By Rachel Lankester, Editor

In a recent podcast, I interviewed the wonderful Dr. Maria Luque, menopause fitness expert, health science professor, and Air Force veteran, who shared her passion for enhancing quality of life at menopause. Quality of life encompasses both physical and emotional well-being, presenting a complex interplay of factors unique to each individual. Articulating what quality of life means for each of us can be challenging, as it’s such a personal thing. Here’s Maria’s feel good guide to menopause, in which we explore what will work for each of us.

Dr. Maria Luque

Maria believes menopause can serve as a catalyst for self-reflection and exploration to identify what quality of life means in midlife, so women can enjoy a healthy lifestyle and age well. It’s an opportunity to reassess our goals and aspirations amidst hormonal changes and life challenges. Maria encourages women to disregard societal expectations and age-related stereotypes when defining their quality of life.

Instead, she advocates for pursuing activities that evoke genuine joy and fulfillment, emphasizing the importance of introspection and authenticity. Quality of life is reflected in activities that bring warmth to the heart and elicit smiles, serving as guiding principles for women navigating the midlife menopausal journey.

Rediscovering joy and the power of learning

We explored the misconception that joy and happiness diminish with age, particularly during menopause. We both agreed that this notion is flawed, emphasizing that women at this stage of life have much to smile about. Maria highlighted menopause as a phase marked by growth and learning, where women can draw upon past experiences to make informed decisions and prioritize their mental health and well-being. She emphasized the importance of acknowledging past mistakes and rediscovering lost passions as crucial steps towards enhancing quality of life during menopause.

Maria’s journey into menopause research stemmed from a desire to understand and support friends and clients struggling with the natural passage through the change. Her dissertation focused on qualitative research, aiming to capture the diverse experiences of menopausal women. Rejecting a weight-loss-centric approach, she prioritized quality of life, recognizing its subjective nature and the unique challenges each woman faces.

There is no one linear path. Through her research and personal journey, she emerged more informed and empowered, determined to educate women about menopause and the aging process, and alleviate fears associated with those.

Preparing for the journey ahead

We touched upon the need for early education and awareness about menopause among women in their thirties and twenties. Maria stressed the importance of being prepared, not scared, for the inevitable changes that come with menopause. The lack of practical knowledge can make menopause a daunting proposition. By equipping women with knowledge and understanding, she hopes to dispel myths and misconceptions surrounding menopause and empower women to embrace this phase of life with confidence and resilience.

We also noted the transient nature of menopause, reminding women that the challenges they face during this time are usually temporary. Maria encourages women to envision a future beyond menopause, characterized by calm and stillness, where they can fully embrace their newfound wisdom and strength. Through education, support, and a shift in perspective, women can navigate menopause with grace and confidence, emerging stronger and more resilient on the other side.

Debunking myths and embracing transitions

The prevalent narrative surrounding menopause today tends to portray it as an inherently negative experience. Maria highlighted the commercialization of menopause, pointing out how this narrative can leave individuals feeling vulnerable and desperate for solutions. While some may experience severe symptoms lasting a decade or more, others may breeze through without any noticeable issues. This diversity in experiences, Maria suggests, deserves more attention and discussion. 

She emphasizes the calming effect of knowledge, noting how understanding the process can help us feel more prepared to face its challenges. Despite the sometimes overwhelming nature of menopausal symptoms, she encourages a proactive approach, urging women to explore their options and develop coping strategies, working out what works best for them. Reflecting on conversations with post-menopausal women, she highlights a common sentiment of acceptance and even appreciation for the sense of calm and liberation that often accompanies midlife.

Embracing menopause and healthy aging

Midlife is often a time of personal transformation as we get more comfortable speaking our mind, taking up space, being louder, and exuding confidence, contrary to the societal expectation for women to shrink and remain unobtrusive as they age. We can assert our presence and claiming space without feeling the need to conform to societal expectations.

We both lament the prevalent narrative surrounding menopause, one that perpetuates the idea of women needing to be “fixed,” primarily driven by the lucrative industry midlife and menopause has become. Maria expressed disdain for how larger corporations and personalities capitalize on menopausal insecurities by commercializing products under the guise of compassion, for example, promoting unnecessary skincare lines at exorbitant prices. 

We talked about the complex narratives surrounding menopause and the often oversimplified solutions offered to women. She highlighted the pervasive message that women’s bodies, from their skin to their attitudes, need fixing, perpetuating a culture of constant self-improvement. While acknowledging the value of hormone therapy for some, Maria cautioned against promoting it as a one-size-fits-all solution, emphasizing that its efficacy varies based on individual symptoms and medical history. 

Moreover, she criticized the booming market of supplements targeting menopausal symptoms, noting that their high cost often creates an illusion of effectiveness without tangible results. Another prevalent narrative Maria addressed is the notion that only specific physical activity, such as heavy lifting and high-intensity training, can combat menopausal changes in body composition. She debunked this idea, emphasizing that while such exercises can be beneficial, they are not universally accessible or suitable. 

This all-or-nothing approach, she argued, discourages women from seeking proper treatment or engaging in beneficial activities, leading to analysis paralysis and confusion. Instead, Maria advocates for a more nuanced understanding of menopause and individualized approaches to health issues, urging against the overselling of products and the promotion of restrictive fitness ideals. She emphasized the importance of empowering women to navigate their own paths through this transformative stage of life, free from unrealistic expectations and unnecessary pressure.

