Posts made in July, 2010

Working through the transition? Or is the transition working you?

Posted by on Jul 9, 2010 in menopause, Work/occupation | 2 comments

I ran across an interesting study examining how work affects menopause and visa versa. Initiated two years ago by Professor Amanda Griffiths of the Institute of Work, Health & Organizations at the University of Nottingham in the UK, the study aims to identify challenges that women face while working through their transition and also help raise employer awareness.

I contacted Professor Griffiths to learn more . Although she is still compiling her final data (culled from 900 women, ages 40+), she did share some interim nuggets that are pretty interesting.

The fact that menopause, or more specifically menopausal symptoms might affect life quality and work is not a novel idea. Numerous studies have shown that hot flashes in particular can significantly impact daily activities, especially when they are severe. In turn, hot flashes, night sweats and hormonal swings can significantly affect sleep and coping mechanisms. Hence it’s not surprising that among an initial group of 941 female police officers surveyed*, most agreed that the primary factors affecting their ability to function in their job were fatigue and insomnia. Nevertheless,  about 2/3rds said that they wouldn’t or didn’t disclose the fact that they were going through menopause to their managers, either because their managers were men, were younger (and therefore unlikely to understand or have much empathy) or because they felt embarrassed. This point of view only changed if the symptoms were so obvious that they felt they had to explain, if they felt that their ability to cope with their symptoms was less than stellar, if their performance was somehow being affected by their symptoms or if they felt the need to justify a change in their behavior at work.  However, I was heartened to read that many of the women felt comfortable sharing their experience with other colleagues who were similarly in the midst of menopause or had already gone through it.

Griffiths reports that a clear majority of women surveyed that expectations of their physical capacities did not change as they aged. Yet, less than half believed that their contributions were valued as much as their younger peers.

When asked what changes they’d like to see in their jobs to ease their way through the transition and challenges of growing older, most pointed out greater flexibility in working hours (e.g. flex time, no night shifts or since this was a police force, shifting from the front line to a desk job), access to workplace-focused health promotion, such as regular check ups and fitness program), improved awareness among managers of health-related changes in midlife and improvements in the physical working environment.

Griffiths says that more recently, she and her colleagues have surveyed women from all walks of career life, including education, administration and journalism and the final write-up of the study** will include these opinions as well. However, based on our correspondence, it appears that the difficulties that women face in the workplace during the transition are fairly universal. She explains that menopause is ‘taboo’ yet happens to 50% of workforce (I imagine that this number will only continue to grow as the population ages and we are forced due to economic constraints, to work well into retirement years.) “Evidence suggests that some women do experience a lot of difficulty – largely tiredness – much of which can be resolved with sensible line management and flexible work,” says Griffiths. However, “as with any other long-term health condition, employees should feel empowered to discuss health conditions with their line manager/supervisor,  otherwise the latter are not in a position to help.”

Isn’t it time for change? Rather than let the transition work us, shouldn’t we be looking for empowering ways to work through it? In the early days of this blog, I wrote that science has confirmed what women have known all along: social support networks are one of the strongest weapons we have against the aging process. Griffiths’ research confirms that by engaging female peers who are going through similar experiences, we have a stronger experience overall. Yet, she also points out very clearly that men need to be brought into the equation as well. The only way to foster understanding is to share and educate, right?

The research shows that women want their managers to be more aware the menopause doesn’t simply affect their personal lives but also their occupational health. Although sharing may be risky, we really need to ask ourselves how much we are risking by allowing the transition to work us. Time for change, don’t you think?

*The initial research was funded by the British Association of Women in Policing. **Dr. Griffiths’ larger study is funded by the British Occupational Health Foundation.

Read More

Wednesday Bubble: is weight loss all in your head?

Posted by on Jul 7, 2010 in Uncategorized | 17 comments

It appears that weight loss, might indeed be in your head. But not the way that you think. This week’s bubble focuses on the brain and how it helps to regulate weight gain. In fact, researchers from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center are reporting that an enzyme in the brain, better known as P13 kinase, may help burn extra calories after eating a high-fat meal. Mind you, these findings are from a study conducted in mice so it is too early to assume that if there was a way to enhance the activity of P13 kinase in humans, then it would be easier to lose or maintain weight.

In the current study, researchers examined mice who had reduce P13 kinase activity and then fed them a high fat diet but did not alter their physical activity levels. When they compared them to normal mice, they found that their body heat did not increase and they became more likely to become obese. regardless of physical activity level. (Evidently, when we eat too many calories, the body tries to assist by expending more energy, in order to balance out our calorie intake. )

Interestingly, brown fat, or brown adipose tissue, is a key tissue that appeared to generate enough body heat in the mice to help them burn off excess calories. Two other important factors that appear to play a role include the hormones leptin which help regulate how the body uses energy.

