Menopause and Weight Gain

shutterstock_79761454In your 20s, you might have been able to skip dessert for a week and lose a few pounds. But as menopause approaches, extra pounds seem to appear out of nowhere and stubbornly settle in.

Weight gain may seem as inevitable as hot flashes and greying hair, but it does not have to be part of “The Change.” It takes a little extra effort, but you maintaining a healthy weight and staying in shape during this phase of your life is possible.

Why Weight Changes

In the years leading up to menopause, levels of the female hormone estrogen in your body gradually decrease. Declining estrogen levels influence not only how much weight you gain in midlife, but also where it accumulates. Even “pear-shaped” women develop a thicker waist, taking on more of an “apple shape.” Muscle mass also decreases as you age, which in turn slows metabolism.

At the same time your body is changing, your lifestyle and habits may also change. Workouts that were once a breeze may now leave your knees or back tender and aching, so you give up your customary exercise routine.

Regardless of the reasons, weight gain at midlife increases your risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease.

Tip the Scale

You may not be able to turn back the clock, but you can swing the balance back in your favor. It helps to revise your attitude about your weight. At this point in life, the goal is to hold steady at a healthy weight, not to quickly drop 10 pounds so you can look better in a bathing suit. Ultimately, the aim is to maintain good health for the long term.

  • Focus on foods instead of counting calories. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh recently found that older women who concentrated on eating more fruits and vegetables and less meat and sweets controlled their weight better over time.
  • Low-impact aerobic exercise, such as walking, swimming or cycling for at least 30 minutes on most days, helps improve cardiovascular fitness and reduces your risk of disease. If you can’t find time for your exercise session, taking the stairs at work, gardening or running around with your grandchildren are other ways to sneak in a few minutes of exercise.
  • Strength training helps rebuild lost muscle mass. To reduce the risk of injury, leave the free weights on the rack; use a weight machine, hand weights or resistance bands.
  • Activities such as yoga and tai chi build strength and improve balance, which helps reduce your risk of falls later in life.

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