If you’ve never heard of Post-Menopausal Zest you’re not the only one. Why does no one tell us about this wonderful light at the end of the tunnel?! If women knew what was coming – a new lust for life – even the worst symptoms of the menopause would be bearable. Yet the view persists that after the menopause it’s downhill all the way.
I’m positively evangelical about PMZ now, but I have to admit that if anyone had told me about it when I was in the thick of the menopause myself, and feeling frumpy, anxious and frazzled from waking up at 4am every night, I would have raised a very cynical eyebrow.
But now that the hot flushes have stopped I feel like a different person. I’ve got more energy, more enthusiasm, more drive. I’ve got the confidence to embark on new directions in my work and spare time. I’ve got back my interest in clothes – that may sound trivial, but it matters to me. I feel like I’m myself again.
It wasn’t until I chanced upon a reference to PMZ that I was able to put a label on how I felt. The term post-menopausal zest was coined in the 1950s by the legendary American anthropologist Margaret Mead, who defined it as a “physical and psychological surge of energy”.
She said, “There is no more creative force in the world than a menopausal woman with zest.”
It is inspirational stuff, and since backed up by two major pieces of research published in the late 1990s. A British Psychological Society study found that most women felt better at 60 than they had done at 40. Their cognitive function and memory improved, as did their overall quality of life. (Interestingly, the quality of life of women who took HRT was no better than those who didn’t).
Separate research for the Royal College of Psychiatrists found that, contrary to received wisdom, depression in women decreased after the menopause, and that for many women life after 55 got better.
There are plenty of women in public life, too, who seem to abound with PMZ, including Kirsty Wark, Meryl Streep and Lindsay Duncan. Julie Walters once said, “It’s a good time after the menopause, once the flushes stop and things settle. I’ve got more energy and things start fitting into place emotionally.”
PMZ seems to be the result of a happy combination of circumstance and biology. Changes in lifestyle – more time and energy when the kids leave home, for example – often coincide with a new hormonal stability.
Dr Marilyn Glenville, a nutritionist specialising in women’s health, and author of Natural Solutions to Menopause, explains: “After the menopause there’s a change in the balance of hormones: as oestrogen drops, testosterone becomes more dominant.
“It’s not that there’s more testosterone, it’s just that the balance between the two hormones has shifted. And that gives women – as it does men – more drive, more motivation, more zest.”
So it’s not just about feeling better because the hot flushes and sleepless nights have diminished, though that’s clearly a factor. Liberation from the tyranny of the menstrual cycle also helps.
People may bang on about how sad it is not to be fertile any more, and maybe for a few it is a bit sad. But the compensations are massive: no periods, no PMT, no mood swings – and wonderful worry-free sex with no contraception.
Rose, 57, says “I really wasn’t that interested in sex during the menopause; in fact I felt decidedly unsexy most of the time. I thought that was it, that I’d never be that bothered about sex again. And that seemed so sad – that something that had been very important to me was over.
“So when my libido came back after the menopause I felt fantastic. I felt alive again. These days sex is better than it’s ever been; better even than it was in my twenties.”
This reignited interest in sex – too often dampened by the menopause – seems to be a common feature of PMZ. Again, there are lifestyle factors alongside biological changes, according to Dr Glenville. “A woman’s sex drive could be higher because of her testosterone level, but also because this is a stage where a lot of people start new relationships.
“Or it may be that the empty nest gives a couple freedom to have sex at different times, and to have more time for each other.”
There’s nothing like sex to make you feel more confident about the way you look. It lends that smug inner glow that is beyond the powers of even the most revolutionary skin serum.
Post-menopausal women don’t just feel more like themselves, they look more like themselves. Basically, PMZ makes women comfortable in their own skin.
Post-menopausal zest has a positive impact on other areas of life too. It gives us a new impetus to exercise, and to try out new stuff, like yoga, horseriding, marathon-running, which in turn makes us feel better, and boosts our energy levels.
For me, a huge bonus of PMZ was that I stopped feeling so anxious. During the menopause I assumed that anxiety and panic attacks were here to stay and I’d just have to learn to live with them.
But recently it dawned on me that the anxiety had dissipated. I felt generally calmer and more stable. It was only then that I saw what a toll all that anxiety had taken on my energy.
Many women, like Caroline, 58, experience a similar new equilibrium. She says, “I feel much calmer and more able to keep things in proportion these days.
“I’ve recently started a job where I have to do some public speaking, something I just didn’t have the bottle for in the past. I really get a buzz out of it. I’m able to be myself now.”
Again, the backdrop is partly biological, according to Dr Glenville: “After the fluctuations in hormone levels during the menopause there comes a point where everything becomes stable. It’s that hormonal stability which gives mental and physical stability. The mood swings are gone, so it’s a more equal, balanced time.”
The even better news is that PMZ lasts. Writing 50-plus years ago, Margaret Mead complained, “We have found no way of using the resources of women in their 25 years of PMZ.”
It would surely help if women knew it was coming rather than buying into the accepted glass-half-full view of post-menopause. Then we really could make the most of it.