Most of us expect to put on weight in later life and this is indeed what happens to the majority of women. Many women believe that weight gain is an inevitable side-effect of menopause and that there’s not much that can be done to avoid putting on a few pounds. You might be surprised to know, however, that there’s no proven link between menopause and weight gain. Medical research carried out in this area has found no evidence to connect the weight gain most women experience in mid-life and the hormonal changes of menopause. So just why do so many of us become heavier in the post-menopause years and what can we do to prevent this?
As we age, our metabolism slows down. This happens to both men and women. Our digestive systems no longer process the food we eat as efficiently as before and fat gathers more easily on our bodies. This includes visible fat on our stomachs, hips and thighs, and also deeper fat which gathers inside us, around the organs.
Fat Replacing Muscle
A contributing factor to a slowing metabolism and weight gain in post-menopausal women is that as we get older, the fat we gain replaces the muscles we had when we were younger. We therefore have less and less muscle and more and more fat. Muscles burn the calories you consume a lot quicker than fat burns calories. Therefore you don’t burn off calories at the rate you used to. So, if you maintain your calorie intake at the same level as it was when you were younger, or if you increase your calorie consumption after menopause, you may put on weight – even without making significant changes to your diet.
There are many and varied reasons why women change their dietary and lifestyle habits after menopause. Some women exercise less because of health problems, while others may no longer feel as confident as they once did about going out in sportswear or taking on physically demanding tasks. Whatever the reason, research has found that many women decrease their levels of physical activity after menopause and, as a result, put on weight. The same applies to diet – many women eat differently after menopause and in later life.
Genetics do play a role in post-menopause weight gain. If the women in previous generations of your family have tended to put on weight in mid- and later life, you too may have a predisposition to be heavier.
One element of the post-menopause weight problem is the change in how fat is distributed around the female body after menopause. Even though the hormonal changes of menopause don’t actually cause you to put on weight, they can change the way in which the fat you have sits on your body. For many women, this change is noticeable because they have more fat around the abdomen, whereas pre-menopause these women would have tended to put on weight around the hips, thighs, arms, etc.
Preventing Weight Gain
So, if weight gain isn’t a direct or unavoidable consequence of menopause, then clearly, it can be prevented or at least managed through dedication and hard work. You need to exercise and eat well, just as you did when you wanted to avoid putting on weight when you were younger. The problem now is that with your metabolism slowing down, you may have to work a little bit harder and be just a bit more determined than before. The first step is to talk to your doctor about sensible diet and safe and effective exercise. Let him or her know exactly what your goals are – whether you want to maintain your current weight, lose weight or tighten your stomach muscles, for example. Here are some basic guidelines:
Try to make 30 minutes of physical activity part of your daily routine. This could be walking, jogging, or going up and down the stairs…whatever is easy and safe for you to do. Consider taking up some aerobic exercise – get down to your local leisure centre, you may find that they offer aerobics sessions targeted at women in your age group. Also, ask your doctor specifically about safe exercises for strengthening your abdominal muscles.
Seek to reduce your total calorie intake per day, but maintain a balanced diet with elements of all the food groups. Try to get your fats from healthier sources, such as nuts, fish, etc. Replace simple carbohydrates such as white bread, with complex carbohydrates such as brown rice, whole grains, etc. Simple carbohydrates are very quickly converted into fat.
Stop smoking and reduce your alcohol consumption.
Discuss the effects of menopause like weight gain and menopausal hair growth, with other women experiencing menopause.