Check Your Bone Density With A DEXA Scan

One of the major health risks associated with getting older, particularly for peri-menopausal, or menopausal women is osteoporosis.  As our oestrogen levels reduce, our bones can become weaker and more brittle, placing us at a higher risk of fractures and broken bones.  It’s not an appealing prospect.

Whilst a lot can be done to help prevent this condition by HRT and a sound nutritional approach, it is still good to know how healthy our bones are.

Having just had my 55th birthday and being fully in the ‘menopause zone’, the strength of my bones is definitely on my mind.

Exercise is, of course, recommended, particularly weight-bearing exercise and, my women’s health physio tells me that jogging can also help – although it’s a toss-up between joints and pelvic floor in that department.

Either way, I am a firm believer in ‘forewarned is forearmed’ and, as things stand with the NHS and the woeful lack of knowledge about menopause which seems to abound up and down the country, we have to take our health into our own hands, educate ourselves and campaign strongly (and loudly) for better care for older women.

I recently discovered that there is a particular type of body scan which will tell you precisely how healthy your bones are.  It is called a DEXA scan.

A DEXA scan uses low dose X-rays to measure the density (i.e. the strength) of your bones.  It is quick, painless and more effective than a normal X-ray in identifying low bone density.

Whilst osteoporosis can strike at any age, you may need to have a DEXA scan if you are over 50 with a risk of developing the condition (i.e. menopausal or post-menopausal) or under 50 with other risk factors such as smoking or a previous fracture or break.

DEXA scans will do more than this, however.  They can measure your body fat allowing a more personalised weight loss programme.

Even more importantly, they can measure your visceral fat – the ‘bad’ fat wrapped around your organs which increases the risk of heart disease and other serious diseases.

DEXA scans can also be used to measure muscle mass.  If you’re inactive or naturally skinny, your muscle mass is probably low – and will decrease over time making your weaker.  Knowing your muscle mass allows you to adapt your diet and exercise routine accordingly.

If you are in the UK, you may have to pay privately for a DEXA scan if your GP will not refer you for one.  Contact your local private healthcare provider for more information.

If you are the US, visit https://www.dexascan.com for more information and scanning facilities near you.

The Whacking Great Crossroads That Is Age 55

I’m 55 in May.  I can hardly believe it and yes, I consider myself lucky to have made it this far.  But just lately the number of people passing away seems to be increasing.  I have lost 2 friends to cancer since the beginning of the year and although neither were particularly close, the fragility of life is definitely becoming clearer.

You would have thought I’d have cottoned on to that fact when I became a mum but, you see, aside from the passing of my grandparents back in the ’70s and ’80s, death, so far, has kept its distance.

55 is a weird age.  If you are a tad obsessed with numbers, as I am, you find yourself calculating how long you might have left.  It is entirely possible these days, after all, to live to 100 – even to pass that great age.

Three score years and ten, isn’t that what the Bible says?  But 70 doesn’t seem so old these days.

55 seems to be the age, around which, members of your gang, social circle, family – call it what you will – start to shuffle off this mortal coil – and it rather leaves you in shock.

Another casual acquaintance was mentioned in conversation the other day and it appeared he, too, had died.  Nobody knows how or of what which rather makes us bad friends I suppose.

But people drift away over the years and you just assume they are still going, living their lives in another part of the country.

Death comes to us all but most of the time we keep it at arm’s length, aside from the constant repetition of the Macmillan Cancer TV advertising campaign which kicks my health anxiety into play quite nicely.  How many extra nurses would all the marketing spend pay for I often wonder?

So we are faced with a bit of a stark decision.  ‘Now’ takes on particular resonance.  The great poet Lord Byron said that there is no guarantee we will live a moment longer and, up to this point, knowing that has been enough.

55 might be the time to start acting on it.

I’m not a huge fan of bucket lists as you know but in terms of getting healthier, addressing our diet and managing our stress, now is the time, surely?

Then there are medical checkups.  The number of women having a smear in the UK has dropped to an all-time low.  I don’t know the stats but I’ll bet there’s a significant number who don’t attend their mammogram appointments either.

Now the latter I can understand because there is some research to say that the risks of a mammogram outweigh the benefits, but not going for a smear seems like utter madness when the 5-minute procedure could literally prevent your death.

There is no doubt that much could be done to improve the actual procedure itself in terms of comfort for those who suffer from any vaginal pain or menopause-related dryness but read my story here and decide for yourself.

It is time, my friends, to start looking after your health which may mean going through a period of change which might be uncomfortable.

At 11 stone 2 lbs, I now weigh far more than I used to when my weight was around 9 st 9 lbs.  Weight loss is one of those things that is definitely less easy to talk about than it used to be. Body positivity is all well and good but less useful when you’re in hospital laid up with heart or joint problems or struggling to cope with diabetes and high blood pressure.

And then, of course, there’s the menopause.  Haywire hormones don’t help you to think clearly about what is best for you, where you are going and how you want to spend the rest of your life.

Add in two tweens to the mix and there are quite a few challenges to address.  The perils of an older mum include seeing everything lose its tone and start to wither whilst your kids come into bloom.

My grandfather, Harry Setters (known to us as Flash ‘Ar) had a saying “It’s being so cheerful that keeps you going”.

Never a man to avoid a good laugh he regaled everyone with very tall tales until his late 80s.

I can’t imagine he’d be too impressed with my current lack of mojo.

That said, I’ll bet there are quite a few of us around this age wondering what our last chapter will look like and asking ourselves whether it’s too late to get the old bod into shape.

Logically, of course, it isn’t.

Spiritually, energetically and practically – well I wonder.

