The former First Lady, 58, shares her menopause experience with PEOPLE in hopes of getting women talking about this often-neglected phase of women’s health.
Menopause. It’s something every woman faces at one time or another. And yet, many are reluctant or ashamed to talk openly about it and share their experiences. Which is why we at People Health decided it was time to start a meaningful conversation — and dispel the myths, misconceptions, and mysteries that surround menopause. Here, we share the frank, funny, smart and candid stories from women we’ve come to know and love.
When PEOPLE sat down with Michelle Obama on the eve of her 50th birthday, the then-First Lady said she was hungry for information —from her mother, from girlfriends — about menopause.
“I want to know what I’m getting into,” Obama said back then, noting with a laugh: “My mom is like, ‘Menopause? Yeah, I think I went through it.’ She doesn’t remember anything.”
Eight years later, Obama knows first-hand, but the information still isn’t as available as she would like.
“There’s a lot we don’t know,” Obama, 58, says in an interview previewing her upcoming new book The Light We Carry, on sale Nov. 15.
“There is not a lot of conversation about menopause. I’m going through it, and I know all of my friends are going through it. And the information is sparse.”
Those girlfriends, whom she used to gather together for regular fitness “boot camps” when she was in the White House (earning her the group’s nickname, “Drillmaster”), have given her more than just moral support during this time of physical change.
“I find that when we get together and we’re moving and we’re laughing, then we spend a little time talking about what we’re going through. ‘What’s a hot flash?’ We have girlfriends around the table who are OBGYNs, who have real information. All of that keeps us lifted up.”
As for being Drillmaster, Obama adds: “I’m not always leading the workout, but the workout still happens. All of my friends are healthier because we do it better when we’re doing it together.”
But Obama’s workouts have changed. “Some of it is menopause, some of it is aging,” she says. “I find that I cannot push myself as hard as I used to. That doesn’t work out for me. That when I tear a muscle or pull something and then I’m out. The recovery time is not the same.”
Her fitness routine is now focused on flexibility, she says: less cardio, more stretching. “You wind up balancing between staying fit enough and being kind enough on your body to stay in the game.”
In The Michelle Obama Podcast, which launched in July 2020, Obama disclosed that, under her doctor’s guidance, she used hormone replacement therapy to treat her hot flashes.
Elaborating on that decision, Obama says now, “I’ve had to work with hormones, and that’s new information that we’re learning. Before there were studies that said that hormones were bad. That’s all we heard. Now we’re finding out research is showing that those studies weren’t fully complete and that there are benefits to hormone replacement therapy.
“You’re trying to sort through the information and the studies and the misinformation. So I’m right there.”
As for other symptoms, Obama says she’s been spared major mood swings — but not the typical menopause weight gain.
“I never used to weigh myself. I’m not trying to stick to numbers, but when you’re in menopause, you have this slow creep that you just don’t realize. We’re all in menopause with stretchy [waist] bands and our athleisure wear on, and you look up and you can’t fit the outfits you had last year. I have to be more mindful, not obsessive, but more mindful.”
Overall, Obama counts herself “blessed” by her menopause experience. “I think my skin still feels healthy. My hair is still in my head. These are the things that I have to count my blessings for,” she says.
“I am still physically active, and my goal now, instead of having ‘Michelle Obama arms,’ I just want to keep moving.”
And, it seems, the formerly hyper-competitive Drillmaster has mellowed. “If I can walk and move, I don’t have to run. I don’t have to beat everyone,” Obama says. “I’ve had to change the way I see myself in my health space.”