Women In Wellness: Rachel Lankester Of Magnificent Midlife On The Five Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Help Support People’s Journey Towards Better Wellbeing
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Exercise is key to help during menopause and beyond. It’s good for mental health, as well as keeping us fitter longer. In midlife, women ideally need a combination of aerobic exercise, stretching, weight-bearing exercise and lifting weights. This combination will help our heart health, our muscles, our bones and help maintain our metabolism. Exercise has been shown to reduce hot flashes, for example, and is definitely great for lifting your mood.
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rachel Lankester.
Rachel Lankester is the author of Magnificent Midlife: Transform Your Middle Years, Menopause and Beyond, a midlife mentor, podcast host and founder of Magnificent Midlife, an online hub empowering women 40+ to better health and wellbeing. She’s on a mission to ensure women have the information they need to thrive healthfully through menopause, to age happily, and to experience as much wellness as possible in the second half of life.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
When I was 41, I was given a diagnosis of early menopause. I was hoping for a second child at the time, so it was pretty devastating. It meant the end of my fertility and dreams of that baby. I had no idea why this happened to me, nor how to take care of myself going forward. I didn’t realize the way I’d been living was most likely the reason for the early menopause.
I spent a number of years trying to find out what was going on with my body, if there were any chance of reversing the diagnosis, and researching how to live more healthfully as a midlife woman. For a time, after I made diet and lifestyle changes, I was able to reverse the diagnosis and my menstrual cycle came back, which was remarkable and very confusing!
Looking around, I couldn’t find many resources to help me, so I created them. I didn’t want women to arrive in perimenopause as unprepared and uninformed as me. We know about puberty and quite a lot about childbirth, but menopause is still an unknown and taboo aspect of women’s health. Ageism and misogyny mean it’s also shrouded in negativity and shame for many women, the beginning of the end of meaningful life! I felt like that for a while.
It’s now my mission to inform and empower women through menopause and beyond, so they’re resourced to live in good health long term and feel better about aging. I’ve learned that we have so much more control over our menopause transition and how we age than we think. I want women to know this so they can have true agency over the second half of their life.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
I’ve had many careers but this current one was driven by me reversing the early menopause diagnosis for a time and realizing that just because society has taught me ageing is bad, doesn’t mean it is. I learned to look elsewhere from the dominant ageist narratives, to always be curious about where those narratives came from, and to question everything.
For example, I learned that a book published in 1966 has greatly influenced how Western society views menopause and women ageing. Much of what we believe in the US and UK, about the negative aspects of menopause and so-called ‘hormone deficiency’ stems from a book by gynecologist Robert A Wilson, called Feminine Forever. In this best-selling book, Wilson maintained that menopause was a serious, painful, and crippling estrogen-deficiency disease that should be treated with estrogen replacement therapy to prevent the otherwise inevitable “living decay.”
He promoted the use of a drug that healthy women would take every day for the rest of their lives, so they could remain ‘feminine forever’. Wilson wrote, “All postmenopausal women are castrates.” With HRT, “a woman’s breasts and genital organs will not shrivel. She will be much more pleasant to live with and will not become dull and unattractive.”
Crazy huh! I believe misogyny and patriarchy were at the core of this terrifying narrative. It was necessary for the woman to remain feminine to please her man. Remaining feminine required hormone replacement — forever. Sales of HRT quadrupled in the years around the book’s publication. Reporters from The New Republic and The Washington Post later discovered documents revealing that Wilson, who died in 1981, received payment for the book and for speaking tours on its behalf, from drug companies making HRT.
This seems madness to me, but I believe it still influences how we feel about menopause: that women are less after it and that it’s better to maintain women’s pre-menopausal hormone profile, rather than embrace the new and exciting transition that menopause represents for older women. The lesson I’ve learned is that this old narrative serves to completely undermine and undervalue post-menopausal women, and I’m determined to change that. Many women live a third of their lives post menopause and that’s totally natural! How can we discount a third of a life? Hormone therapy can be helpful during menopause, but I don’t believe it’s a good option for women’s long-term wellbeing.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I didn’t appreciate how my lifestyle had impacted my hormonal health and that by changing my lifestyle, I could change my hormonal health. If I had learned this earlier I might have had more chance of having the second child I dreamed of. It was a hard lesson to learn but has led to so much good stuff in my life. I’m now determined to pass on this knowledge, so younger women know how to take care of their wellbeing, they don’t burn out and are better prepared for a good menopause experience.
Let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
Menopause and aging for women are still seen as negative and I want to change that. Increasingly women are being told they again need to take hormone therapy for the best chance of long-term health. I don’t believe this is necessarily the case and I want women to be fully informed about all the options, so they can make informed healthy choices in a timely fashion.