I see so many posts in my social media timelines along the lines of “Oh no, I’m 20” and “I’m 30, how did that happen?” The urge to type a snarky riposte such as “you kept breathing” is strong.  Oh, how we envy those who have decades before them!

So if today, you’re not feeling the “I’m just getting started” refrain of a certain clothing manufacturer and are considering whether you should take out life insurance for that free £100 gift card, then I feel you.

Whilst confronting our mortality can only be a good thing,  the urge to put it off is very, very strong.

These days I sometimes feel that I’m going to have to face it rather than pretend I can keep living as if I’ve another 100 years to go.

Yes, 55 is a crossroads – do you take the chance that your old habits will see you through, or make some changes now to secure a longer lifespan?

Either way it’s a gamble I’m not entirely comfortable with.




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Menopause Anxiety Has Got Me

One of the lovely side effects of the menopause is an increase in anxiety.  To quote Dr Louise R. Newson from My Menopause Doctor,

“Low mood and feelings of depression can be very common symptoms of the menopause and perimenopause. Other psychological symptoms include feelings of low self-esteem, having reduced motivation, anxiety, irritability, panic attacks, poor concentration and low energy. These symptoms can be mistaken for depression and I see many women in my clinic who have wrongly been given antidepressants by their doctors for these symptoms.”

It can be common for women to feel more irritated and angry than they used to which can really affect their families and their ability to function at work. Women often feel more tearful and frequently have mood swings.”

I think it’s fair to say that I am experiencing this by the bucket load.  It’s a funny thing isn’t it – that we can read loads about the problems we face but sharing what is going on with us isn’t always the easiest thing to do.

I figure that I may as well come clean about my symptoms as it may help someone else to open up about theirs, or at least to recognise what may be going on for them and seek support and help.

I’ve always been quite an anxious person but lately I feel as if my thought are on a loop, just going around and around and around.

I do suffer, mildly from OCD and this has flared up again since I just can’t seem to decide what I’m doing or why.

It’s as if my wheels are spinning but I cannot move, no matter how much I want to.

And it’s worse at night.  I wake at random times – 4 am is a favourite – thinking about the most nonsensical of dilemmas.  Where have I put my wedding ring?  Should I have gone to the shop to buy more milk?  Where is Ieuan’s sports kit?  If we get a cat, how much will it cost to install a cat flap?

As soon as I think I have reached a decision, around we go again.

I’m too hot, too cold, need a wee, need some cold water, have a headache or have to put earplugs in because a car door has slammed somewhere in the street.

I can’t tell you how exhausting this all is.

Worst of all are the heart palpitations which seem to thunder in my chest when I start my endless navel gazing of problems so trivial, they truly are first world.

Oddly, even though I can reason with my self and tell myself to get a grip, I am incapable of actually doing so.

I thought about writing it all down in a journal but the mortification of anyone other than me reading it puts me off.

There’s always a point in my life where I am finally, finally going to pull myself together – a birthday, a certain number of days lived (I recently discovered I’ve been alive 20,000 on 1 March), a certain planetary alignment.

And of course, nothing changes because, as any ardent student of pop psychology should be able to tell you by now, it is not your conscious mind you are wrestling with but your unruly subconscious mind – and you can shout at that as much as you like, it’s not the way you’ll change.

Knowing and doing are such hugely different things, aren’t they?

Things have not been helped by the recent untimely deaths of two close friends to cancer – for both of whom their diagnosis led to their departure within around 6 months.

If you suffer from anxiety around your health, you would have to be super-human not to wonder about your own, wouldn’t you?  As another friend remarked to me “you can be sure I am having every test going!”

So if, like me, you find your mind isn’t your own and seems to be more log-jammed than an NCP car park at 5 pm, you have my sympathy.

Of course HRT would probably help.  Perhaps even anti-depressants.  I have taken the latter before and they made me feel so uncomfortable I stopped taking them.  That doesn’t mean, of course, that they wouldn’t work for you.

At the moment I prefer to let nature take its course and to seek out more natural remedies to see if I can get back on an even keel.

I’ll let you know how I get on and if you are in the same boat, please share your experiences.

Every woman is going to go through the menopause at some point and I believe that we can all help each other by opening up about our experiences.

You never know, the thought roundabout might at least slow a little, even if it doesn’t not, finally ground to a halt.




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Is It Still OK To Admit You Want To Lose Weight?

I ask this simply because, since I married in 2011, I have put on 20 lbs which are currently sitting comfortably around my stomach (the kids call it a ‘podge’), hips and thighs. Possibly this is menopause weight gain; equally possible is that my sedentary lifestyle is starting to catch up with me.

In the bad old days of wall to wall diet books, there was a new diet every week – usually featuring one star ingredient like pineapples or a ghastly cabbage soup.  But it isn’t quite as easy to talk about dieting any more, is it?

Now my ideal weight is, according to the generally unreliable but prevalent medical charts (actually devised for insurance, and not medical purposes by the way), around 9 st 9lbs.

Don’t ask me to go metric.  I’m happy with Imperial measurements thank you very much.

This, I appreciate is clearly a “first world problem” which could be easily solved by not stuffing so much food in my face and joining the rapidly growing cult of “sitting is the new smoking”.

But everywhere I look there are plus sized sisters ’embracing their curves’, insisting on their right to be body confident no matter what their size (and, indeed, why not?) and even wearing obesity like some feminist trophy of war.

Women of all shapes and sizes are staking their claim to beauty and femininity.  Remember the furore over that Protein World “beach body ready” advertising campaign?

But you know somewhere a little klaxon is sounding;  a note of warning I can’t quite shake off.

