Weight Gain and Menopause

By Susan Epstein, MS, RD, CDN

Most women gain weight as they age. Is this inevitable? Is there a connection between menopause and weight gain? Can anything be done to prevent this weight gain?

Statistics show that during a two year period, menopausal women gain between two and ten pounds. Many women notice their clothing fitting more snugly, especially around the middle. Why do many women gain this weight during this stage of life? There may be several factors which can trigger weight gain during menopause. One factor is the hormonal changes that can cause a woman to gain more weight around the abdomen rather than the legs and thighs. Another factor may be a more sedentary lifestyle. Additionally, metabolism slows with age. During the time of menopause, many women lose muscle which results in a decrease in the rate the body uses calories. (i.e. a slower metabolism). Finally, genetics also plays a role in weight gain. If parents or close relatives carried extra weight around the middle, chances are that you will too.

The problem of excess weight is more than a cosmetic one. Extra weight increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and various cancers including breast cancer.

    How can women avoid middle age weight gain? I recommend the following strategies:

  • Switch to a healthier lifestyle before weight gain occurs. Being proactive can help prevent unwanted weight gain.
  • Be more active. Find an activity that you like and do it regularly. The recommendation is aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes 5 times/week. Walking, jogging, dancing, and swimming will help you burn fat and calories.
  • Strength train. Exercise using weights can help maintain or even increase muscle mass so that your metabolism will not slow. Building muscle can also protect against future weight gain. Strength training is recommended twice a week.
  • Watch what you eat. Reduce refined carbohydrates, eat more vegetables, lean proteins, and fruit. A woman in her 50’s may need to consume 200 fewer calories than she did in her 30’s. Remember that menopausal women are at a higher risk for losing bone density. Remember to consume calcium with vitamin D either through the foods you eat or with a supplement.
  • Surround yourself with friends and family that support your efforts to live a healthier lifestyle.

Weight gain does not have to be part of menopause, nor does it have to be part of your life at any time. You can make positive dietary chances and commit to regular exercise so that you can live a longer, healthier, happier life.

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