Menopause: Diet and Exercise

Have you noticed that many of your friends started to gain weight when they hit menopause? Maybe they started putting on a few pounds in their 40s and early 50s - and those pounds are still there. And, what about you? Have you gained some weight in this joyful time called menopause? Why is that? What happens to attract the pounds and make them stick?

Those Hormones Are Making You Fat!

Well, hormonal changes (and heaven knows there are enough of them with menopause) tend to make you more likely to get a bit fluffy around the middle rather than putting the weight on in the hips and thighs. However, did you know that hormonal changes by themselves don't necessarily trigger a weight gain with menopause? It's true. Actually, weight gain is often related more to lifestyle and genetic factors than hormones. Surprise, surprise.

You Don't Have To Gain Weight

And, did you know that menopausal weight gain is not inevitable - no matter what they say? You can actually reverse weight gain by being vigilant about your diet and spending more time moving and less time sitting. The fact is that menopausal women tend to exercise less than other women. Of course, this can lead to weight gain - especially if you're still eating like you did when you were 30. Additionally, muscle mass just naturally diminishes the older you get. So, if you don't do anything to ensure the muscle mass you have stays intact, then it won't and your body composition with begin to transform from firm to flab. More fat, less muscle. The less muscle you have, the less efficiently your body will burn calories. The end result, if you keep eating the way you used to when you were more active, is weight gain. Voila.


Of course, we can't ignore the genetic factors that may affect your body shape. If your family is prone to carrying weight around the girth, then you will likely be gifted that way as well. Then there's the emotional impact of life that can contribute to weight gain: divorce, the kids are gone (or they've come back again), death of a loved one, and any number of other stressors that cause us to stuff our feelings with food. On the other hand, some women hit menopause and are just plain happy to be doing nothing for a change. They just let go and, well, you know what happens next.

The reality is that weight gain during and after menopause can really negatively affect your health. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes are all risk factors that come along with excess weight during menopause. The next step with these risk factors is heart disease and stroke. Added weight also increases the risk of certain kinds of cancer, including breast cancer and colorectal cancer. There is research that has found that gaining as little as 4.4 pounds at the age of 50 or later can increase the risk of breast cancer by 30 percent!

Exercise The Weight Off

So, now that you've decided weight gain isn't totally necessary and can be controlled, how exactly do you go about doing that? First of all, get into motion. It doesn't mean you have to run a marathon (but you could if you wanted to). As little as 30 minutes a day of physical activity can make all the difference in the world. Find a walking buddy and walk, or swim. Remember that muscle burns fat, so the more muscle you have, the better your body will metabolize fat which makes it easier to keep a handle on your weight. Don't forget that strength training is especially important for bone density - which is necessary to ward off osteoporosis. If you have some weight you want to lose, then increased activity is an important facet of the process.

Diet Matters

The other side of the coin is your diet. If you are happy at the weight you are now, then maintaining it means you might have to cut about 200 calories off your intake. When you were 30 you may have needed those extra calories, but after 50, you probably can do without them. The best way to cut calories without sacrificing nutrition is to examine your diet and make some healthy choices. Eating healthy, low-calorie, nutritious food is easier now than ever. The same rules that applied when you were keeping yourself svelte and sexy 15 or 20 years ago still apply. Lean meats, eggs and fish, whole grains, fresh veggies and fruit, and matching your intake to your output will go a long way to stopping that middle age spread all those people talk about.

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