Brown fat?

I contributed a post to MizFit Online last October that provides a bit more information about brown fat and I’m reposting it here to provide a bit of background to make the current study findings easier to understand:

What you need to know…

In mammals, fat (known among the medical set as “adipose tissue”) comes in two varieties: white and brown.

* White adipose tissue (or “WAT”)  is used for energy storage and to provide warmth. It also protects the organs by acting as a cushion. Most of the fat in our bodies is white.
* Brown adipose tissue (or “BAT”), is mostly found in newborns and tends to diminish as a person ages.  Brown fat is used by the body to regulate temperature and quickly burns sugar to keep infants warm, meaning that exposure to cold activates brown fat cells. This last point may be important when it comes to weight loss.

For decades, brown fat was believed to significantly decline as we grew older, mainly because as we become more able to regulate our body temperatures, we no longer solely rely on biology.  However, PET scanning has shown that healthy adults actually have stores of brown fat  scattered throughout the front and back of the neck and chest areas.

So, is brown fat an equal opportunist? NO!

In fact:

* Women with lean body mass have at least twice the ratio of brown fat compared to men.
* Exposure to temperatures of around 61º F appears to kick off brown fat cell activity, at least in leaner people.
* The higher your body mass index (BMI), the lower the amount of brown fat in your body.

Turning down the thermostat can help lose weight, right?  Well yes. And no.

In controlled situations, volunteers left “chilling” for at least two hours were shown to have a surge in brown fat activity. However, keep in mind that the body is fine-tuned to maintain equilibrium, so, what goes out often goes right back in.In other words, expend more energy, eat more food. And the “chill factor” hasn’t been extensively tested in people under normal, everyday conditions. Still, based on what researchers are able to learn from animal studies, they believe that having as little as 1 to 2 ounces of brown fat in your body could potentially burn about 20% of the average daily caloric intake, that is, if brown fat cells were properly activated.

If you combine the information from the mouse study with the information on brown fat, it seems that the combination of brown fat plus activating P13 kinase may produce a way to burn calories more efficiently. And, leptin and estrogen help regulate the process.

The question however, is how do we get there from here?

Read More

The Roundup – a few highlights

Posted by on Jul 5, 2010 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

[Credit: Special thanks to artist Darryl Willison of Please visit his site and support his work.]

I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that this well-received monthly feature seems to have fallen off Flashfree post list. So, as of today, I am officially reviving it. Rather than list four month’s worth of  highlights, I’ve decided to pick and choose a few favourites so you don’t miss anything. Still, my mind isn’t yours’ so feel free to peruse the monthly archives.

Without further ado…

Read More

Safe and Happy…

Posted by on Jul 4, 2010 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Fourth of July to you and yours’.

Read More

Where’s your focus?

Posted by on Jul 2, 2010 in Inspiration | 2 comments

Photographer Alex Prager was asked by the New York Times Supplement to do a photo shoot with women going through menopause. You can find the image that she captured here.

Alex described her assignment and the shot she got as follows:

“There were no rules – all they told me was they wanted pictures of older women and I could develop whatever concept I wanted; I had free rein…The taxi leaked and the rain machine was out of control. So she was soaked and miserable – but it made the shot…she was unhappy for real.”

It’s a beautiful photo and I encourage you to look at it. However, what strikes me is the focus on misery, unhappiness, and a haunting for something other than what “is.” Ironically, Prager says that she wanted the model to look backward, as if perhaps to imply that she longs for what was past and not what is ahead.

Are women in midlife longing for something else? Or are they now able to take life by the reins and reach or redefine personal goals?

Two weeks ago, I sat on a panel at Women Grow Business Bootcamp, a half-day conference devoted to empowering female entrepreneurs in their professional and personal lives. I spoke about evolution and the need to adapt to changes in one’s environment in order to continue to grow and attain goals. While  the context that day was on my business and marketing, the larger context was really life and the track that I’ve been on over the past 25 years, pausing to look over my shoulder but trying to keep my focus on the path ahead.

So, when I consider the question about longing, I realize that for the most part, my longing takes me forward and not backward. My visits to the past provide the foundation for my journey. However, a key factor remains true: as I’ve grown older, I do try to take more time to not only live my passion and personal/business goals but to live within them, meditating on what works and what doesn’t so that I can continue to move in a forward direction.

When was the last time you stepped back and asked yourself where your focus is?  Are you are looking ahead or consistently looking over your shoulder to see if you’ve caught up yet? What does your menopause and midlife look like so far?

Read More