Tell us a little bit about yourself and your current job?
I don’t have a job – I have a passion! And looking back I can see that I’ve ended up developing a women’s healthy lifestyle in menopause coaching programme, because I’ve aged alongside two important changes in our lives – the rise of the modern sporting and fitness industries and the incredible societal and consumer changes that women in their 50’s have come through.
From our busy careers to many of us being busy parents, to having to look after ageing parents, to the incredible confusion about nutrition and exercise as well as the changes to our environment and our time-poor lifestyles, I’ve learnt from my own experience (and now my studies) that these things all can have a negative impact on our symptoms in menopause.
I had no idea about all of this and I of all people, should have!
For over 30 years, I’ve have been involved in New Zealand’s health and exercise industry. And although my original career was as an ICU nurse, I entered the emerging fitness industry in the early 1990’s after teaching aerobics for years whilst re-training and completing a degree in Physical Education.
Asked by fitness legend, Phillip Mills to pioneer the personal training industry in New Zealand for global fitness giant, Les Mills World of Fitness, I spent years not only building up teams of Personal Trainers, but also developing industry standards, education and the REPs registration system for the industry.
I have been incredibly proud that now there are thousands of PT’s throughout New Zealand and Australia and alongside other dedicated people, I helped to pioneer this industry. After 15 years of this involvement, I then decided to return to a university setting and began lecturing in sport, exercise and health physiology, nutrition and other papers.
But following my own role in the fitness industry, I was incredibly interested in the new work that was coming out of health-research around helping people change their lifestyle behaviour. After all, it’s all very well having the knowledge, but how do you help people change the habits they have built up over a life-time?!
I wanted to explore this more, so I undertook my master’s studies in this area and graduated with First Class Honours in the area of Lifestyle Behaviour Change in the context of Personal Training. But as time went on, I so enjoyed being back in the university system, that I went on to do my doctoral studies in the Sport, Health and Human Performance Faculty with the emphasis on exploring women’s healthy ageing and the role of exercise and working-out with a Personal Trainer during their menopause transition.
At the time, I was exercising daily and not sleeping and having incredible hot flushes and just felt so exhausted all the time, so I began reading more and more about our health as we age and why, during the menopause transition, our health suddenly changes so much. I felt so unhealthy all of a sudden as many women do. Yet we often pull our hats down and box-on don’t we?
What is your goal?
When I stepped away from my teaching position at the University of Waikato, the faculty was doing a lot of incredible work in sport-science. But I knew that this wasn’t for me any more.
As mid-life women who have had an incredible influence on the growth of the sport and fitness industry (because many of us are the generation who first joined up as members), I realised that a lot of the information around how we manage ourselves with exercise, nutrition, sleep and stress management was not part of the ‘menopause conversation’.
Menopause had become very medicalised for various reasons and whilst I was on HRT for menopause too, it wasn’t getting to the heart of my symptoms.
That’s when I began to look at the work and teachings of Dr Christianne Northrup in America and Dr Sandra Cabot in Australia as well as Dr Beverly Lawton here in New Zealand and others working and writing in the ‘menopause space’. All of these women have pioneered the conversations around menopause and I was heartened by their knowledgeable and logical messages.
You see, I had no idea about peri-menopause and menopause. I still remember sitting in my study and having horrendous hot flushes and night after night of not sleeping. My cholesterol levels were increasing as was my weight and I experienced heart palpitations too. My Dr was at a loss as to why this was and started talking statins.
But I had been fit, active and healthy all my life! So, what was going on?
That’s the question I kept asking my Dr. I knew from my own nursing background and from my mother’s health changes, that all this can lead to obesity, heart disease, osteoporosis and even diabetes. All lifestyle diseases that occur in older women who are post-menopause.
I was so worried about hitting this trajectory too, that I turned to what our generation have always turned to and that is exercise. But the messages around high-intensity training only made my joints sore and muscles ache.
So, this is where I started from in my quest to better understand how to manage ourselves with the right lifestyle factors in menopause and thanks to my studies on women’s healthy ageing, I was able to understand that the biological transition into menopause, heralds in the beginning of our ageing – we are heading into our ‘third age’.
But here’s the thing. Many of us are really confused about how to do this.
We have seen our mother’s generation need a cocktail of medications and we don’t want this for ourselves. We want to remain healthy, active and energetic. This came out of my PhD research too. But we’ve reached mid-life and many of us, just feel plain old exhausted.
This is what intrigued me – firstly, to untangle my menopause symptoms and align solutions against lifestyle choices which were based on healthy ageing evidence and secondly, to be able to offer programmes to women who wanted the same.
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Today, helping women to thrive through menopause using lifestyle solutions is my new-found passion!
Many still take prescription medication for menopause, but I also like them to think about other aspects of feeling better too – such as nutrition, exercise, sleep planning and staying positive and calm, when many have a lot going on in their lives.
This is what I help women do so that they can realise their potential in mid-life and beyond. I know how distracting it is not to sleep all night, to feel exhausted, feel depressed and to see the belly-fat creep on. I knew, with my skill-set and knowledge, I needed to do this for women the world over.
This was the genesis of the creation of two online lifestyle-change programs specific to women in their peri-menopause and menopause transition. I called the business, ‘My Menopause Transformation’ because when I learnt what to do, I was transformed too!
What are the most challenging things about your life?