I see these women and their bravery and I think, “perhaps I don’t need to lose any weight at all”.

Perhaps I should just eat and be happy.

Does it matter if I have a burgeoning muffin top?

Will it matter when my thighs start to chafe and I can no longer run at all?

I am really, really torn.

I know that, medically, we were not designed to carry too much excess weight and that its original purpose was to keep us alive until the next successful hunt.

I know that I should not make weight an issue for my kids, particularly Caitlin who, at nearly 12, is already aware of the body shape that the media finds most desirable – and it’s still thin.

If I’m confused by these mixed messages, what on earth is going on in the minds of our youngsters – absorbed as they are by the constant stream of images on social media?

We can have as many lauded Twitter campaigns as we like but this will not make being overweight safe for our bodies or a route to longevity.

The media can trumpet about the latest morbidly obese supermodel but is this really the way to give confidence to young women?

Some will argue that it is possible to be overweight and healthy, flying in the face of many people’s belief that, surely, the two are polar opposites?

And in an attempt to do something, anything to get the Nation’s weight under control, every week there is a new Government initiative – tax sugary drinks, tax sugar, tax alcohol.

This week fat is the enemy, the next week it’s salt.

Surely the finger of blame should point back at the manufacturers who feed us this junk and price it cheaper than the food we really need to eat.

I can guarantee that, right now, a punnet of strawberries will cost more than a chocolate bar and a multi-pack of crisps will be less than a bag of salad.

I don’t accept the argument that it’s a question of education.

Unless you’ve just been parachuted in from space you know chips are bad for you and that mass consumption of chocolate will make you fat.

No, it’s as if there’s an unhealthy collusion between the Government, restaurants, food manufacturers and the media all happily working to keep us in this state of wavering weight with the scales moving ever upwards.

Yes, I am responsible for my weight and the choices I make about it, but it’s clear that for many of us the environment in which we make these choices is becoming more and more challenging.

And what of those whose health conditions have led to them putting on weight?

What help is available for them?

It would be interesting to see NHS statistics about the number of smokers and alcoholics treated, compared with the number of obese patients.

There comes a point, I suspect, at which you simply can no longer control your weight gain without medical, psychological and emotional support.

And there goes that klaxon again.

If we just give in to weight gain and don’t make any attempt to stay within healthy limits,  where are we headed?

To that point at which all control is gone?

Do I, for example, just accept that menopause weight gain is a fact of life and ignore it?  Should I blame my hormones and the increasing stiffness in my joints?

Every day there seems to be a new ache or pain in a different part of my body.  Just recently I have been feeling dizzy, as well as very, very tired.

We have got ourselves into such a muddle over weight that it is almost a crime to talk about it at all but, for our future health and that of our kids, it’s a conversation we really need to have – today, not tomorrow.

Menopause: I Didn’t Expect To Be DIZZY!

Having stopped taking the contraceptive pill around 2 months ago due to being diagnosed as menopausal,  I have been expecting one or two menopausal symptoms to turn up.

And boy, have they ever.  Was I expecting menopausal dizziness?  No, I was not!

menopausal dizziness - a woman in a blue top pinching the bridge of her nose

Every time you turn on the TV or scroll through Social Media at the moment you’ll find women talking about their menopause. The silence shrouding what can be a pretty miserable experience is finally being lifted making it OK to discuss what our mothers and grandmothers could not.

So, to share my experience so far, here are just some of the delightful symptoms I am experiencing and which, in this blog, I will be addressing in the future, together with suggested lifestyle changes and ways to manage them.

You may be younger, or older than me, of course, and experiencing similar symptoms.  We need to all start talking and support one another.

So far I have experienced:-

  • Brain fog
  • Dizziness
  • Racing heart
  • Higher blood pressure
  • Vaginal atrophy
  • Pelvic pain
  • Anxiety
  • Aching joints and bones
  • Headaches
  • Weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Increased Tinnitus
  • Insomnia (and increased nightly trips to the bathroom)

The pill I was taking was Noriday, the progesterone only pill, and my GP did tell me that it was possible that it had been masking menopausal symptoms.  I think that is a definite.

I’m not sure if I have been experiencing full-on hot flushes yet but I do feel my temperature rise dramatically from time to time.

The worst thing is the dizziness that has hit me.  I feel like I’ve been on a boat!  I have a blood test on Monday (the works) to discover whether this is a menopause symptom or something else – I’m really hoping it’s the menopause!

I think the worst thing is that you no longer feel in control of your body.  I find myself experiencing a new twinge or random ailment brewing and uttering “what NOW???”.  There seems to be something new at least every week.

When I was younger, I would have the energy to cope with this; to take the bull by the horns and start exercising or dieting or something.

At the moment I’m so bloody knackered I just want to go to bed and stay there.  The tiredness is really draining.

The kids are in the middle of full-on ‘tweendom’ which brings its own challenges and because the Husband is away a lot I am spending a lot of time on my own (whilst walking like a drunk on a cruise ship).

I know I’m not alone by, bloody hell, menopause and menopausal dizziness is no joke.

Are you going through anything similar?  What lifestyle changes have worked for you?




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11 Remedies That Can Help You Deal with Joint Pain

I don’t know whether it’s linked to the menopause, but just lately I am finding my joints are really playing up.  Right now I have a pain in the front of my thigh and my left hip and I have no clue where it came from or what I’ve done.

joint pain - woman runner holding her knee

I have been wearing Ugg-a-likes, flat soled shearling boots which, unlike my treasured originals now consigned to a Hippo skip, have a completely flat sole so I am wondering if this is a factor.  I haven’t been able to wear high heels for any distance for years.

