The hot flushes, night sweats, weight gain, libido loss, insomnia and psychological impact of the menopause can hit women hard. "We hardly talk about the menopause, but there are many, many ways to make it a far more positive experience," says midwife Zita West, who has recently launched a "Beat the Menopause" programme at her London clinic. Here are five to try:
1 Regular health checkups
"You are at an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure around menopause and after, so it is vital to look after yourself," says West. Have a cervical smear test every three years and an annual pelvic exam with your GP (90% of ovarian cancers - the fourth most common cancer in women - occur over the age of 45). Get your GP to check your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, too.
2 Weight-bearing exercise
Your metabolism slows down at menopause and regular exercise will help to speed it up. Weight-bearing exercise such as walking, jogging, cycling or bouncing on a trampoline helps maintain bone density, guarding against osteoporosis (thinning bones, a problem for one in three women). Aim for 30 minutes five days a week.
3 Breast awareness
Eighty per cent of breast cancer cases occur after the menopause, so always see your GP immediately if you notice any changes. After the age of 50, have a mammogram on the NHS every three years.
Studies show that foods such as soya, flaxseeds, lentils, kidney beans and pulses that contain phyto-oestrogens - compounds similar to the hormone oestrogen, levels of which drop in menopausal women - can lighten menopausal symptoms.
"The menopause can be emotionally draining, and you need to feel good about yourself," says West. "Spend a bit of time and money on some pampering and make sure you keep stress to a minimum." Though scientific evidence is sketchy, West's programme offers alternative therapies such as acupuncture or hypnotherapy, which, she says, can provide effective relief from menopausal symptoms such as insomnia or depression.
· Menopause Amarant Trust: amarantmenopausetrust.org.uk