By Leni Wood, Nutrition & Wellness Manager at Nellsar (www.nellsar.com)
According to Skills for Care, 82 per cent of the adult social care workforce are female, with an average age of 44 years. Working in social care is a rewarding yet demanding job. It can involve long shifts which are often busy and offer very little time to rest and recharge.
Knowing the workforce is made up of mostly women, we have the opportunity to consider what are common factors in female health at different life stages, and how we might best support this essential human resource.
It is around the age of 44 that many women can begin to enter what is known as perimenopause. This is a time when certain hormones start to reduce, and the body begins to prepare for menopause – the stopping of menstruation and fertility.
Hormone health can have a huge impact on day-to-day living for many women, and if out of balance can result in fatigue, insomnia, brain fog, emotional struggles, hot flushes, headaches, IBS, weight gain, and in some cases depression and anxiety.
There is no one-size-fits-all magic pill to hormone balance and the experience is different for each woman, whether they are having a difficult menstrual cycle, in perimenopause, or menopause. Although the experience can vary, the physical impact is real and can often make working a long shift challenging and demanding.
The good news is that there are general diet and lifestyle adjustments that you can make which help support the body and can reduce the aforementioned symptoms.
DIET AND NUTRITION
Feeding your body with enough nutrients and keeping blood sugars stable are key in improving hormone balance. Eating fibre-rich foods which include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and pulses (also known as complex carbs) help to regulate bowel movements and stabilise what is known as the ‘blood sugar roller coaster’.
Essential fats are also important for improving hormone health. They can be obtained from nuts, seeds, avocado, oily fish, eggs and olive oil. It is equally crucial to steer clear of non-essential fats such as too much saturated fat, and in particular trans fats that come from processed foods, as these can have a negative effect on hormone health.
Make sure you eat before you start your shift and that the meal includes a protein source to prevent energy dips. You should also consider avoiding sugary breakfast bars and high-sugar snacks and drinks. In addition, be organised and have a lunch made at home to bring to work, but make sure it includes a complex carb, a protein source, a healthy fat and vegetables.
Have a snack that includes protein with you for later in the day when you might get hungry, as this will prevent blood sugar drops and spikes which will support hormone health. In addition, drink plenty of water as this helps to flush hormones from the body and prevents them from re-circulating in the system which can contribute to negative symptoms.
Getting around eight hours of uninterrupted sleep each night (or day if you work nights) will help to regulate hormone health and enable you to better deal with stress, fatigue, brain fog and anxiety. If you have trouble sleeping, then look at your sleep hygiene. What can you improve? You should refrain from screen time for an hour before bed. You could also consider blacking out any light coming into the room or try a bedtime routine that includes a bath or reading a book to wind down. Alcohol will negatively impact sleep quality so it’s best to avoid drinking in the evenings. If you do enjoy a tipple, then limit it to when you don’t have work the next day and keep quantities low.
REST & RELAXATION
Resting is hugely overlooked and is such an important part of hormone health. Taking time to relax reduces stress hormones which when increased can negatively impact on sleep and sex hormones, resulting in challenging hormonal symptoms.
It is common for social care staff to be on their feet all day. The idea of adding in any extra steps after a 12-hour shift can often feel like mad- ness. Consider swapping post-work exercise for body movement. Regular movement helps to clear hormones, improve balance, and reduce stress. When we move, our body can process and clear out unwanted waste from the system. High intensity exercise can put more stress on the body and if you are experiencing hormonal discomfort, then extra stress is not a good idea. If you are sedentary in your job, then make time to move more and get your heart rate up each day. A daily 30-minute walk is better than nothing. If you are on the move all day, then look at exercises like yoga or pilates which are strengthening and mindful.
Overall, it is extremely important for women in social care look after their hormone health to ensure a high quality of life. By striking the right balance between diet and nutrition, sleep, rest and exercise, the body will remain healthy and happy.
Leni Wood is the Nutrition and Wellness Manager at Nellsar, a family-run group of 13 care homes throughout Kent, Essex and Surrey. Built on strong foundations, Nellsar has worked hard to build the trusted reputation of its homes and prides itself on being approachable, accountable and ‘hands- on’ in its relationships with the families it supports.