I have always thrived on challenges, although the family might be better to answer this one! I think the challenge initially was two-fold for me. Firstly, the challenge of setting up an online business when you have never done this before.
So, finding the right team to help me was a priority. I love working with my business mentor, Sonya Keenan and now, my husband is part of my team too. The right support is crucial as we all know and even though I’ve been an exercise motivator for years, even I need some motivation to stay on-task as well!
Secondly, is the space I’m in – menopause. For decades it has been seen as ‘just’ the medical profession’s domain, which is fine and I myself ended up in my Doctor’s room too, but I had no idea that I needed to change my lifestyle to suit my changing hormonal environment too.
That’s why I love hearing about the growth in this space around women’s hormonal health. Finally, the health science researchers are doing more research into women’s hormones. And from an exercise-science perspective, I can thank the Sports Scientists, who better understand over-training and hormonal health in female athletes. I’ve been able to draw on this knowledge to help women in menopause who are high-exercisers.
What are the most rewarding things and what achievement you’re most proud of achieving to date?
The greatest excitement I have is when women who do succeed with the programme (and not all do of course as we all have different lives that we lead), write me an email and simply say ‘I feel so much better – thank you. You have changed my life.’
It doesn’t get better than that and I’m so grateful for the women who have shared their stories on the My Menopause Transformation website.
How do you find balance?
Swimming. It’s my newfound love. I grew up loving swimming – perhaps this has something to do with being Aquarian! But in the small village I grew up in, in the South Island of New Zealand, we were all very active.
In summer I think we lived at the local primary school pool. It is such a big part of living in Australia and New Zealand isn’t it? Being in and around water. But I had forgotten that.
Then when I realised that high-intensity exercise (jumping and twisting and running etc) wasn’t suiting my ageing knees, I knew I had to find an activity that would make me feel great, get me fit again and wouldn’t damage my joints.
But we also need to strengthen our bones, joints and muscles in menopause too, so I also love the fact that what keeps us together as a family, is our love for skiing. Hubbie and the kids ski and we go to beautiful Wanaka in the South Island every winter. That’s my ‘place of balance’.
Do you have any mentors or people who inspired you to follow your dream?
There are so many people who inspire me and have done all my life.
From incredible fellow nurses I have worked with, to women of influence in the exercise industry, who are paving the way for other women to be involved. And many Kiwi and Australian women who are in the business of fitness are doing an incredible job globally.
Most of all though, I am inspired by women who help other women to thrive and succeed. And I don’t just mean women like Helen Clark (NZ’s ex-prime minister).
I have had incredible support from the amazing aerobic instructors who take my spin class that I try to get to once or twice a week. They are never acknowledged, but if you think about it, because of them being great motivators and exercise-to-music coaches, we feel better and can then cope with all we have to do. So, I put them up there as my ‘resilience-builders’.
It’s the same with finding a great barista! I work from home, so most mornings I go and have a coffee and a ‘think-tank’ – the barrista is part of my support team too! [Although there is no way that he knows this! 😊].
But from a pragmatic perspective, perhaps the most inspiration has been accessed from Business Mentor, Sonya Keenan from Australia. She has been my ‘rock’ through all the challenges of running a business, especially being new to the online marketing world.
I also think that in both Australia and New Zealand, we have incredible older women who have come through the 1960’s and 1970’s as not only pioneers in their careers but pioneers in farming, nursing, teaching and more.
We have this resilience about us as women living down-under don’t we? But that can be the problem too, especially as we go through menopause. We are very stoic as a culture and have a can-do attitude and we box-on regardless, because we think that we have to do everything for everyone (sound familiar?). But we don’t. The greatest gift I now give myself is learning to slow down and take time for me.
What is inspiring you at the moment?
One of my greatest loves is reading. I was a ‘reader’ from an early age and my family joke that my ‘happy place’ is finding beautiful libraries in all the ski-towns that we get to visit as my son competes in snow skiing. So I never don’t have a book to read.
Whether it’s a more technical, geeky book or my favourite non-fiction biographies (especially about women), I read them. Beside my bed at the moment is social historian, Juliet Gardiner’s book called ‘Joining the Dots: A Woman in her Time’.
It was the 2017 Observer book of the year and she discusses how, as women, we have come through the most incredible changes in society – politically, socially and culturally and how this has affected us as women. This so resonates with me, because this is what my own doctoral research explored too, but in the context of the incredible change in the exercise and activity landscapes and the ways in which we are using activity to resist the physical and health changes faced by our mother’s generation in older age.
Do you have a message for women over 40?
Your health and happiness is controlled by your hormones. It pays to understand how to look after them as you transition through life. And don’t believe everything you read on social media about exercise and nutritional choices.
Invariably, these messages have been designed through a male or an athlete lens – not a busy working woman who is going into her menopause transition. 😊
What does the future hold for you?
Helping women understand how to thrive as they pass through the gateway of menopause. The World Health Organisation report (2016) on women’s health states that on average, women live 5-6 years longer than men, but not as healthily as men.
The single most health problem for women as they age is cardiovascular disease, especially in Australia and New Zealand.
My passion is to keep educating women about how to use lifestyle solutions to remain as healthy as they can using the best evidence I can find as a researcher. After all, when we reach our 50’s, there’s still another 30 years of living to do!
We must be healthy, fit and happy to enjoy these years. I can’t wait!
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