Updated: Jan 13
By Petra Coveney - creator of Menopause Yoga.
Start a new healthy habit
It’s January – you are going to be bombarded by experts telling you how to get ‘Fit,’ become a ‘New You’ and break ‘Bad’ habits. It’s the same relentless pressure for perfection that we as women face from puberty.
We all want to feel good, and exercise and nutrition are scientifically proven to boost your mental alertness and state of mind. But beating ourselves up for bodies that don’t conform to unrealistic advertising and getting depressed by our lack of energy is not helpful or motivating.
And the menopause is NOT the time to be harsh on ourselves or deprive our bodies of essential nutrition that we need to build and maintain our bone, muscle and heart strength and stave off dementia and depression. This are serious health risks, dear friends. Now is the time to liberate yourself from unhealthy social pressures and instead focus on your long term health. Do we want to survive into our post menopause or thrive!
Ditch the depressing dogma – change your mindset to say “I am choosing to Nurture & Nourish myself.”
I’d like to share with you an alternative outlook that could help change your perspective and lead to better health and happiness in your menopause and beyond.
Positive Perspective - Second Spring:
Firstly, let’s reframe our menopause transition positively as emerging into our Second Spring – a time when we can feel reenergised and more empowered as we embrace our bodies and emotions. "We are not trying to look like teenagers - we are Queenagers and all the more wonderful for our physical and emotional lived experiences."
Embrace yourself with Kindness & Compassion
If we treat ourselves with kindness and compassion, and smile at ourselves with good humour, especially if we temporarily miss our goals, then we are more likely to get back on track. We are only human and life knocks us off our feet sometimes.
Befriend your Inner Critic
It's time to wave goodbye to your Inner Critic - she has not served you well and you dont have time to waste listening to her any more. This is the most liberating healthy habit you can form. Instead of telling yourself you’re unhealthy or a failure in some way, instead talk to yourself as you would talk to your best friend. Be your own best friend. Embrace who you are including your wonderful messy emotions, wobbly bits and grey hair.
Intention setting – san kalpa
Do some yoga stretches and breathing before you sit and reflect on what is your San Kalpa? What exactly is your Intention? Are you just seeking to lose a specific amount of weight, or build muscle, or feel more energetic…?
“Weight does not equate to fitness. Body mass is not happiness.”
I lost a several lbs when I had flu recently – but being 8st 3lbs did not make me healthier or happier. I felt fatigued, weaker muscles and foggy headed. As soon as I could eat proper meals again I felt better. Maybe you've had a similar experience?
So, lets take a moment to write down why you are starting a new fitness regime. What are your reasons? Is it to feel healthier or to feel more confident? Is it to fit into clothes or boost your mental health? There is no judgement here, I’m just encouraging us to be honest because clarity helps us to form new habits.
Make Your Health and Happiness the Priority:
This is controversial...
The most positive habit you can start forming right now is to make yourself the priority. Yes, I said PRIORITY. Women are often juggling multiple responsibilities whether it is at work, family or friendships. Menopause is the time to prioritise yourself. This may mean some difficult conversations with your family or work colleagues to ensure you have time for your self. This may mean they have to take on some of your ‘roles’ such as shopping, cooking, cleaning, driving. Or maybe a work meeting needs to start 30 minutes later than usual. The alternative is you sacrificing your health and wellbeing – are these people really asking you to do that? Do your loved ones really want you to risk your health and be unhappy?
Menopause is the time to make these changes. If not now when, dear friends?
In this blog I’m looking at some simple Exercise and Movement habits you may choose to follow, but you can apply many of these tips and techniques to other habits you want to form.
Habit Forming Tips:
· Routine: set aside 1-2 times a day when you can fit in just 15 minutes of exercise.
· Realistic: make these exercise times of day and duration realistic. Better to stick to 2x 5 minute sessions ta day that build confidence over time, than to push yourself to 40-60 minutes 1x a week that leave you feeling like a failure on the other days.
· Set a timer, record your progress, but let go of judgement because some days we have more energy than others, or have had a better night’s sleep and feel less fatigued.
· Write down how you feel after each short 15 minute session. Use these notes as positive reinforcement to remind you of how good you felt physically or emotionally when you stuck to the routine.
· Use positive affirmations at the start and end of your movement practices. If your inner critic starts to get louder, pause, breathe and smile. Changing that voice is also a habit that takes time to develop.
· Accountability – check in with a friend and support each other. Sociable exercise boosts oxytocin.
Long term health goals & 5-15-minute practices.
- Stronger bones: Weight bearing exercises and Balance poses. This can be jogging, jumping, skipping, dancing, Zumba and can end with yoga balance poses such as Vrksasana tree pose, Eagle pose, Warrior 2 and 3 poses and half moon. There are many others…Stay in these balance poses for 60 seconds, or start with 30 seconds and build up to 60 seconds over time.
