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Menopause and weight gain

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Published: 6 Dec 2012      

Menopause and weight gain. Do they always have to go hand in hand? It may seem that way, especially because gaining weight is so common after menopause. In fact, about 30% of women aged 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 increases these risks still 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.

Why Weight Gain Often Happens After Menopause

What is it about menopause that makes it so challenging to keep off the weight? It is likely a combination of factors related to menopause and aging.

The impact of estrogens. In animal studies, estrogens appears to help regulate 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 is possible the same thing happens with women when estrogen levels decrease after menopause. In fact, some evidence suggests that estrogen hormone therapy increases a woman's resting metabolic rate. This may help slow weight gain.

Other age-related factors

As women age, many other changes occur that contribute to weight gain:

  • You are less likely to exercise. In fact, 60% of adults are not active enough and this increases with age.
  • You lose muscle mass, which decreases your resting metabolism, making it easier to gain weight.
  • Your aerobic capacity declines. This is the rate at which you can use up energy during exercise. To use the same energy as in the past and achieve weight loss, you may need to increase the amount of time you're exercising, no matter what your past activity levels were.

How Exercise Helps With Weight After Menopause

Exercise is effective at influencing your levels of total body fat and abdominal fat. The more active you are, the less weight you are likely to gain. A National Institutes of Health review showed that people who participated in aerobic activities every day for 10 or more minutes had 6 fewer inches around the waistline compared to people who did not 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

It's also good to remember that exercise has many benefits separate from weight loss and fitness. The list of exercise benefits is too long to include, but here are a few benefits that are especially helpful after menopause.

Exercise helps:

  • Lower risk of osteoporosis
  • Reduce risk of metabolic syndrome, heart attack, and other cardiovascular diseases
  • Keep joints and muscles strong
  • Maintain good bowel function
  • Relieve depression and anxiety
  • Improve overall health

Good Exercise Choices After Menopause

Which 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 maintain bone mass. Because you lose muscle mass as you age, add this to your workouts, if you haven't before. Try doing this two or three times a week. Examples of strength training include weight machines, dumbbells, exercise bands, yoga, and gardening.

Low-impact aerobics increases heart and respiratory rates. Walking 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 grandchildren, get in a game of ping pong.

Other Exercise Tips for Ensuring Success

Before you begin your exercise workouts:

  • 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 your exercise workouts:

  • Allow at least 10 minutes to warm up before starting to exercise rigorously. To do this choose an activity that gently works your major muscles.
  • Before you work out, stretch the muscles that will absorb most of the shock of your exercise routine.
  • Stop, and let your doctor know if you experience any new pain while exercising.
  • Gradually increase the distance, length, or intensity of your workout.
  • Mix it up, do a variety of different exercises.


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 to help you monitor your caloric intake.
  • Don't eat too late in the evening.
  • When you eat out, take half the serving home.
  • Eat smaller amounts, but more often.