Menopause Awareness Q&A with Meet You At The Barre
In celebration of Menopause Awareness Month, we've teamed up with Jen Brown aka @meetyouatthebarre to peel away the curtain that keeps the peri-menopause and menopause a taboo topic. To kick off, we asked Jen some key questions about how the menopause can impact your skin, lifestyle & wellbeing, and what you can do to help.
What is peri-menopause and how is it different to menopause?
The menopause is actually only a moment in time. It simply marks the permanent end of menstruation which is defined as occurring 12 months after your last period. It literally only lasts a minute!
The peri-menopause refers to the years leading up to this magic minute. The transition period leading up the menopause lasts, on average, 4 years, but some women can experience symptoms for up to ten years, yet others barely notice a change.
The massive hormonal shifts that occur are experienced differently by every woman so no two experiences look the same. There are 42 possible symptoms of the peri-menopause. It’s complicated and doctors often prescribe anti-depressants instead of addressing the real cause!
Is this an area that you see more people, and specifically women, becoming more aware of?
There has been an explosion of information in the past few years, which is fantastic because research shows that the more you know about the menopause the less of an effect it is likely to have on your life.
Dr. Louise Newson has been a true trailblazer for women. Her new book has just been released, Preparing For The Perimenopause and The Menopause, and it shot straight to the top of the Sunday Times Best Seller list. That alone gives an indication of how much has changed. The menopause used to be swept under the carpet, and women were left to navigate unknown waters without a map.
Davina McCall's landmark documentary earlier this year was another breakthrough and the number of women going to their GP to discuss their symptoms and get help skyrocketed in the aftermath. Social media, for all its downsides, has really helped women access information and encouraged widespread debate and discussion.
What are challenges people might experience, or that you've seen in your clients during peri-menopause & menopause?
The challenges are widespread and varied. There are the stereotypical tropes of menopausal women: the rage, the hot flushes and the weight gain, but there are many more that impact daily life.
Exhaustion is a massive factor, as declining oestrogen levels play havoc with our energy, our sleep is badly affected and our joints start to ache. Many women feel that they have lost themselves and their joie de vivre has disappeared. It’s a challenging life phase, but again I must reiterate that knowledge is power. The better prepared you are the better you will be able to handle the challenges you encounter.
Women have choices, and whilst HRT is not right for everyone it is, in my opinion, a lifesaver.
Why & how does your skin change during peri-menopause & menopause?
Like any other time in our life when our hormone levels are unstable, our skin is affected. Many women report breakouts of acne not seen since their teenage years. Likewise, decreasing oestrogen means our skin starts to lose its elasticity and begins to crepe more. A good collagen supplement is helpful.
Skin also becomes drier and bruises more easily. Finding a skincare regime that works for you is really important. Ideally, it should be one free from hormone-disrupting chemicals.
As well as taking care of our skin from the outside, we also want to be taking care of it from the inside too by eating a nutrient-dense diet that includes lots of healthy fats, avoiding sugar and staying well-hydrated.
What are your 5 top-tips for helping to deal with the effects of peri-menopause?
My top tip is to get educated. You only need to read one book, so make it Louise Newson’s. You may as well go with the gold standard right?
Secondly, follow some decent accounts that are helpful and encouraging - I like @themenopauseroom, @emma.bardwell and @dianedanzebrink.
Thirdly, look at what is bringing you joy in your life and up that quotient. Midlife is a time to stop worrying about what other people think and start really getting to know yourself and what makes you tick.
Next, you do need to look at your diet. It’s time to cut out (or seriously cut back on) refined sugar, booze and caffeine. The reasons now are too many to ignore.
Lastly, but by no means least, exercise needs to become a non-negotiable. Strength training should be incorporated into your routine as a matter of course.
We start to lose muscle mass and bone density and strength training will help ensure a healthy and happy life post-menopause. You don’t need to be thinking big weights, you can do it with your body weight, (obviously, barre is ideal!) and you want to find something that brings you joy. If your previous training is leaving you exhausted, or you are picking up injuries and aching joints you may want to look at low-impact exercises that bring the same results.
May I recommend barre again?!
What is a barre class?
Barre is a fusion of ballet, pilates and more traditional strength training exercises. It is a whole-body exercise class that works on strength, balance and stamina. My classes are set to great music that helps you lose yourself in the moment, and inspire you to try that little bit harder.
It is a completely different way of moving your body and the first few classes will definitely contain moments of the baby giraffe learning how to walk. However, if you give it a chance and stick with it for a few sessions you’ll soon also have moments of fluidity and grace that you wouldn’t have believed yourself capable of.
Barre really is for every type of body. You do not need to have ever done ballet before (I have never taken a lesson), nor do you need to be the size of a teeny tiny ballerina. You can be at any fitness level to join the class as barre is a practice. It never really gets easier, you just get stronger, so I still find every workout challenging, the same way I did when I was learning.
How did you get into barre?
I ran a personal training business for many years for pre and post-natal women. I loved what I did, but as each of my own pregnancies went by (I have 4 kids), I found myself looking for new challenges. My body was also changing and I was acquiring stiffness and joint pain so I was interested in finding an effective low-impact form of exercise that would be both sustainable and nourishing for my body.
I went to one barre class and it was instantaneous. I knew immediately this is what I wanted to do, so,I signed up to train that day. I closed down my PT business and built a barre studio in my garden - all before I was qualified. When you know, you know! Luckily it all worked out just fine.
How can exercise, and more specifically barre, benefit women who may be suffering with the effects of menopause and peri-menopause?
Let’s look at what we know exercise does. It decreases anxiety, tension and depression. It increases self-esteem and lowers your stress levels. It helps manage your blood glucose levels, reduces your blood pressure and improves your cognitive performance. It increases your bone strength and your heart health and slows down the loss of muscle mass. Plus, the more muscle you have the faster your metabolism. That’s an impressive list right?!
Midlife women need to be going into deep self-preservation mode. It’s a hard phase of our lives and we want to be focusing on improving our calm, pleasure and joy. Exercise works! It should be viewed as a non-negotiable.
So why barre? The best kind of exercise is one that you enjoy so you are able to stick to it. Barre is brilliant on so many levels. It’s perfect for our age and stage in life. It’s low impact but high intensity, so it will deliver the results you want in a way that is kind to your body. Your joints (and your pelvic floor) will thank you.
My classes are jammed full of strength and balance work, both of which are crucial as we get older. Most importantly, though, I focus as much on the mental health benefits as the physical gains. The music and the pace of the class forces you into the moment - it is almost like a mindfulness practice as you can’t think about anything else - which combined with the endorphin rush produces an incredibly powerful sense of well-being.
How do I get involved with Meet you at the Barre?
My Instagram page @meet_you_at_the_barre is the best place to start. There’s a huge amount of information there and a really great community of very supportive women. There is a free class for you to try which you can find through the link in my bio.
My paid platform costs £25 pcm and you can find me at boon.tv/meetyouatthebarre. I release 4 classes each week: Arms & Abs, Cardio Barre and Express Barre (all 30 minutes) and a longer Power Barre class at the weekend.
Lastly, what is one key piece of advice you have for women who are living with menopause and/or peri-menopause?
My biggest piece of advice is that knowledge is power. Scientific evidence shows that the more you know about the menopause the less of an effect it is likely to have on your life. It’s time to get educated, no matter whereabouts you are on your menopausal journey.
Head to our Instagram page to discover other ways we're celebrating Menopause Awareness Month and to enter our Five Dot & Meet You At The Barre competition!