WHAT YOUR HORMONES ARE DOING

Menopause occurs when you haven’t had your period for a year. At this point, you really start to lose estrogen. “Estrogen is anti-inflammatory, so when it begins to decline, some people have huge problems with joints. Others have hot flashes; some can’t sleep; some are very anxious,” Pick says. Research shows that estrogen may also protect the heart, brain, bones, and more.

POTENTIAL PROBLEMS

Bone loss. Lower levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone contribute to a more rapid loss in bone mass, Stanton says.

Risk for heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and certain cancers. “Hormones are the messengers in our body,” Stanton says. “They send messages between the brain, glands, and organs, and regulate inflammation. Every imbalance in hormones creates an imbalance in the body.”

HOW TO FEEL YOUR BEST

Take vitamin D. Take 2,000 IU daily for bone health, along with calcium (1,200–1,500 mg total daily from diet and supplements), and 400–600 mg magnesium; take all with food. For best absorption, split calcium into 500-mg doses, taking the last dose in the evening with magnesium, reducing the magnesium dose if loose stools result. “Vitamin D is very anti-inflammatory,” says Stanton. Ideally, get your D levels tested in spring and fall, and aim for a result between 30 and 50, Pick says.

Keep active. Do weight-bearing exercise, like standing on one leg—really. It puts pressure on hips, which lose bone mass easily, Johnson says. In one study of postmenopausal women, physical exercise also reduced menopausal symptoms and significantly enhanced quality of life, independent of whether participants were taking hormone therapy.

And what about the years after menopause? “We keep making hormones, we just aren’t cycling them [monthly for possible pregnancy],” Stanton says. “So the women who have sailed through menopause have stable, low levels of hormones,” though a major stressor can trigger an imbalance. To avoid a return to imbalance, Pick says, “continue to have joy in life, and keep taking steps toward vitality.”