Weight gain is almost inevitable as we age, especially for women, and menopause seems to be a time when women start to notice the extra pounds.
Although not completely avoidable, weight gain can be reduced by staying active during menopause and engaging in healthy lifestyle habits. Genetics also play a big role in how much weight we gain.
What causes weight gain during menopause?
During menopause, estrogen levels drop. A decrease in one form of estrogen, called estradiol, which helps regulate metabolism, also declines. This can cause a woman to gain weight in areas like the abdomen, hips and thighs.
While hormones are partially to blame, weight gain occurs naturally as we age, regardless of gender. And as we lose muscle, those areas are replaced with fat. So yes, menopause causes weight gain, but it doesn’t account for all the weight a woman may put on.
As we age, our metabolism slows down. With a lower metabolic rate, the body stores more fat than it burns, which causes weight gain. For women, a decrease in estradiol during menopause, as we mentioned earlier, also causes metabolic changes in the body, making it harder to lose weight and keep it off.
Genetics play a large role in how we age, especially how much weight we gain in our later years. They actually play a larger role than most of us think. If our mothers, aunts and grandmothers carry or have carried extra weight in certain areas, then most likely, we will see a similar result as well.
Health risks associated with menopause-related weight gain
The problem with gaining weight as we age is when it starts to encircle the abdomen and surrounding organs. Known as visceral fat in the medical world, this contributor to weight gain comes with an increased risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and even certain cancers. Menopausal women are at greater risk because they tend to gain weight in the abdominal area.
Key ways keep weight in check during menopause
Just because women go through menopause, doesn’t mean they are doomed to gain weight and have absolutely no control over it. The following are some of the main ways menopausal women can stay healthy as they age in their own unique and beautiful ways..
Staying active as you age is crucial. According to WebMed, sixty percent of older adults do not get enough exercise. Keeping physical activity a top priority can help women combat menopausal weight gain. They may have to work harder than when they did when they were younger, but burning fat and keeping weight in check is still possible. Health experts recommend moderate exercise (power-walking counts!) for a minimum of 150 minutes a week, which breaks down to about 21 minutes a day. When you think about the health payoff, the sacrifice is minimal.
Being more conscious and intentional of what you eat during menopause is also crucial to helping stave off excess weight. Women during this stage of life might find it beneficial to eat more nutrient-dense foods such as nuts, fish, fruit, legumes and whole grains versus empty carbs. So, when the sweet tooth kicks in, eating right may be difficult, but making small daily changes in your diet can eventually lead to healthier food choice down the road..
Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that how you look on the outside isn’t the best indicator of overall health. Dr. Susan Reed, vice chair for Research at the University of Washington, adds to this wisdom by suggesting that women focus more on their lean mass to fat ratio rather than hyper-focusing on what numbers they see on a scale. She says, “Your pant size does not necessarily correlate with health. What matters is that ratio. It’s about muscle mass and strength.” All the more reason to stay active and choose physical activity over staying sedentary.