There are lots of misconceptions surrounding joint pain but it isn’t something that only affects old people.  You can get it by over-exercising (little risk of that in my case!), playing sports or just moving funny.  I often fall off the kerb or crick my neck by looking over my shoulder to see what the kids are up to!

Mat gave up playing rugby in his twenties because he saw so many of his fellow players start to have serious problems with their knees and ankle joints.

It’s all too easy to pop a painkiller when you are suffering in this way but it is always better to try a more natural option so that you avoid the potential side effects that come with meds.  There are natural remedies for joint pain you can find in your kitchen cupboard – and which are much kinder to your kidneys.

11 natural remedies for joint pain

Turmeric and Ginger

Both turmeric and ginger contain a substance called curcumin – which is a powerful antioxidant. Antioxidants have a hand in easing inflammation.

For the full effect, it is a good idea to consume ginger and turmeric in tea form. A little bit of ground turmeric and ginger in hot water and a dollop of honey can ease joint pain and relax you from a tiring day.

Peppermint Oil

It is no surprise that peppermint oil is used during massages. Peppermint has a relaxing effect and it also serves as an analgesic or pain reliever. The cooling sensation from this oil takes away the possible pain you might be experiencing.

Rub a few drops of peppermint oil on the affected area for quick relief from joint pain.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is an amazing home remedy and works on various problems.  That is why you should always have ACV in your cupboard.

This cure-all can also alleviate the pain from arthritis. ACV dissolves acid buildups, thus relieving pain.  Make sure your apple cider vinegar contains what they call ‘the mother’ to get all the health benefits.

joint pain - apples and apple cider vinegar

Cayenne Pepper

Most over the counter pain relievers contain a substance called capsaicin – something that is also present in cayenne peppers. Capsaicin inhibits Substance P which transmits pain signals to and from the brain.

You can make a cayenne paste that can be applied on your joints should an episode happen.

Olive Oil

You can use olive oil in order to lubricate your tender joints. Not only is this oil great for your heart when used for cooking, but its consistency actually makes it perfect for a topical treatment.

Two to three drops rubbed on the affected area is all it takes.

Epsom Salts

Magnesium sulfate is a substance that has been used for many years to relieve pain. While it sounds like a manufactured chemical, it actually natural and can be found in Epsom salts.

Find a big bowl that can accommodate the painful area. Add a tablespoon of Epsom salt in warm water and soak, soak, soak.

CBD Oil

By now you have likely heard about all of the potential benefits of CBD (cannabidoil). While research is still in the early stages, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that CBD can help to relieve pain.  It does this by raising the number of certain neurotransmitters. And, despite some misconceptions, CBD does not cause a high like THC does.

CBD is a versatile pain reliever as it can be found in oils, gummies, baked goods and topicals and I’m reading reports of many people giving it a try in the Facebook forums I am a member of, for example, Tinnitus and TMJ.

White Willow Tea

White willow tea is known to be the first form of aspirin. Before the rise of over the counter drugs, people used white willow tea to ease the pain.

joint pain - water being poured into a glass from a glass jug

Water

Most often than not, the pains and discomfort you feel are brought on by the fact that you are dehydrated. So whatever is causing you pain might be easily treated with drinking a glass of water.

Whilst this doesn’t always work, it’s surely worth a try before hitting the ibuprofen.

Rest

When we have exerted ourselves too much, exhaustion sometimes manifests itself through pain in the joints.

The simplest solution is to take a day off before using pain relievers. Maybe you are just tired and you need time to rest and recuperate.

If you are suffering from back pain, check your mattress too.  If it’s older than 8 years, it’s time for a new one.  I recommend SIMBA.

Exercise

This advice seems counter-intuitive, especially considering the previous point. However, exercise manages weight. If you are suffering from arthritis or a similar type of ailment, being within a healthy weight range will help to take some of the stress off your joints.

It can be difficult to live with joint pain. With these natural remedies, it is possible that the pain can be managed.  However, as with any condition, make sure you consult your doctor and figure out the best plan for you should the joint pain persist.

As for me, I rely on my trusty hot water bottle, a hot bath and an early night.

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What I’ve Just Realised About Exercising

I recently bought The 6-Minute Diary (review to follow later) which makes you take 3 minutes every morning and evening to practise gratitude and decide how you are going to improve.

For years I have been promising myself that I would take better care of my body and since today is 6 months away from my 55th birthday, and I have no intention of checking out till a ripe old age, I decided that I would just have a 30-minute walk at lunchtime.

That’s it.  No gym, no branded gear, no water bottle, Fitbit or phone.  Just me, my walking boots and far too much puffing as I ascended the hillier bits of Dinas Powys.

Not surprisingly I feel much better if a little rained on and wind-swept.  There is something about the repetitive plod of foot after foot that soothes and helps you focus.

I found myself thinking about my excuses for not taking better care of myself – and there are plenty.

  • not enough time
  • the wrong gear
  • having to do it alone
  • too many other important things to do

You get the picture.  I supposed what also triggered this was watching Mariella Frostrup’s programme on the BBC this week – The Truth About The Menopause – which demonstrated quite convincingly that exercise can really help our bodies to cope with the onslaught of symptoms.

Not all exercise is equal it seems.  Running or dancing were recommended as the impact upon bones seems to stimulate them to regenerate, or at least remain strong – if I understood it correctly.

No matter.  Today I managed a brisk walk.  I’m no longer naive enough to promise that I will do it every day but at least I now tell myself if I write it down in my diary it will get done.

And I finally realised that these things we do to improve our health are not chores, drudgery or a penance for too much food and drink – no – these teeny tiny steps are acts of self love, of acknowledgement and saying “actually I quite like my body so I’m going to take better care of it”.