Overcoming analysis paralysis and trusting your instincts

We discussed the phenomenon of analysis paralysis, where women are inundated with conflicting advice and information, making it challenging to discern credible sources. Comprehensive information is key, but it also needs to be information we can trust and that feels right to us. Maria highlighted the importance of reconnecting with our innate instincts that often get overridden by societal pressures and external influences. She emphasized the need to critically evaluate information and be discerning of the messages promoted by influencers, especially on platforms like Instagram.

Maria advocates unfollowing social media accounts that spread misinformation and encourages us to question why certain messages trigger feelings of defensiveness or skepticism. We all possess valuable knowledge about our own bodies, accumulated over decades, which often gets disregarded in favor of external opinions. Presenting digestible chunks of information on social media is all very well, but those need to be backed up by context and trustworthy research sources.

The complexity of hormone therapy and the power of polarization in marketing

We also highlighted the contrasting approaches between the UK and the US. Maria underscored the lack of policy discussions in the US regarding menopause, with the topic often relegated to marketing rather than meaningful dialogue. She emphasized the need to recognize individual differences in response to hormone therapy, cautioning against blanket recommendations. Drawing parallels to breastfeeding debates, she pointed out the dangers of polarization and misinformation, noting how vulnerability to marketing tactics increases with division within populations.

I reflected on the broader implications of polarization, acknowledging its role in societal control across various domains. Maria stressed the importance of empowering individuals to make informed decisions amidst the sea of misinformation, advocating for community support and personalized approaches to navigating menopause. We expressed frustration with online misinformation and the futility of engaging in fruitless arguments, opting instead to focus on reaching out to those seeking genuine knowledge and support.

The importance of doing the work

We discussed the prevalent desire for quick fixes when it comes to a woman’s health, particularly in the realm of self-improvement such as diet and exercise. Maria emphasized the reluctance many people have to engage in the necessary introspective work, likening it to opening Pandora’s box. She suggests that addressing deep-seated issues surrounding food and movement, for example, needs time and a readiness to confront underlying traumas or learned behaviors. 

Maria dismisses the efficacy of short-term programs or advertised “magic fixes,” advocating instead for a more realistic approach that acknowledges the need for sustained effort. Women’s health will always be complicated. Maria challenges the notion of immediate transformation, contrasting it with the gradual progress achievable through long-term commitment. She underscores the importance of asking fundamental questions about quality of life and personal values as a starting point for genuine change. Moreover, she acknowledges the difficulty individuals face in recognizing when they’re truly ready to embark on this journey of self-discovery and improvement. 

Body image issues in menopause

We discussed the complex issue of female body image, particularly around menopause. Maria noteed that body image concerns are not exclusive to menopause but are rooted in societal pressures dating back to puberty. Menopause triggers significant physical changes, often accompanied by a loss of control, particularly regarding weight gain. 

She addresses the misconception that weight management is solely a matter of willpower, highlighting the hormonal shifts inherent to menopause. Many women feel betrayed by their bodies when traditional methods of weight control fail, leading to feelings of frustration and resignation. She stresses the importance of reconnecting with one’s body and making peace with its current state, emphasizing self-compassion over self-criticism. 

I shared my personal journey of prioritizing functionality over aesthetics, finding pride in my body’s capabilities rather than its appearance. I acknowledged the societal pressures that exacerbate body image struggles, particularly for women whose identities are intertwined with physical appearance or athletic prowess. I also highlighted the double standards and unrealistic beauty ideals perpetuated by society, particularly affecting women undergoing menopause. 

Cultural influences on body image and lifestyle choices

We delved into the intricate dynamics of body image and lifestyle influences shaped by cultural backgrounds. Maria reflected on her personal journey, pinpointing her realization of body image issues only after relocating to the United States. Raised in Germany within a culture that didn’t emphasize body image or diet, she found herself unprepared for the pervasive emphasis on appearance in American society. 

This cultural contrast sparked her curiosity, leading her to explore the origins of these societal pressures. I highlighted the impact of Anglo-Saxon societal norms on body image awareness which I write about in my book. Maria drew on her mixed heritage of German and Spanish backgrounds to illustrate the varying attitudes towards body image and lifestyle. 

She emphasized the importance of cultural awareness in understanding learned behaviors and thought patterns. I applauded Maria’s ability to view American culture through an outsider’s lens, fostering a critical perspective and openness to questioning dominant narratives. Maria attributes her broad cultural exposure to her upbringing in Europe, where she experienced contrasting cultural norms and values. 

Reflecting on her experiences, she acknowledges the need to strike a balance between work and personal life, prioritizing quality time with loved ones over the relentless pursuit of success. As she navigates the complexities of life and identity, Maria advocates for self-reflection and the conscious selection of values to carry forward, urging listeners to reevaluate their priorities and embrace positive aspects of their past amidst life’s chaos.

Click here to listen to the full interview of Maria on the Magnificent Midlife podcast.

Why not explore more..

Re-Evaluating Menopause And Postmenopause

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How To Have A Happy Menopause Without HRT

Balancing blood sugar, getting the right nutrition and making healthy lifestyle changes can all help you thrive through menopause.

Being Wiser In Menopause – With Tania Elfersy

Tania Elfersy is a transformative coach, speaker and award-winning author who helps women transform their experience of midlife change.

Last Updated on March 26, 2024 by Editorial Staff

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