WOMEN WITH PMZ
That’s post-menopause zeal!
AT 56, Katie Field has the kind of energy people expect in a woman half her age. The mother of two rises at 5am to get through her to-do list – which includes a 3.2km run before work, a long commute to London from her home in East Sussex, then a busy 10-hour day working as an assistant director in the civil service.
After that, Katie indulges her new hobby: making people laugh as a comedienne – a lifelong dream she finally had the confidence to try four years ago.
Most nights, she won’t slip into bed before midnight, yet she still feels refreshed the next morning despite her dawn start. But it’s not a new diet or exercise regime that has given Katie this lease of life, but menopause.
“Before menopause, I needed eight hours’ sleep,” says Katie. “Now I can get by on just five or six. And I feel more confident and vibrant.”
Defined as beginning at the one-year anniversary of your last period, post-menopause life is often seen as being a time of weight gain, dry skin, a loss of libido and a lack of energy.
Yet many women are now reporting the converse is true – and menopause can mark a renewed sense of vitality, energy and desire.
There’s even a name for the phenomenon: post-menopause zeal or PMZ, coined by anthropologist Margaret Mead.
Now, an increasing number of experts and doctors are recognising menopause is not always the negative experience it is often portrayed as – and that for many women, it can spell a hugely positive change.
Surveys find many women bloom in their post-menopausal years and feel happier.
Asurvey of more than 1 000 women conducted earlier this year found almost a fifth of women felt fitter and sexier in their fifties than they did in their twenties, and 15 percent had more energy.
As Hugh Byrne, consultant gynaecologist at St George’s Hospital in South London, says, the reasons for this are partly physical, partly psychological.
“There’s an idea that women slow up after menopause, but there’s no real reason this should be so,” he says.
Menopause marks when a woman stops producing an egg monthly. In the run-up to this, during the stage called the perimenopause, the number of eggs in the ovaries starts to drop steeply.
“It’s the eggs that produce the hormone oestrogen, so levels of this start to drop too while levels of the hormone progesterone, produced in response to the release of an egg, also fall,” says Byrne.
New energy. Higher libido. The confidence to follow your dreams. How menopause can be the best thing that has ever happened to you
As these hormones start to drop, they trigger the typical menopause symptoms such as irregular periods, hot flushes, night sweats, sleeping problems and irritability.
These symptoms can start two or more years before actual menopause, which most women experience at the age of 51, and for some women will continue for some years beyond.
However, while oestrogen and progesterone levels tumble, levels of testosterone – the male hormone, found to a lesser extent in women – remain steady.
“From a hormonal point of view, it’s only low levels of testosterone that are associated with low energy,” says Byrne.
“After menopause, women are freed up from having periods, and that is a big relief for a lot of women – and not bleeding every month and losing iron may give them more energy,” he says.
“Others may find that as they don’t have to worry about contraception any more, so their desire increases.”
This new-found boost has certainly been the case for Katie, from Bexhill-on-Sea, who is married to Tony, 75 – and is delighted to have reclaimed her body from the emotional ebb and flow of her monthly cycle.
“Before menopause, I used to have several days a month when I felt grumpy and dissatisfied. Even anticipating them would cast a pall on the rest of the month.
“When I was 50, and the symptoms of menopause started, I found them even harder to deal with at first.
“I was sleeping in the spare room with the window open in the middle of winter because my hot flushes were so intense.
“My periods also got very heavy – my GP said it was my body trying to have its last hurrah – which made me feel exhausted and very low.”
However, when her menopausal symptoms ended four years ago, things took a turn for the better.
“I felt more refreshed straight away, and things have got progressively better since then.
“Now I love getting up and going for a run early – whereas previously I was not a runner at all as I had no energy.
“I feel a lot less stressed, too, as I don’t have hormonal fluctuations going on.
“Not having to worry about contraception is liberating too.”
In 2011, she suddenly felt the time was right to give her dream of being a stand-up a go.
“Taking up comedy was, for me, a way of celebrating my new-found freedom. My children had left home and I felt free of the hormonal baggage that had been with me since puberty.”
Charity founder and author Jill Shaw Ruddock, 59, has her own theory on her new zest for life after she went through menopause at 48.
“In the run-up, I was uncharacteristically depressed. I had insomnia and a dark outlook but no idea it was because I was premenopausal,” she says.
She went to her doctor, who gave her a blood test and found her oestrogen and progesterone levels had sunk, a sign she was menopausal.
Once she’d been through menopause, she felt ready to start again.
“I felt this new purpose,” says Jill, who lives in Notting Hill Gate, West London, and is married to Sir Paul Ruddock, chairman of the Victoria & Albert Museum.
“I feel as if I’m ready to take on new challenges and have a new passion for what I do.”
She decided to write a book on middle age, and while researching the biology of menopause stumbled across an intriguing theory gathering traction in the US.
“After menopause, your oestrogen levels drop to almost zero and you lose 100 percent of your progesterone – so what you are left with is testosterone,” she says.
“Suddenly women become testosterone-dominant and that’s why they feel better – stronger and more confident. Their brain allows them to go and find new passions and purpose.”
According to psychologist Dr Sharron Hinchliff, a senior lecturer at the University of Sheffield, the causes of PMZ are more complex than hormones – and interwoven with the way society treats older women.
“Some people think women go through menopause and become sexually dead,” she says. “It’s what our mothers and grandmothers were led to believe – part of the old attitude that post-menopausal women should just disappear.
“But feeling freed from the reproductive cycle can be a positive. Midlife is now a time when many women start to look at themselves differently. They’re clear about their values, they know what they want, and they feel they can go and get it.
“A lot of menopausal women suffer problems sleeping or feel irritable, but once these symptoms have passed, they may feel better, too. Especially as research shows many women feel increased sexual appetite after the menopause and a new zeal for life.”
The Second Half of Your Life by Jill Shaw Ruddock is published by Vermilion. – Daily Mail
Many women feel energised after menopause, excited to try new things, more confident and generally happier.