It comes from a place of deserving more not a place of punishment.

It is about valuing yourself enough to decide that your health matters.

I’m not about to run a marathon.  But you know what?  I’ve made a start.




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Christmas Shopping? 8 Ways To Keep Your Cool.

There are times when those of us prone to getting a little ‘tired and emotional’ need to treat ourselves with a little more care than usual and especially if you are menopausal!  And Christmas shopping is definitely one of those times.

If, like me, you find yourself getting too hot, too tired and decidedly cranky with kids in tow, here are eight ways you can mitigate the damage before you either blow your top or end up spending far too much money because you just want to go home!

Here are my “keep cool when Christmas shopping” tips.

keep cool when Christmas shopping - indoor shopping mall

Keep cool when Christmas shopping

Decide how much you are going to spend on presents

This is THE most difficult aspect of all but you really need to be clear about your budget and how much you can afford to spend on each present.  It’s so easy to feel pressured into spending too much but we all know that after the kids have the thrill of ripping the wrapping paper off, so many toys languish ignored after a day or so.

Make a list of what you’re going to buy.

An oldie but a goodie.  Make a list of what you’re planning to buy for everyone and stick to it.  The list should include stocking fillers as well as main presents. It is amazing how bits and pieces such as novelty chocolates and tiny games can add up.

Research prices online before you go.

For bigger ticket items, it makes sense to at least have an idea of what the big retailers are offering and most of them will price-match (John Lewis, for example).

If you’re shopping for gadgets, make sure you are comparing the like for like technical specification and check what extras are included.

You might also want to check any consumer reviews you can find in magazines like Which? or on Amazon. Whilst you need to be able to read between the lines when looking at reviews, generally, you will get a sense of whether a product is OK or a complete dud not worth your precious cash.

Check sites like Topcashback, Quidco, and Vouchercloud to see whether there are better online deals for your gifts.  Sites like these also have mobile apps you can use to check prices and earn cashback on the go.

There are numerous other price-checking apps for your smartphone that you can use in-store such as Red Laser or Price Grabber.

Cash or credit?

Make sure you’ve set a budget and know how much you can afford to spend.  If you’re spending on your credit cards, make sure you’ll be able to make the necessary repayments without incurring hefty interest charges.  Nobody wants to start a new year with a Christmas debt hangover.

Plan Your Route

Once you know what you want to buy and where the best deals are likely to be, it’s easier to plan your route.  Make allowances for the day and time you go shopping.  If you hate crowds, first thing on a Sunday morning will be a nicer experience than mid-afternoon on a Saturday!

Dress Appropriately

I like to wear warm, casual clothes in layers with a stylish but comfy pair of boots that I can walk for miles in. You can find a great selection at Esprit.

If you’ve got kids, make sure they don’t get overheated in all-in-one bodysuits and that their clothing is easily removable for dashes to the toilet!

Plan A Break

Particularly if you have kids, you’ll need to schedule a toilet/drink break.  We like John Lewis as there is a good choice of food and snacks for kids, plenty of room, clean toilets and a welcoming environment for families.  Trying to cram into a tiny coffee bar with a pushchair and umbrellas is never a nice experience!

Make sure you have some bottled water and some healthy snacks (mini boxes of raisins or bananas) to stave off hunger pains.  If you’re on a diet, a little snack pot with some fruit and nuts and perhaps a few cubes of cheese may help you avoid an enormous slice of fudge cake and a calorie-laden festive coffee.

Keep Receipts

Why not start a folder specially for Christmas present receipts?  Just pop them straight in when you get home and you’ll know when to find them should anything need to be taken back after Christmas. Lots of retailers will now email you your receipt to save on all those annoying bits of paper.

Do It All Online Instead!

If you can’t face the crowds, online shopping is the answer.  Just make sure that you take into account any delivery charges, last order dates and returns policies.  Not all online retailers offer to cover the postage costs of returning item.  If you’re ordering a perishable gift, such as a cream tea hamper, make sure the recipient will be in to receive it.

It also helps to sort out a safe place for delivery as there is nothing more annoying than coming home to a missed delivery card.

With a bit of planning before your shopping trip, you can minimise the stress and hopefully save yourself some cash into the bargain.

Do you have any “keep cool when Christmas shopping” tips to share?




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Review: Night Sleep Supplement from Link Nutrition

It’s true, I think that people are either owls or larks when it comes to waking up in the morning.  I have never been a lark but the Husband is up and with it as soon as he opens his eyes.  I need caffeine, carbohydrates and solitude – the latter being in very short supply.

Food based sleep supplement from Link Nutrition - Night Complex - promises a better night's sleep without drowsiness

I have always needed a lot of sleep but now I am in my menopausal years I find I need even more rest. I know full well that a poor diet, too much caffeine and lack of exercise aren’t helping my sleep patterns – let alone the stress that parenting tweens tends to heap upon you.

Many parents, of course, are equally as knackered and sleep deprived, particularly in the early years of parenthood when your children are themselves learning to sleep through the night and expressing loud displeasure at anything that annoys them no matter what the hour.

But most of us bumble along, telling ourselves that we will have a nap or go to bed earlier.  It rarely happens I find.  Having a lie-in is reserved for Mother’s Day or my birthday – and even then I’m lucky if it lasts past 9 am.

Sleep hygiene is a big trend at the moment. We know that lack of sleep affects cognitive function as well as our overall health and happiness.  In fact, by not getting the right amount of sleep we may actually be decreasing our lifespan.

