What do smoking, exercise, alcohol consumption, and body weight have in common? Well, for women these lifestyle habits affect the age when menopause might occur. American women on average reach menopause around age 52, but menopause can occur much sooner for some women, sometimes occurring before age 40 (premature menopause). Thus, the link between menopause and lifestyle.
What is Menopause?
Menopause is defined as the point when it’s been one year since a woman had her last menstrual period. So menopause is diagnosed after the fact so to speak. In reality women will experience symptoms suggestive of menopause prior to actually being post-menopausal. The phase before menopause when many women will start noticing changes to their bodies and brains is called perimenopause.
The ovaries produce a limited number of eggs and they also produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone that regulate the menstrual cycle. Menopause occurs when the ovaries no longer make eggs. Along with this are declining levels of the estrogen and progesterone. This loss of hormone production is responsible for the symptoms of menopause – the most notable ones being hot flashes and night sweats.
Signs and Symptoms of Menopause
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Brain fog
- Breast tenderness
- Sleep disturbance
- Weight/fat gain
- Thinning hair and skin
- Vaginal dryness/itchiness
- Mood swings
Menopause and Lifestyle: Smoking, Exercise, Alcohol, and Obesity
In a recent study smoking was the lifestyle factor that made the biggest difference in determining when menopause occurred. Smokers experienced menopause two years sooner than non-smokers. This is probably related to a decrease in blood flow to the ovaries as the result of smoking. Menopause also occurs two years sooner after surgical removal of the uterus (partial hysterectomy), which is thought to be related to a loss of blood flow to the ovaries following the surgery. Toxic effects from tobacco may also play a role in early menopause in smokers.
Women who engage in strenuous exercise after 30 undergo menopause less than a year later than women who do not exercise strenuously.
Being obese is associated with later menopause with heavier women experiencing menopause about a year later than women with normal body weight. More specifically women who gain 30 pounds in women during their 20s and 30s reach menopause one year later than women who did not gain any weight during those years.
Women who consume more than two alcoholic drinks per day go through menopause later (less than a year later). But, more than two alcoholic drinks per day is associated with health risks too. And later menopause is linked to an increase risk in breast cancer.