For example, managing stress levels, getting a good exercise plan in place and optimizing a healthy diet are key to health for both women and men. But especially so when women’s hormones are involved and can be impacted. Being aware of how environmental toxins can impact hormonal balance is also important, whether that be cleaning or personal care products, for example. We still don’t know the impact of long-term use of the contraceptive pill on women’s experience of menopause. There are still so many unknowns.
I talk about all these issues in my book, Magnificent Midlife: Transform Your Middle Years, Menopause and Beyond. I want us to ask more questions and not necessarily reply on drugs as a panacea for all the issues involved in being an older woman. I don’t want us to over-medicalize a natural and powerful part of being a woman.
I believe midlife is the perfect time to make up for past transgressions when it comes to our long-term health. I want women to know it’s never too late to take more control over our wellbeing, but we need knowledge to be able to do that. Never forget that women have been going through menopause and getting older for centuries. I would love us to look back to the many natural ways to support women when it comes to hormonal transition.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
My tweaks are mainly for anyone who has or had a uterus, because that’s my focus. But some may help everyone. I’m not a doctor, but these are the tweaks that have helped my journey to better wellbeing in midlife.
- Pay attention to what and when you’re eating, and eat good food. Hormonal balance through menopause and beyond is closely tied to stable blood sugar levels. Caffeine, sugar and alcohol, for example, may no longer be your friends. All are known to cause hot flashes for example.
- Toxins in our environment can impact our hormones — that could be air pollution, cleaning and personal care products, pesticides and hormones in our foods etc. It helps to be aware and question what we’re exposing ourselves to. Reducing our overall toxic load is a good thing to do at any age.
- Food can act as nature’s hormone therapy — natural phytoestrogens can support our hormonal balance. I eat 2 teaspoons of ground flaxseed on my muesli every day and am convinced this helps my hormonal balance. Soy is another good source but make sure it’s organic and as unprocessed as possible. Organic tofu is much better than soy nuggets! It’s interesting to me that some phytoestrogen-rich foods are a natural part of the diet in cultures that report less menopause issues.
- Exercise is key to help during menopause and beyond. It’s good for mental health, as well as keeping us fitter longer. In midlife, women ideally need a combination of aerobic exercise, stretching, weight-bearing exercise and lifting weights. This combination will help our heart health, our muscles, our bones and help maintain our metabolism. Exercise has been shown to reduce hot flashes, for example, and is definitely great for lifting your mood.
- Get good at managing your stress. I have no doubt that living a very stressful life contributed to my early menopause. We can probably have it all in life, but not necessarily all at the same time. Try yoga, meditation, talk therapy, getting out in nature and journaling etc. to help manage your stress. This is huge when it comes to your wellbeing.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I’ve started my own movement to increase awareness about the menopause transition and how women can thrive not just survive through and beyond it. All those who have (had) a uterus will go through menopause at some stage.
I see menopause symptoms as the canary in the mine, the body’s early warning system telling us that we need to make changes for the sake of our health. We need to stay curious and listen. Getting a better handle on managing stress, as I mentioned, is hugely important for hormonal balance, as well as many other health issues.
If we take hormone therapy, we may mask the symptoms and not tackle the underlying issues, thereby missing the opportunity to make changes that will serve us well long term. Raising awareness of what’s going on and how to care for one’s hormonal balance is crucially important to me.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- Menopause is a natural part of life and we’ve been going through it for millennia. I don’t believe it makes women in any way deficient.
- The average age of completing menopause is 51, but perimenopause can start a lot earlier than that and menopause can finish later.
- How we’ve lived in the past will impact our experience of menopause. The healthier we are coming into midlife, the easier menopause is likely to be. 25% of women experience nothing more than a cessation of their period at menopause.
- Humans born female and whales go through menopause. Post-menopausal whales become the leaders of their pods! How cool is that!
- When we have less estrogen ruling the show (I call it the biddable hormone) women are more able to focus on our own wants and needs, rather than nurturing everyone else. What fun!
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
Sustainability and the environment are massively important to me. But mental health can be a huge issue for women during the menopause transition. This is partly because of hormonal fluctuations, but also because of what society has taught us about women and aging, and because issues such as lack of confidence and imposter syndrome are at their peak during this time.
Often the first things women notice during perimenopause are brain fog and anxiety. When they finally go to the doctor, often worried they’ve got early onset Alzheimer’s, they may be offered anti-depressants when what they really need is help understanding menopause, balancing their hormones and taking better care of themselves. I’ve learned that how we feel about menopause and aging has a direct impact on our experience of both, and our mental health in general. So mental health is very much a focus of my work.
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
You can find out everything about me at magnificentmidlife.com. That’s where you can get my book, listen to my podcast and access my mentoring programs and free resources. On all the socials I’m Magnificent Midlife.
Thank you for these fantastic insights!