There’s nothing worse than tossing and turning in bed every night watching the clock tick ever closer to morning.  But, personally, sleeping tablets have never appealed, whereas I have tried herbal alternatives such as Valerian in the past with limited success.

I was recently sent a new kind of sleep supplement to try.  Night by Link Nutrition is a food-based supplement which contains magnesium, glycine, lemon balm, Montmorency cherry and Reishi mushroom.  Suitable for vegetarians, you simply take two capsules 30 minutes before retiring.

Link Nutrition Night supplement, food based complex to help deeper sleep

The Night supplement offers a natural, non-drowsy support designed to make falling asleep easier and to help you enjoy deeper, less interrupted sleep.  The formulation also means you won’t wake up groggy which is something I personally hate about medicinal sleeping tablets.

Each of the ingredients in this sleep formula has a specific function:-

  • Glycine improves sleep quality and reduces fatigue
  • Lemon balm induces calmness & improves cognition
  • Magnesium reduces tiredness and fatigue and improves energy levels
  • Montmorency cherries are a source of melatonin
This October, Link Nutrition, who produce all-natural food based vitamin and mineral supplements to help people feel their best, is running a “Sleep Well Naturally” campaign. I was asked to try the Night supplement for a period of two weeks to see if it made any difference.

My current sleep pattern involves going to bed around 11 pm and getting up at 7 am but I take a long time to fall asleep and the slightest creak of a floorboard or car driving past my window can wake me.  I can often have a couple of middle-of-the-night bathroom visits too.

Whilst taking the supplement I found that I fell asleep quicker and was less prone to waking around 1 or 2 am.  The quality of my sleep feels a little better too.

The Night complex is not, however, a sleeping pill.  It is a way of supporting your body to get a better night sleep – and there are plenty of other things you can do to help yourself to a good nights rest.

Here are some simple things you can try:-

Go to bed at a sensible hour

Most research seems to show that 8 hours of sleep is the magic number for most people, although too much sleep can be as bad as too little.

Get up at the same time every day

Yes, even on weekends and days off.  No, I’ve never managed that one either.

Limit caffeine consumption

Depending on who you read, it is recommended that you limit or even stop caffeine consumption after 4 pm or even 2 pm.

Limit alcohol consumption

Aside from the dehydration, alcohol interferes with the quality of our sleep so although you may drop off as soon as your head hits the pillow, you are likely to wake up in the early hours feeling regretful and in need of aspirin.

Limit blue light

The blue light from our phones and iPads can interfere with our sleep patterns.  Difficult as it can be to do, turning off all your gadgets is advisable unless you use your phone as an alarm.

Don’t go to bed on a full stomach

Your body will be too busy digesting your meal to give you a good night’s sleep.  Again, the advice I have read says to limit food a couple of hours before retiring but personally, I cannot sleep if I am hungry so I’ll have a glad of milk or some cheese to settle my stomach.

Make your bedroom cool and as dark as possible

The ideal temperature for your bedroom is somewhere between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit according to The National Sleep Foundation in the US.  When we sleep our body temperature actually drops so if we are too hot we may prevent ourselves from falling asleep.

A cool bed is very important too, for any woman going through the menopause and cotton or bamboo bedding is best for wicking away any excess moisture.

Of course, there are the old standby remedies of a warm bath and a hot milky drink which work for many of us but I have found that the Link Nutrition Night Complex has made a difference to the quality of my sleep.

Link Nutrition Night complex costs £22.95 for 60 capsules (one month’s supply) and you can save 10% if you subscribe on the website.

I also have a discount code for 20% off Night complex until 31st October 2018 which is MDNIGHT20

*collaborative post




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Am I A Good Mother? Just Pass Me The Paracetamol And Call Me Joan

It’s been a Joan Crawford sort of day. If I had a turban and a cocktail shaker they would have come in useful. I have found myself wondering “am I a good mother” – again!

My mood has veered from tired, frustrated, tetchy and on the edge of morphing into my arch nemesis “Shouty Mummy“.

Shouty Mummy is a stranger to Veet and likes the occasional cigar.

Am I a good mother? Joan Crawford

The late, great Joan Crawford

So what has Mommy Dearest been up to on this blustery perimenopausal day?

Washed net curtains to get rid of mildew (#FAIL), took kids to the supermarket and tried to avoid buying any more cheap plastic toys (#EPIC FAIL) and cooked (well reheated) spaghetti bolognese (#FAIR TO MIDDLING).

Leaving aside my peculiar fondness for net curtains (how very Miss Marple), this has hardly been a day of sterling successes.

And, as a ‘late’ mother, this is one of the hardest aspects of motherhood to deal with after working for so many years.

Now, marketing is one of those professions where you can easily spend years feeling like you haven’t achieved anything at all.

In legal services, where I spent over 13 years, marketing is still in some Jurassic quarters viewed as “something to do with golf”.

Things have moved on but it may not be the best career choice for the results driven.

My daily question to myself is “how do I know I’m doing this (mothering) right?” Am I a good mother? Let’s be honest, it doesn’t matter how many people tell you that you are, you have to feel it deep inside.

I worry that one mummy tantrum may irrevocably scar my kids, one shout too many may stunt their emotional development and one denial of a smile in favour of a stern talking to may blight their ability to ever play more than chopsticks on the piano.

I have a very conflicted view of discipline.

Motherhood involves a kind of subjugation of ‘self’.

It’s all about the needs of others, kids, husbands, partners, family, pets and I think sometimes maternal moodiness is more to do with this loss of identity than it is with the stress of parenting.

I struggle to find an appropriate role model for late motherhood.

Celebrity mothers have an army of nannies and housekeepers, not to mention personal trainers and chefs so I’m not sure their lessons are applicable to a stay at home mum in South Wales.