- Stronger muscles: Lift weights using lighter ones to start with and heavier ones as you build stamina. You can also practice yoga poses listed above and develop core strength with longer held poses such as plank, forearm plank, side plank, boat pose.
- Stronger heart: All of the above exercises will help boost heart health, and if you stay in the hatha yoga poses for 60 seconds or even more, you wil notice your heart work harder, your breath becoming deeper and using a dristi or focus point for your eyes will help develop a mindset of positivity and resilience. You can set a timer so that you know how long you stayed in each pose.
- Boost brain energy: the poses above that increase your heart rate can also boost your brain energy. If I’m feeling low mood, or lethargic in energy, I’ll get off my seat and do 10x squats, some side stretches and a breath of joy practice to get my heart up, help me to breathe deeply and release any stagnany energy. Taking these short movement practices only needs to take 4 minutes and helps to reduce the risk of back pain too.
- Lift a low mood: practice the exercises above and also do some yoga or exercise socially. Women especially benefit from social connection, it helps us to produce Oxytocin hormone the happy hormone we feel when we hug a friend, pet animal or spend time with loved ones. (It is also produced during sex and breast feeding).
- Reduce stress: Do you know how bad stress is for our bones, brain and heart? It is so destructive to our health and wellbeing and also increases cortisol that can cause weight gain and affect sleep patterns. Stress exacerbates all of the menopause symptoms because the menopause affects our endocrine and adrenal system. Our adrenal glands are forced to produce an alternative version of oestrogen when our ovaries stop creating oestradiol in menopause. So if you’re living with chronic stress on a daily basis, you’re putting more pressure on your overworked adrenals and may trigger more menopause symptoms. If you do nothing else in January, let’s all reduce our levels of stress. How? Gentle flowing yoga and Restorative yoga poses, breathwork and meditation. Cold water swimming is also helpful in reducing anxiety and feeling mentally calm and balanced.
Join my weekly live online Menopause Yoga Classes every Tuesday in January at 8am-9.15am. Classes are not recorded. Cost is only £8.00. Click links below to book:
I am not a Personal Trainer or Coach, I’m a yoga teacher. So here is some science from the experts.
Routines vs. Habits
Most of us assume the two are interchangeable. But Nir Eyal, author of Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life, says: “When we fail at forming new patterns of behaviour, we often blame ourselves.”
He adds: "A habit is a behaviour done with little or no thought, while a routine involves a series of behaviours frequently, and intentionally, repeated. A behaviour has to be a regularly performed routine before it can become a habit at all."
Unlike habits, routines are uncomfortable and require a concerted effort. Waking up early to run every morning or meditating for 10 minutes every night, for instance, are rituals that — initially — are hard to keep up. Habits, on the other hand, are so ingrained in our daily lives that it feels strange not to do them. Imagine not brushing your teeth before bed or not drinking a cup of coffee with breakfast. If these are habits you have already formed, avoiding them might even feel bad.
To attempt to turn a routine into a habit, take the following steps.
21 Days to Form a New Habit?
“There’s no such thing as 21 days to start a new habit,” Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, says. “The amount of time it takes will vary from person to person.” Developing a pleasurable habit, like eating chocolate for breakfast, for instance, may take a day, while trying to exercise at 5 pm each evening may take much longer.
Prepare for roadblocks
Reflect on why you haven’t regularly practiced this positive behaviour in the past? Is fear or shame getting in the way? Or a lack of time or resources?
Familiarize yourself with your own blockers now so that you can quickly identify and manage them when they arise later on, because they will.
Maybe a busy schedule has kept you from hitting the gym every day. To avoid this occurrence from happening in the future, block 30 to 60 uninterrupted minutes on your calendar right now. Maybe you’re just not feeling motivated enough lately. To keep yourself accountable, find an ally (or two) to share your goals with. This could be a trusted manager, peer, friend, partner, or family member.
Start with nudges
You can put in place practical steps or nudges to help you kick off your new routine. Use one or all of the suggestions below to get organized and begin.
Make a schedule.
Block regular times on your calendar (every day or every other day) to practice the behavior you want to build into a habit.
In the spirit of keeping things simple, another option is to try out microhabits: incremental adjustments that (over time) move you closer to achieving your goals. Think of them like stepping-stones that lead to your final destination. For example:
The goal: Get better quality sleep.
What you can do: Blue light from our screens hampers a good night’s sleep. Keep your favourite books beside your bed and leave your phone to charge in another room. When winding down for the night, you’ll probably choose the nearby book instead of doom-scrolling.
Try temptation bundling.
This last type of nudge aims to make obligatory tasks more enjoyable. The concept itself was coined by researcher Katie Milkman and her colleagues, and it’s fairly straightforward: Take an activity you don’t like to do and something you do enjoy — now, bundle them together.
Show yourself compassion
Lastly, don’t forget to be compassionate with yourself as you embark on this journey toward more thoughtful routines, and hopefully, better habits. Any long-term change is going to take time. That’s just the reality. There will be ups and downs. But you are capable, and if you’ve made it this far, you are also prepared.