Tizzie Frankish asks ‘why does midlife have to be a crisis?’

Even with perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms being discussed with increasing openness in recent years, some women may not recognise symptoms such as anxiety, low mood, problems with memory or concentration as being menopause-related, especially if they experience them in the earlier stages of the 40-65 age range.  My own symptoms started when I was 43 and after several years struggling to manage my mental and physical health, I finally realised I was perimenopausal, and I set out to manage menopause and midlife… My way.

The language used around menopause and midlife can be somewhat negative, suggesting there is little joy to be found at this stage of life. Clichés, such as midlife crisis, have negative connotations and have far-reaching effects.

Research suggests that how we think about something can affect how we feel about it and life feels too short to be pessimistic about midlife. My mum didn’t have the privilege of living beyond these years – she died at 53. That was a crisis. My midlife didn’t have to be. Coach, podcaster and writer Henny Flynn believes ‘if we use more positive or neutral language, negativity can begin to fade,’ so, instead of defining midlife with a gloom-filled label of a crisis: ‘a dramatic emotional/ circumstantial upheaval in a person’s life,’ I wanted an alternative empowering and life affirming title. One that wouldn’t undermine what I was experiencing, but at the same time celebrated my ‘profound change in form from one stage of life to another.’  So, I’m choosing to have a midlife metamorphosis.

This shift in mindset motivated me to manage my perimenopausal symptoms, and I started walking. It was my calm in the chaos. The natural rhythm of the steps settled my thoughts, the fresh air on my face helped hot flashes, my mood lifted, and I generally felt less fatigued. Immersed in the beauty around me, where nature thrived and survived in the concrete of the city streets, I slowly came back to myself.

This gentle process of ‘centering’ and ‘grounding’ brought new perspectives and the physical tiredness meant I slept better too. So, when my friend, Jane, wanted to walk the Camino De Santiago for her 50th birthday, I agreed, but not without reservation. Walking for me was a solitary pursuit, mindful and meditative, so it wasn’t walking 113km in six days that concerned me, the real challenge was completing it with six women, four of whom I’d never met.

However, my worries were unfounded. From Ferrol to Santiago de Compostella, Las Seis Camigas (the six ladies) walked, talked and new friendships were formed. We smiled with the sunshine and were reflective in the rain, we sang songs, swam in the sea, and we even pretended to kiss a slug (don’t ask!).

We walked as a group, sometimes in threes or fours and twos, but very rarely alone. Despite this, I found an inner peace and contentment through being part of something much bigger than me, and to say the walk was transformative is not just hyperbole. There is a saying on the road – the Camino doesn’t give you what you want, it gives you what you need – and on reflection, I needed Las Seis Camigas. I needed the connection with other midlifers in pursuit of a shared purpose and goal. Every one of us brought something different to that walk, but every one of us was important, valued, and together we had a midlife metamorphosis.

Social bonding is beneficial to women experiencing perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms, as it is known to raise oxytocin levels. In a recent article, Pamela Windle explains how oestrogen levels reduce during menopause and as a result, oxytocin declines. This impacts its regulatory effects on progesterone levels and symptoms such as anxiety, mood swings, depression, fatigue and sleep issues are exacerbated. An increase of oxytocin can help minimise these and other symptoms, and it has also been shown to help alleviate chronic joint and muscle pain (which might explain why my hips and back ached less while walking the Camino).

A recent scoping review of 77 different walking programmes by the Mature Women’s Health Research Group at the University of Alberta found that the women ‘in menopause transition or postmenopausal’ felt better and healthier after walking. Ninety-one percent of the programmes studied showed a positive effect on at least one menopause-related medical issue.

According to leading menopause specialist Dr Louise Newson, walking can help ‘neutralise’ menopause symptoms and she says ‘menopause can leave you feeling powerless’ so taking control over your daily walk may give you purpose and enable time out from daily life. As walking is a weight-bearing exercise, it helps strengthen bones – a brisk pace keeps the heart rate up mitigating weakened bones and the increased risk of heart disease (due to a lack of oestrogen). Menopause may also lead to storing extra fat around the abdomen, so walking can help with weight loss, and it releases endorphins, which make you feel good and lifts your mood.

For me, walking has been life-changing, and it has helped ease my perimenopausal symptoms. As a form of exercise, walking presents fewer barriers for women in midlife as it is inexpensive, easily accessible, with little risk of injury. If you are thinking about walking, put on some lightweight clothes and comfy footwear and walk around your local area at a pace that works for you. If you want to walk with others, ask partners, friends or co-workers to join you or alternatively there may be women’s walking groups in your local area. If you need help with sustained engagement, there are walking initiatives, such as Walk 1000 miles – Walk 1000 Miles which could help with motivation.

You don’t have to walk 113 kms in six days to mitigate menopausal symptoms… but you can start walking and see how you feel or have a mid-life metamorphosis… your way!

For more stories, advice and interviews, head to the Menopause Your Way Stories hub. To browse and shop a curated edit of menopause products, visit the Menopause Your Way page on QVC.

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We understand there’s a lot of information out there on the menopause. You can read through the NICE guidance on menopause management, as well as the NHS overview on the menopause.