Am I a good mother?  Well, the kids are alive, eating (not vegetables obviously) and expressing varying degrees of attachment to me so it’s not all bad.

If you can think of an inspiring older mum, please comment and let me know. In the meantime, it’s a strong cup of tea for me, unless there’s a ‘y’ in the day.

Oh come on now, you know that makes it a legitimate wine night.

*This post was first published in October 2013.  I’m not entirely sure I’m any the wiser on the mothering front.

Why I’m buying pregnancy testing kits in my 50’s

It’s highly ironic, I think, that I have spent more on pregnancy testing kits in my late forties and early fifties than I did in my twenties. This has nothing to do with not using contraception but everything to do with not knowing exactly whether I am menopausal or not.  The question is, can you get pregnant during menopause?

My periods now turn up every 8 weeks or so and it seems to be a lottery as to which month they choose to appear.

pregnant during menopause - baby Caitlin

Caitlin Elizabeth, both in 2007 when I was 43.

It can take so long that it’s a toss-up whether the menopause has finally started, or whether I am pregnant – which, at 53 would be a surprise I really don’t want.  We have all read those surprise baby at 50 stories and wondered how happy the mum to be really is to be pregnant during menopause!

In fact, the trip down to chemist for a pregnancy testing kit is far more fraught with mixed emotions than it used to be.

One the one hand a late baby (and mine were already pretty late at 43 and 45) would turn our lives upside down but the thought of no longer being fertile is quite a psychological event in any woman’s life.

I can understand why menopause used to be referred to as “the change”.

Some women define themselves by their fertility.

They love having babies.

For them, it is the ultimate proof of womanhood.

For many of us though, having children is something we do to complete a relationship – because we believe in family – rather than an obedience to the ticking of our biological clock.

There is plenty of information online about pre-menopause symptoms.

This article at www.patient.co.uk lists no less than 66 symptoms to look out for – including headaches, exhaustion, decreased motor coordination, night sweats, insomnia, muscle cramps and backache.

But there is such a wide variety of symptoms that could apply to almost any illness, it doesn’t really help you to decide whether you do indeed have menopause symptoms.

Irregular periods are certainly one symptom, as is menopause weight gain, the appearance of a rounder, fuller middle.  And while I suspect I might occasionally have experienced a hot flush or flash (as our American cousins call them), I’m still not entirely sure.

My GP says that to see whether or not I am menopausal, I would need a blood test  to measure the level of the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) which can be an indication of menopause, but there is no definitive test.

This could only be carried out if I stopped taking the contraceptive pill.

That sounds way too risky to me so I’m stuck in some sort of perimenopausal wasteland until I haven’t had a period for at least a year.

So, what are the chance of conceiving naturally during your 40s and even 50s, and what about pregnancy during menopause?

In your 40s, your chances of getting pregnant naturally are about 20%, falling to less than 5% in your mid-40s and 50s.

There is also the increased risk of chromosomal abnormalities and a higher chance of miscarriage.

Nevertheless, I conceived naturally twice during my mid to late forties so there is hope if you have also left it late to start a family.

In terms of IVF, in your early forties, you have roughly a one in five to one in 10 chance of a live birth per treatment cycle.

From age 43 onwards, success rates fall to around one to five live births for every 100 women.

From 43 to 44 onwards, your chances of success using your own eggs really are minimal, because conception rates per cycle of IVF are so low. (source www.babycentre.co.uk).

Also, mothers over 50 are at almost three times the risk of low birth weight, premature birth, and extremely premature birth and their risk of giving birth to an extremely low birth weight baby and the risk of fetal mortality was almost double. (source:  Wikipedia).

Surprisingly. pregnancy during menopause (which you’d think would be impossible since you’re not producing any eggs), is possible. Here’s an explanation from www.babymed.com.

“Menopause drastically changes a woman’s body. When menopause occurs, a woman no longer gets a monthly menstrual period.

This is because the hormones that trigger ovulation and pregnancy are no longer as strong in the body as they were when the woman was twenty years younger.

Estrogen and progesterone will drop, and this will cause the body to no longer have the ability to get pregnant.

But since the process of menopause takes anywhere from five to ten years to complete, this is an awkward time in a woman’s life.

She will still have a chance of getting pregnant.  She could still be one of those pregnant at 50 stories.

With menopause, the hormone levels will drop, but there are times when they will spike during the course of the change.

At this time, a woman’s body can be able to still conceive a child, giving into the fact that a woman can get pregnant during or what they think is after menopause”.

So, even though I know the chances of conceiving are very small, I don’t want to take any chances.

If I were to get pregnant through some random last throw of the fertility dice, I would have the baby but as a late mother, I am already worried about being in my 60s when my kids leave school.

That’s the thing late mothers may not admit to;  the pressure to live longer, not to conk out, to remain a fully functioning parent to support their kids as long as possible.

To undertake this commitment in your 50s must be huge.

The other day I was asked by a lady who had her three children in her twenties whether I thought having children in your forties was selfish.

My honest, and immediate answer was yes.

I’ve written before that having children is in many ways a selfish act at any age but there is the extra poignancy of having a late baby – a kind of bitter-sweetness overladen with a hefty dollop of guilt.

For the next year or two, I’m guessing I’ll be a frequent visitor to the chemist.

Update – April 2018:  I haven’t had a period in over 2 years and although my FSH levels indicate I am menopausal, my doctor has not yet given me the ‘all clear’ so I am still on the pill – at nearly 54!

