Mariella Frostrup on finding salvation in exercise as she navigates the menopause

Like most women, my menopause started when I was 47 or 48, but I had no clue

I didn’t know what signs to look out for, or even know that anxiety or insomnia were symptoms. It’s like being sucked into a black hole, because going to sleep is no longer a form of respite.

We live in an awake society that tells us we are washed up and invisible, so you start to feel like you are no longer in control of your life. But when I finally saw a female gynecologist in my fifties, and explained to her how I was feeling, she said: “There’s no question, you’re going through your menopause.”

And it was such a relief, actually, to have someone finally put their finger on what I was experiencing. I had already done some blood tests – which is the only means at the moment to diagnose menopause – but they were all inconclusive.

We still don’t know everything about menopause, and as a society we have only really scratched the surface

But whilst researching for our book Cracking the Menopause, Alice Smellie and I found that if you are fit and healthy when you are coming into a period of tumultuous hormonal change, it really does help with the type of symptoms you get. In my forties, after I had all my children, I veered towards pilates and carried on with yoga.

I love walking too, which has been a form of meditation for me, and the place where I work out my ideas. I also started a running group with some school mums, where we can find a more productive way to chat. It really is a time in life to look after yourself, it’s why I spend 20 minutes twice a week weight training with kettlebells. It has been a savior.

I have not always had a healthy lifestyle

I had periods of great debauchery in my twenties and thirties. I smoked, drank, and did all of those sorts of things, but I always did exercise, too, as I am a restless person. I’m hopeless when I have to do things on my own, so I prefer making an appointment with a girlfriend. I wish I could be a loner running through the hills, it sounds great, but I’ll just make excuses. I didn’t exercise much in my twenties. But certainly by the time I hit my thirties, I was going to the gym three times a week.

I hated team sports at school

But throughout my childhood I lived in the countryside and spent hours outside running around, or walking with friends to school, so I’ve always been active but I have never been sporty.

I was a terror at school when it came to sports, especially in PE. When I compare the facilities to what most schools have now in the UK, I was considerably lucky because they encouraged us to move our bodies. Though if you wanted to be lazy, you could get away with it.

We used to play this Irish version of hockey, and I was the one in the team who would run in the opposite direction to the ball, because it was such a hard ball and I was really scared of it.

On a few occasions I have played tennis, as I thought it was quite glamorous. I even went to a two-week immersion tennis camp in Jamaica, did lessons, and was still absolutely useless. I couldn’t serve and nobody wanted to play with me.

In the Eighties there used to be a lot of fad diets and people loved aerobics, but I didn’t fall prey to them, because I’d just start thinking about food all the time

But I’m 59 now, and have done every sort of exercise you can think of. I remember when I used to go to a step class with my sister in the Nineties, it was underneath the Westway in London at the Portobello Studios. My sister is a very good dancer and has coordination, but I was hopeless. So I didn’t do that for very long.

I’ve tried aerobics classes too. But I don’t really like getting hot and sweaty in a crowded room. My best friend took me to this spin class in a basement once, where all the lights were off, apart from colorful flashing lights at 7am in the morning. It’s not my cup of tea.

From youth, I think it’s important we start preaching body positivity

None of us is perfect, but we are all as perfect as we are ever going to be. I have focused on being strong in my life and in my body. I think that’s what helped get me through the cusp of osteopenia, having healthy bones. The entire life cycle of a woman’s body is important, not just periods.

Cracking the Menopause by Mariella Frostrup and Alice Smellie is available to buy in paperback next month (Bluebird, £9.99)

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