Menopause and weight gain: Do they always go hand in hand? It may seem that way, especially because gaining weight is so common after menopause. About 30% of women ages 50 to 59 are not just overweight, but obese. Here’s what you need to know about the risks of weight gain and how exercise can help you lose weight and keep it off after menopause.
The Risks of Weight Gain After Menopause
Many of the risks of weight gain are well known: high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes, to name a few. Extra fat at your waistline raises these risks more. Unfortunately, a bigger waistline is more likely after menopause. If you now have a waist measurement of more than 35 inches, it’s time to take steps to reverse this trend.
Why Weight Gain Often Happens After Menopause
What is it about menopause that makes it so hard to keep off the weight? It’s likely a mix of factors related to menopause and aging.
The impact of estrogen. In animal studies, estrogen appears to help control body weight. With lower estrogen levels, lab animals tend to eat more and be less physically active. Reduced estrogen may also lower metabolic rate, the rate at which the body converts stored energy into working energy. It’s possible the same thing happens with women when estrogen levels drop after menopause. Some evidence suggests that estrogen hormone therapy increases a woman’s resting metabolic rate. This might help slow weight gain. Lack of estrogen may also cause the body to use starches and blood sugar less effectively, which would increase fat storage and make it harder to lose weight.
Other age-related factors. As women age, many other changes happen that contribute to weight gain. For example:
- You’re less likely to exercise. Sixty percent of adults aren’t active enough, and this increases with age.
- You lose muscle mass, which lowers your resting metabolism, making it easier to gain weight.
- The rate at which you can use up energy during exercise declines. To use the same energy as in the past and achieve weight loss, you may need to increase the amount of time and intensity you’re exercising, no matter what your past activity levels were.
How Exercise Helps With Weight After Menopause
The more active you are, the less weight you’re likely to gain. A National Institutes of Health review showed that people who did aerobic activities every day for 10 or more minutes had 6 fewer inches around the waistline compared to people who didn’t exercise. And exercising while you’re in the process of losing weight — as well as after you’ve lost it — may be critical to maintaining weight loss.
Other Benefits of Exercise After Menopause
Exercise has many other perks aside from weight loss, including:
- Lower risk of osteoporosis
- Lower risks of metabolic syndrome, heart attack, and other cardiovascular diseases
- Improved insulin resistance
- Keeps joints and muscles strong
- Helps bowels work well
- Relieves depression and anxiety
- Improves overall health
Good Exercise Choices After Menopause
What types of exercise can best help you lose and maintain weight after menopause?
- Strength training, or a weight-resistance exercise program, helps build muscle mass and improve metabolism. Strength training also helps you maintain bone mass. Because you lose muscle mass as you age, add strength training to your workouts, if you haven’t before. Aim for two or three times a week. Examples of strength training include weight machines, dumbbells, exercise bands, yoga, and gardening.
- Low-impact aerobics are good for your heart and lungs. Walking, for example, is one of the best choices, because you can do it anywhere, anytime. Other examples of aerobic exercises include swimming, cycling, aerobics, tennis, and dance. Exercise moderately for at least 30 minutes most, if not all, days of the week.
- Whenever you can, add activity to your day. Wash the car, play hide and seek with your kids or grandchildren, get in a game of ping pong, etc.
Other Exercise Tips to Help Ensure Success
Before you begin exercising:
- Talk to your doctor about a new exercise program.
- Choose activities you enjoy so you’ll stick with your workouts.
- Find an exercise partner to help you stay motivated.
- Buy supportive shoes — the right ones for your activity.
- Pick a start date and start.
After you begin exercising:
- Allow at least 10 minutes to warm up before starting to exercise rigorously. To do this, choose an activity that gently works major muscles.
- Before you work out, stretch the muscles that will absorb most of the shock of your exercise routine.
- If you have any new pain while exercising, stop and let your doctor know.
- Gradually boost the distance, length, or intensity of your workout.
- Mix it up. Do different exercises to keep from getting bored and to keep your body challenged.
For the best fitness results, combine your exercise efforts with good nutrition. Here are just a few tips:
- Choose whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein.
- Stay away from processed foods.
- Keep a food diary, or explore programs for your computer or apps for your cell phone, to help you watch how many calories you eat.
- Don’t eat too late in the evening.
- When you eat out, take half the serving home.
- Eat smaller amounts but more often.
- Obesity Society: “Obesity in U.S. Adults: 2007."
- Consumer Reports: “Working up a sweat helps women deal with menopause" and “Stay active and fit."
- Weight Control Information Network: “Understanding Obesity."
- Medscape: “Exercise, Weight Gain, and Menopause."
- American Osteopathic Association: “Exercise in Post-Menopausal Women."
- American Council on Fitness: “Exercise and Menopause."