Time To Be Fearless About Vaginal Health

Now that I’m in my 50’s and frankly still not sure if I’m menopausal, I find that I am very aware of every change, tweak, pulsation, twinge and ache in my body.  My vaginal health has become important in a way it never was before. I feel as if I am on the edge of a very large cliff about to drop me into a melee of symptoms which could affect both my mental and physical health.  And it’s scary.

vaginal health - Vagisil ProHydrate and blue, white and yellow flowers

I’ve never been a particularly brave person.  I once tried abseiling at 13 and spent 20 minutes screaming my head off swinging in and out of the arches on the Merthyr Viaduct when I missed my footing.  Later, I managed to fall off a galloping horse in a Bridgend horse-riding centre and got kicked by the horse as it came back around the ring, almost breaking my arm.

Canoeing?  Took chunks out of both my thumbs. Hiking? Got blisters you could see from space. Swimming?  When I take my glasses off I can’t find the pool and I find the volume so loud that it gives me a tinnitus spike for days.

Such experiences have left me with a severe dislike of anything ‘outward bound’.

But, the result of being so physically ‘flaky’ when it comes to organised activity (or indeed sport in general) left me with an awareness of what my body was, and was not capable of.  And so it is today.

I watch Caitlin bouncing around and practising her ballet.  She cartwheels, twists and turns without a thought.  She can do the splits.  I don’t think I ever managed a forward roll.

Caitlin and Linda Hobbis

I envy her confidence and willingness to claim her physical space.  As women get older, some seem to shrink both literally and figuratively.  ‘Invisibility’ is one of the key gripes of women struggling to deal with getting older.  “I’m just not noticed” anymore they say.  “I can walk down the street and not a single head turns”.

Our fertility is so much a part of who we are and how we define ourselves – rightly or wrongly – that when it wanes we can face a huge crisis of confidence.

That loss of confidence can affect every aspect of our lives – from work to friendships and especially when it comes to sex and our romantic relationships.

Internet forums are alight with women debating whether, at a certain age, sex need no longer play a role in a relationship and it is quite alright to settle into routine intimacy and to accept that the days of exhilarating and even comfortable sex are over.

It takes bravery, I think, to say “there is no age limit on sensual pleasure” and to keep claiming your physical space, your physical pleasure and even your visibility.

Let’s be frank.  Lots of us in our 50’s are too bloody knackered to put up much of a fight and it’s no wonder that so many of us wearily accept HRT and stuff ourselves with Red Clover, Ginseng or the other supposed ‘miracle’ supplements that promise to return our youthful zing.

Recently, I noticed a TV ad from Vagisil in which they mentioned being ‘Fearless About Vaginal Health’, which is encouraging women to break down taboos and have more conversations around their intimate health and its impact on everyday life.

Vagisil is a brand that has been helping women to address their most personal needs for over 40 years and they recognise that when women take control of their intimate health, they are more focused, productive, comfortable and confident.

So, tired though we women ‘of a certain age’ may be, I think it’s really important to take control of our vaginal health and to stand up for what we need.

I hear loads of stories about women who are let down by their doctors.  It is too easy for overworked GPs to dismiss their complaints as ‘something you just have to put up with’.  Or to be prescribed HRT as it seems to work for lots of their other patients.

There should be, in my opinion, dedicated menopause clinics in surgeries.  Places where women can discuss the changes to their bodies in a sympathetic environment, without fear of censure or embarrassment.

This would allow open and honest discussion of the effects of HRT, supplements and self-care techniques.

Women could discuss their relationships, the impact of the menopause on their sex lives and seek reassurance from one another that sex doesn’t stop when your eggs dry up.

It is also important, I think, to give men a chance to discuss how their partners’ menopause affects them.  It’s no exaggeration to say that some marriages hit the buffers due to hormone-related problems!

Personally, if there’s one thing I am fearless about it is demanding answers to any medical problems I might have.  It’s too easy to say – “ah, you shouldn’t take your diagnoses from Dr Google” but all too often, Dr Google offers information which needs to be properly considered beforit is roundly dismissed.

And nowhere does this seem to be more pertinent than when it comes to matters gynaecological.

Having had my children naturally in my 40’s (at 43 and 45), and being branded a ‘geriatric mother’, I soon learned that passive acceptance of what the medical profession tells you isn’t always a good thing.  You need to educate yourself so that you can ask the right questions – and it’s exactly the same with the menopause.

Things are improving but very often trying to discuss it is a bit like shouting into a wind tunnel.  You are just not heard.

There are, of course, plenty of things you can do to ease your daily symptoms which are tried and tested and may offer significant relief, particularly in the case of one of the major menopausal bugbears – vaginal dryness.

You may, for example, find sex more comfortable if you use a vaginal moisturiser such as Vagisil ProHydrate Internal Gel.  It has a unique bio-adherent formula containing Hyaluronic Acid, which coats the vaginal wall and slowly releases moisture over time – meaning you only need to use it once every 3 days.  It comes in single-use pre-filled applicators which are great to carry with you for times when you need additional moisture or are just feeling particularly dry and uncomfortable.

You could also try an external moisturising gel such as Vagisil ProHydrate External Gel which instantly replenishes dry and uncomfortable vaginal skin.

Whatever you decide to try, my point is that you should be fearless about seeking the best solution to your health problems.  It’s your body, after all, and nobody knows it quite like you do.

We women should all support each other and openly discuss our gynae problems – particularly at menopause.  Suffering in silence helps nobody and it is likely that these symptoms are just a passing phase that can be treated.

After all, it is entirely possible that we may have another 40 or even 50 years left so it makes sense to be fearless about our vaginal health!

The Vagisil range is available from leading supermarkets and chemists nationwide.

This is sponsored content in partnership with Vagisil.