Menopause & Me: Joanne Mathews

A pioneer of Pilates in the UK, and CEO of Ten Health & Fitness, Joanne is passionate about the power of exercise and wellbeing to help with menopausal symptoms. Stressed and blindsided by perimenopause when she was 44, she’s determined that other women should better informed and prepared than she was.

What is your age and stage?

I’m just over 50 and menopausal.

When did your symptoms start and what were they?

I became perimenopausal at 44.  At the time, I just thought my mood swings and lack of ability to concentrate were down to stress and particularly the pressures of work, and not hormone-related. It didn’t occur to me that it was the start of my menopause.

What has been the most challenging thing to deal with?

Not recognising the symptoms, and trying to deal with the different symptoms separately, meant that it took me a while for me to address the real issue and find a solution – which for me was HRT.

Have there been any positive symptoms?

Being challenged by my body – both emotionally (moods) and physically (my weight) – has been difficult. As a positive, it has led me to mindfulness and meditation and to ensure I build time into my day to be self-reflective, to understand my mood and my feelings and see them for what they are. This has enabled me to gain perspective and I’ve found it liberating.

Not recognising the symptoms, and trying to deal with the different symptoms separately, meant that it took me a while for me to address the real issue and find a solution.

How important has Dynamic Reformer Pilates been to your own sense of menopause wellbeing?

Dynamic Reformer Pilates (DRP) is one of the most all-encompassing forms of exercise for anyone, but I’m convinced that it’s really relevant for women who are transitioning into the next phase of their life. I used the reformer as part of my rehab, when I damaged my back in a car accident and I train today to support strength, both muscle & bone strength. (Exercise can slow down bone loss after menopause, which lowers the risk of fractures and osteoporosis).

DRP is great to tone up and helps with flexibility,  and it’s great to get a regular dose of endorphins, which is essential in boosting my mood.

Why do you recommend it for other women?

Dynamic Reformer Pilates, is sustainable and effective – above all it’s the ‘right’ type of exercise for menopausal women to be doing. Levels of oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone fall during menopause and levels of the stress hormone cortisol often rise. High intensity training exercise, for example, can elevate cortisol levels, which is exactly the opposite of what we should be doing.
When we’re dealing with the symptoms of menopause, we don’t necessarily feel like exercising – I know I didn’t. I get that it’s relatively easy for me, given that I’m always in and out of our Studios, and all of them offer Pilates. But all the same, my advice is just to show up anyway – and once the class starts, you’re in and it’s easier to just go with it.

I may not always have wanted to do the class at the time, but afterwards I’m always glad I did. 

In my experience, exercise has helped to reduce my menopausal symptoms.  It has reduced my stress, helps maintain my weight and enables me to have a better quality of life.

What are the other things that are getting you through?

Acceptance, understanding what is happening to my body and accepting that my body will change no matter how much I try to fight it. I also reviewed my diet by taking out /reducing stimulants such as coffee and tea, and reduced the amount of red meat I consumed, replacing it with fish and a load more fruit and vegetables.  No cakes (mostly). And I laugh more.

What has made the biggest difference?

Acceptance and not being hyper self-critical, and exercising more frequently.

Did you seek any advice from experts, friends or family?I took advice from my GP and finally took up a recommendation, from one of Ten’s clients, to see Mr Nick Panay at Hormone Health, in Harley Street.

What was the advice you received?

Advice from various sources was varied and often polarising. From homeopathic/alternative options through to HRT. I chose HRT – it felt like the right choice for me.

Is there anything you wish you’d known?

At a time when you are probably at your busiest, be it with family responsibilities or your career (or often both), this ‘thing’ comes along and hits you for six – but nothing else changes. Your family still need you, your parents still need you and work is only getting busier as you pursue your career. I felt I was battling my body, my mind and yet had to keep it together for everyone and everything I was involved in.  I cannot remember anyone saying to me “what you are experiencing is normal” and here is the guidance and what you need to know to help to navigate these changes. It’s just left up to the individual to find her own way.

At a time when you are probably at your busiest, be it with family responsibilities or your career (or often both), this ‘thing’ comes along and hits you for six.

What has been the impact on your daily life? 

Initially I felt stressed, with heightened levels of anxiety and irrational feelings, which was bad enough, but the biggest impact was the fatigue I felt.  I really did not want to exercise and I run a health & fitness business! At the time, I put this all down to work and the stress of building and expanding a business.

Has there been an impact on your relationships?

Not really – just moments of avoidance when I was being hugely irrational.

Is there anything you’d do differently?

Exercise a lot more than I did at the beginning. I think I would have felt a lot better, quicker.

What do you say to other women about the menopause?

I would say that you are definitely not in it alone, if you consider at any one time there are 13 million women in the UK who are either peri or menopausal.

It wasn’t something that my friends or I talked about and it’s still not talked about  – I consider it a chronic life changing condition and we are pretty much left to our devices to sort out what to do. 

It’s fabulous to see more support and advice coming to the forefront and people should feel confident and comfortable to discuss the subject – even in the workplace. I know we do at Ten and we now offer support through TenClinical.

What are your thoughts on this time of a woman’s life?

Bizarrely, considering what it’s been like, I just feel wiser, more sorted than at any other stage of my life.

Your menopause is…. 

Confusing, fatiguing, but ultimately liberating.

You feel MPowered when…

Personally, when I open up difficult conversations, to share my experience and to be supportive and collaborative.

Professionally, it was realising how great the need is, how little is being done to support it, and that Ten could – even in a small way – do something to help. So we launched TenClinical in January last year. It uses specialist and medically proven exercise prescription to improve outcomes and quality of life for people with life-altering conditions, and menopausal women is one of the key audiences we address (along with heart disease, cancer and diabetes patients). 

We are also building a network of experts who can offer a holistic approach to health & wellbeing, and one of our most recent and relevant of them is, leading Harley Street Consultant Nick Panay at the Hormone Health clinic.

Find out more about how Ten Health & Fitness can help your symptoms, at

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