When you think of menopause, you might automatically think of hot flashes and mood swings. While a drop in estrogen and progesterone (which occurs during menopause) certainly causes these symptoms, another notable change many women experience during menopause is weight gain.
According to research, women may gain an average of 5 pounds during menopause. Women who all already overweight are more likely to gain weight during this period in their life.
Learning how to fight potential weight gain now can make it easier to maintain a healthy body weight over the course of a lifetime.
How menopause causes weight gain
Menopause marks significant changes. Not only do your periods finally stop, but you are no longer capable of having children. This is because your body no longer releases the levels of estrogen and progesterone required for fertility and reproduction.
It’s important to note that menopause-related weight gain doesn’t happen overnight. In other words, you won’t suddenly gain 10 pounds after your periods stop. Rather, the weight gain is more gradual. Poor lifestyle habits and other factors can increase your weight gain as well.
Other causes of weight gain
While weight gain may be attributed to menopause, other factors can increase the total amount gained. For instance, you might notice more weight maintenance issues:
- under times of stress
- when you don’t get enough sleep
- during family changes (such as children leaving the nest, or a divorce)
- with job or relationship issues
- when quitting smoking
- while consuming alcohol frequently
- while taking certain medications (such as antidepressants)
Genetics can also play a role. If your mother dealt with weight issues during menopause, then chances are you also might have difficulties managing your weight as you go through it.
Age itself presents a lot of changes when it comes to weight. Once you hit your 30s, your metabolism slows down. During this time, you may find it harder to maintain your weight without making changes in your eating patterns and exercise habits.
The circumstances only make it harder as you reach your 40s and 50s. This is because muscle mass naturally decreases while body fat can increase. Without muscle mass, your body doesn’t metabolize calories as efficiently. This can lead to unwanted weight gain. So menopause can lead to weight gain, but it isn’t the only cause during this stage of life.
Complications of menopause-related weight gain
Significant weight gain during menopause means more than not fitting into your favorite dresses and jeans. It also poses potential serious consequences to your health. In fact, gaining weight in your 40s increases your risk for:
- breast cancer
- heart disease
- type 2 diabetes
Also, if you already have a chronic illness like type 2 diabetes or hypothyroidism, weight gain can worsen your symptoms.
Tips for weight management
Despite all of the supplements and other supposed solutions to menopause weight gain that are available these days, there’s no magic formula for stopping it. Under your doctor’s supervision, you can minimize menopause-related weight gain with a healthy lifestyle. This includes eating fewer calories, exercising regularly, and building muscle.
According to the Mayo Clinic, most women need to take in 200 fewer calories per day once they reach their 50s compared to when they were younger. Try to avoid extra calorie sources that don’t provide nutrition, such as sweetened drinks and sodas.
Benefits of aerobic exercise
For success with an exercise routine, it’s important to prevent boredom and isolation. Change up your routine and try new classes and DVDs. Walk a new route for a change of scenery. You may also enlist a workout buddy to help keep you motivated. The goal is to work up to a total of 2 hours and 30 minutes of aerobic exercise a week.
Strength training can help prevent a loss of muscle mass as you age. In addition, it can help you rebuild muscles you might have lost as a result of a lack of exercise. Resistance exercises are especially important after menopause because they may also help prevent osteoporosis.
You can address multiple muscle groups with a full routine, including arms, legs, glutes, and abs. It’s important that you don’t overdo it — you’ll only increase your risk for injuries. The Mayo Clinic recommends strength training twice a week for adequate results.
Remember that strength training and aerobic exercises are two different things. While strength training isn’t focused on exercising your heart and lungs, it does add muscle mass to help you burn calories more efficiently.
When to see your doctor
While many women experience menopause-related weight gain, it doesn’t happen to everyone. Being proactive about your weight can help tremendously.
If you haven’t yet hit menopause, you may start making over your lifestyle now to curb the effects that this change brings about. If you’re already in the middle of menopause, it’s still not too late — make small changes at a time until they become habit.
Once you start exercising more and eating more healthily, you’ll likely see a difference. It’s certainly not easy, but sticking with a weight loss plan will make you look and feel better.
Despite making significant lifestyle changes, some women still have difficulties with their weight after menopause. If you continue to gain weight despite cutting calories and exercising regularly, you should see your doctor, as this could be a sign of an underlying health issue.