AT 56, Katie Field has the kind of energy most would expect to find in a woman half her age.
The mother-of-two rises at 5am every day to get through her crowded to-do list which includes a two-mile run before work, a long commute to London from her home in East Sussex, then a busy ten-hour day working as an assistant director in the civil service. Alter all that, Katie then goes to indulge her new hobby making people laugh as a stand-up comedienne a life long 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 rather something more surprising: the menopause ‘Before the menopause, the symptoms of which began six years ago and ended four years ago, I used to need eight hours’ sleep a night,’ says Katie. ‘Now I can get by on just five or six.
‘I feel more confident and vibrant. The menopause has been like a new beginning.’
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 general lack of energy. Yet many women are now reporting exactly the converse is true and that the menopause can mark a renewed sense of vitality, energy and desire. There’s even a name for the phenomenon: Post- Menopause Zeal, or PMZ, first coined by anthropologist Margaret Mead. Now, an increasing number of experts and doctors are recognising that the 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 consistently find that many women bloom in their post-menopausal years and feel much happiet Recent NHS figures found that women in their 20s are more likely to seek help for depression than those over 50.
Meanwhile, a survey of more than 1,000 women conducted earlier this year found that almost a fifth of women felt fitter and sexier in their 50s than they did in their 20s, and 15 per cent had more energy. As Hugh Byrne, consultant gynaecologist at St George’s F Hospital in South London, explains, the reasons for this are partly physical and partly psychological.
‘There’s an idea that women slow up after the menopause, but there’s no real reason this should be so,’ he says. The menopause marks when a woman stops producing an egg every month. In the run up to this, during the stage called the peri-menopause, the number of eggs in the ovaries starts to drop steeply.
‘It’s the eggs that produce the hormone oestogen, 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 Mr Byrne. 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 the actual menopause, which most women experience on average around 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, also found to a lesser extent in women remain steady. ’From a hormonal point of view, it’s only low level of testosterone that are associated with low energy, says Mr. Byrne. After the menopause, women are freed up from having periods, and that is a big relief for a lot of women and women remain steady. From a hormonal point of view testosterone that are associated with low energy says Mr Byrne. After the 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, their desire increases.’ This new-found boost has certainly 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 the menopause I used to have several days a month when I felt grumpy and dissatisfied with life. Even anticipating them would cast a pall on the rest of the month. ‘ I was 50, and the symptoms of the 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 as well 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 and not having to worry about contraception is liberating too.’
It was in 2011 that 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 also 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 alter she went through the menopause at 48.
‘In the run-up to the menopause, I was uncharacteristically depressed. I had insomnia and a dark outlook but had no idea it was because I was perimenopausal,’ she says.
She went to her doctor, who gave her a blood test and found that her oestrogen and progesterone levels had sunk to practically nothing, a certain sign that she was menopausal. ‘Finding out what was wrong with me was a surprise, but a huge relief,’ she says. Once she’d been through the menopause, she felt ready to start again. ‘I felt this new purpose,’ says Jill, who lives in Nothing Hill Gate, West London, and is married to Sir Paul Ruddock chairman of the Mctoria & Albert Museum. ‘I feel as if I’m ready to take on new challenges and have a new passion for what I do so much so that after a career spent in banking, I decided to follow my dream and I set about raising £450,000 to establish a charity for the over-50s. She also decided to write a book on middle age, and while researching the biology of the menopause stumbled across an intrigung theory gathering traction in the United States. After the menopause your oestrogen levels drop to almost zero and you lose 100 per cent 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 Sharmn Hinchliff, a senior lecturer at the University of Sheffield, the causes ot PMZ are more complex than hormones and are interwoven with the way society treats older women.
Some people think that women go through the 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 for some women. 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.’ Mother-of-two Jane Atherton, 53, who is married to Wayne, 55, a pilot, and lives in Lillington, North London, would agree with that. Since going through the menopause two years ago, she says she has felt a renewed sense of desire. My libido did disappear in the run up to the menopause,’ she says, ‘but luckily Wayne and I met when I was 13, have grown up together, and when I got to that stage he supported me.
SHE ADDS: During that time I could go for months without feeling any desire even though I still loved and fancied my husband. But now, two years after my menopause began, I can feel my desire coming back I have a sense of renewal. After spending your life going through the hormonal upheaval of puberty periods, pregnancy and menopause, now I feel as if I finally got my body back. Rather than focusing on nurturing others, I can nurture myself a bit more. I feel as if the change in my hormones has allowed me to focus on my drive and ambition and do all those things I always wanted to do. With no more monthly cycles, I now feel far more stable than I felt before the menopause: I am more content and at peace.
1 also feel more confident about the way I look. Yes, I look older but I look in the mirror and I think”  Not bad’.’ It’s a sentiment that Katie echoes. ‘I feel so much more confident now,’ she says.  People often think I’m in my 40s because I’m full of energy and I present myself as a younger person. ‘I used to think of the menopause as the end of womanhood, but now I see it as a new beginning.’

The Second Half  Of Your Life by Jill Shaw Ruddock is published by Vermillion

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Culled from Daily Mail