It’s a topic that pops up on most women’s paddling forums with questions ranging from advice and lifestyle tips to physical changes in paddling and beyond. Paddling through the menopause is not only absolutely possible, it should be encouraged for both physical and mental well being!
To help us write this comprehensive guide to help you keep paddling through the menopause, we enlisted the help of the lovely Jo Moseley to talk openly about her experiences of paddling through the menopause, but also give her top 10 tips for keeping mentally and physically well both on and off the water. Jo, take it away!
A little about Jo and her experience paddling through the menopause first…
August 2020 – I’m crying under a beautiful rainbow, soaked from the thunderstorm and feeling like Wonder Woman. With British Canoeing friends cheering me on the riverbank, I have completed my stand-up paddleboard 162 miles coast to coast adventure along the Leeds Liverpool Canal, picking up plastic litter and fundraising. My heart is full of hope, gratitude, purpose and joy. Aged 54, I’m almost post-menopausal.
May 2013 – I’m crying in the biscuit aisle of Tesco’s supermarket, overwhelmed, anxious and desperate for a good night’s sleep. My boys look on, horrified. I am snappy, forgetful, my body aches, I have night sweats, heart palpitations, my skin itches and constantly shivering. I feel so alone. Aged 48, I’m beginning to experience all the signs of the perimenopause.
Like many women, I started experiencing signs of the menopause, the time when a woman’s periods stop, without realising what was happening. I thought I was simply a stressed, single Mum worrying about her parents, who were both going through chemotherapy. My research led me to online articles, communities and books with great advice on the menopause and I have included some of them here for you. Having not exercised regularly since my late 20s, being active soon became a key element of my selfcare. Research has shown that exercise has very many benefits for menopausal symptoms.
In September 2016 I took my first stand up paddleboard lesson in the Lakes. I was immediately hooked. I felt confident, calm and uplifted. SUP has quite literally helped me navigate the last few years. Once again, the science backs up the mental and physical benefits of moving on water.
And with that, I introduce my:
Top 10 tips for Paddling through the Menopause
Put Yourself on the Priority List
Looking after your own wellbeing during the menopause is very important and absolutely not selfish. Are there things you can say ‘no’ to so you can say ‘yes’ to things that bring joy? Are there commitments you can take a step back from for a while? Believe me, I know how hard this can be, but how helpful it is to give yourself time and space to manage your symptoms. Can you put paddling and your selfcare routine into your diary as an appointment with yourself instead of your wellbeing an afterthought?
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
On the water, I always carry a reusable bottle or two of fresh water and keep myself topped up, to prevent headaches and dizziness, which I’ve been more prone to. It’s a simple thing to overlook, but are you drinking enough water?
There are many resources about foods that can help you feel good during the menopause and it is worth taking the time to work out what is best for you. I found these books to be helpful:
- Menopause – All you need to know in one concise manual
- Menopause – The change for the better
- Sorted – The active woman’s guide to health by Dr Juliet McGrattan
- The good menopause guide by Liz Earle
Paddling up to 24 miles a day on my adventure, I always made sure I had a good breakfast (scrambled eggs on toast or oats with Greek yogurt, berries and nuts and seeds). I carried nuts and dried fruit in a tin or beeswax wrap on the board as I wanted my snacks to be as plastic free as possible.
For lunch, I had cheese & tomato or peanut butter sandwiches. On the first day I didn’t eat enough as I was so excited and nearly fainted later that evening. Can you look at improving your nutrition to find foods that help you feel good and give you the energy you need to paddle?
If I’m feeling anxious or haven’t slept well, the last thing I might feel like doing is exercise. However, sometimes knowing I’ve booked a day with a friend is just what I need. Having someone to talk to out on the water can help me feel less alone put a lot of problems in perspective. Are there women you can meet up with perhaps from the British Canoeing Facebook page?
Bend so you don’t break
Many women find their muscles and joints ache during menopause. Yoga, Pilates or stretching can really help this. I also found yoga helped me get on and off the board at locks or when I needed to lie down & swoosh under a swing bridge. If you can’t make it to a local class, there are some great videos online, or perhaps follow one of the British Canoeing #ShePaddles Ambassadors on Instagram, like India Pearson @with_india. Yoga and stretching before bed are also great ways to help you reduce stress and help you sleep better. What about treating yourself to an online yoga video or class?
Build strength off the water
It is really important for us to look after our heart, bone density and muscle mass as we get older. I found kettlebells classes a really fun way to strengthen. This gave me greater confidence on the water knowing I could portage my board – often loaded with plastic! – and get myself up and down ladders at locks on the Aire and Calder Navigation. Being physically stronger can help you feel stronger mentally and emotionally too. Are there kettlebells classes locally or online videos using your own body weight, weights or resistance bands? Maybe schedule them into your diary because they are important for you!
Try something new
One aspect of the menopause is feeling like you’ve lost your Mo Jo, your energy levels may be depleted or anxiety increasing. Perhaps, if finances and opportunity allow, you could try something new on the water? Take the pressure off being accomplished at your sport and be a beginner again? Try SUP Yoga perhaps. Rekindle the simple joy of being on the water and sense of discovery.
Find a purpose
Picking up plastic on the canal or sea has played a big part in my paddleboarding, providing a sense of purpose, hope and gratitude for the chance to make a difference. My motto is “I can’t change the world, but I can change the little bit around me.” Many of the days on the canal were hard work, the weed and thunderstorms, but the goal of litter picking and fundraising kept me going. Would finding a purpose – coaching, fundraising or bringing other paddlers together for a fun day out – bring you a boost of energy?
Build a community online
Knowing there are other women who understand what you are going through can help you feel less alone, especially if at first you don’t feel comfortable talking to your friends. The British Canoeing Women’s Paddling community on Facebook or communities such as Positive Pause, Jane Dowling Meno and Me or Henpicked have a lot of excellent articles on ways to help you during the menopause.
Seek medical help
Finally, whilst all these things may help, I would always recommend you speak to your GP about options regarding HRT etc. As I said at the beginning, your health and wellbeing are very important. You do not need to go through this alone. Put yourself on the priority list and do what’s right for you. Be kind to yourself and enjoy your time on the water!