Menopausal weight gain can have consequences more serious than outgrowing your favorite pair of jeans. How does middle age spread affects your body? What you can do about it?
Need some added motivation? Previous research has linked prolonged sedentary time with poor health outcomes, but a recent study is the first to show that postmenopausal women with high amounts of sedentary time, defined as sitting and resting but not sleeping, have increased premature mortality rates.
Worse still, excess sedentary time tends to make it harder to regain physical strength and function. Women begin to lose muscle mass at age 35, a change that accelerates with menopause.
Rebecca Seguin, assistant professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell University, says:
“In general, a use it or lose it philosophy applies. We have a lot of modern conveniences and technologies that, while making us more efficient, also lead to decreased activity and diminished ability to do things. Women need to find ways to remain active.”
Published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the study shows that women with more than 11 hours of daily sedentary time faced a 12 percent increase in all-cause premature mortality compared with the most energetic group, those with four hours or less of inactivity.
The sedentary group also upped their odds for death due to cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, and cancer by 13, 27 and 21 percent, respectively.
Facts About Menopausal Weight Gain
1. Understanding estrogen. As estrogen levels drop during menopause, your metabolism slows down. Your body burns fewer calories and stores more fat.
A 2011 study also found that estrogen could help protect women from cardiovascular disease by keeping the body’s immune system in check, new research has revealed. The study has shown that the female sex hormone works on white blood cells to stop them from sticking to the insides of blood vessels, a process which can lead to dangerous blockages.
2. Watch your waistline. Extra pounds you gain after menopause are likely to turn into abdominal fat, which increases your risk for diabetes, heart disease, and other conditions. Talk with your doctor if your waistline is 35 inches or more.
3. Check your thyroid. Menopause and thyroid conditions can cause similar symptoms including increased weight, as well as depression and fatigue. Your doctor can advise you about whether you would benefit from testing.
4. Expect changes. If you’ve been thin your whole life, you may be surprised to see the scale edging up. It’s natural if you to need to eat less and move more to maintain your dress size.
Using Your Diet To Fight Menopausal Weight Gain
Putting on extra pounds later in life is common, but not inevitable. A University of Pittsburgh study found that women who made two simple changes in the way they eat lost dramatically more weight.
“With more than one-third of all Americans considered obese, it’s clear that standard behavioral obesity treatment is producing poor long-term results,” said Bethany Barone Gibbs, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Health and Physical Activity, University of Pittsburgh. “We found that some important behaviors differ for long-term versus short-term weight control among women in their 50s and 60s, who are already at higher risk for weight gain.”
Take a look at their secret to menopausal weight gain:
1. Skip desserts and soda. Women who consumed fewer desserts and sugary drinks lost almost eight times more weight than their peers in that Pittsburgh study. Switch to fruit and water instead.
2. Reduce calories. You can also eat less by controlling your portion sizes and choosing nutrient-dense foods. That way you can keep up your energy while you stay trim.
3. Dine at home. Cooking your own meals gives you more control. Restaurants tend to use more fat and sodium than you would.
4. Consider eating more soy. Some experts believe that plants have isoflavones that function like human estrogen.
Does soy in the diet really help with hot flashes? It does, but only for women whose bodies can produce the soy metabolite equol, reported a 2014 study of American women published in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopause Society. About 20% to 50% of North American and European women have this ability.
Measuring equol is a test that’s only done in research centers, so it’s not realistic for women who are not participating in studies to be tested. And the effect of soy for women who do produce equol needs to be confirmed in controlled, randomized studies, so making a definite recommendation to women on soy and hot flashes is premature, said the authors.
Even so, you may want to try tofu or soy milk to see if they help relieve night sweats or help you sleep.
5. Consider supplements. Most women can get all the nutrients they need from a balanced diet. However, your doctor may recommend supplements, including iron and calcium, based on your individual needs.
Using Exercise To Fight Menopausal Weight Gain
Almost 80% of adults don’t exercise enough according to the CDC, and older adults are even more likely to be inactive. Once you start working out, you’ll burn more calories and experience other benefits like strengthening your bones and relieving stress.
1. Train in intervals. Structure your workouts so that you alternate between brief bursts of high intensity movements and gentler exercises. You’ll burn more calories and fat, condition your heart, and increase your metabolism while spending less time at the gym.
2. Build muscles. You lose muscle mass as you age, but you can slow down the process. Lift dumbbells or do body weight exercises like dips and pushups.
3. Work on balance. Enhancing your balance can protect you from falls, correct your posture, and sharpen your thinking. Sign up for yoga classes or train at home. Try doing squats while standing on your toes or sit on a stability ball when you’re watching TV.
4. Move more. In addition to formal exercise, you can incorporate more activity into your daily routine. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park your car a few blocks away from the office so you can walk the remaining distance.
Women gain an average of 10 pounds around menopause, but diet and exercise can minimize the effects. Slimming down will help you to stay healthy and enjoy your golden years.
Top Image: Nick Kenrick/Flickr