocated a sleeping mat each. But 50+ year old bones are not designed to sleep on a sleeping mat and it wasn’t exactly the most restful night I’ve experienced. Give me a nice soft mattress, on a bed, in a house any day.

I made the rookie mistake of leaving my walking boots between the two tent layers and woke up to soggy boots too. Waking up to yet more rain in the morning, I was delighted I wasn’t joining the 300 of my camp mates doing another 25 km on the Sunday. There’s always a silver lining right. Brave hardy souls they were!

My morning view after a very soggy night.

But you know what? I felt amazing having completed the walk and survived a night in a tent. I’ve always loathed camping. Men in my life have tried to persuade me to embrace sleeping outdoors but I never got a taste for it. I once camped in a desert and that was manageable. But I’m a real softy when it comes to not liking being cold and wet.

But I managed it without too much complaining, I have some amazing photos to share, and I got to spend time with the four amazing women who came with me on this journey.  We really did find the magic outside our collective comfort zone.

At the top of the highest peak. We made it!

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