Weight Gain after Menopause: Stopping the middle age “spread”

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The hormonal changes of menopause might make a woman more likely to gain weight around the abdomen than around the hips and thighs, but hormonal changes are not the only factor to blame. Weight gain is also related to aging, lifestyle choices and genetic factors (Mayo Foundation, 2013). Postmenopausal weight gain is a concern for many women age 50 and older, especially as statistics show higher rates of obesity in women during postmenopausal years (Al-Zadjali et al., 2010). Even more troubling is the research showing that excess weight increases the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and various types of cancer, including colorectal cancer and breast cancer(Mayo Foundation, 2013).

Ready for the good news? postmenopausal weight gain is not inevitable.

So, what is the best way to minimize, or even prevent, postmenopausal weight gain? Evaluation of intervention research on the subject was compiled and assessed by Al-Zadjali and colleagues (2010) to try and answer this question.  Over 120 scientific articles were evaluated and the results showed that a combination of dietary interventions (reduced intake of fats, saturated fats, cholesterol and overall reduction in caloric consumption) and increased physical activity (both cardiorespiratory and weight bearing exercise) led to the best health and weight management results. Benefits of this combination were plenty, including decreased BMI, fat mass, waist circumference, systolic blood pressure, triglycerides, glucose, leptin and cortisol, and LDL cholesterol!

Weight bearing exercise was shown to produce positive weight loss while also maintaining, even increasing, bone mineral density in post menopausal women. Cardiorespiratory exercise, even at low intensities (walking for example), was successfully able to reduce body weight in and improve cardiorespiratory fitness in obese post menopausal women. The main goal for women throughout this stage of their life is to progressively increase their exercise levels until they are completing 200-350 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise in order to optimize health and weight management during and after menopause (Donnelly et al., 2009).

So the take home messages for minimizing or preventing weight gain during the menopausal years?

  • There is no Magic Pill. In order to maintain and manage your weight, and you health, is to stick to the basics: Move more, make healthier dietary choices and seek out support when needed!
  • Move more: aim for moderate aerobic activity (such as brisk walking or yoga) for at least 150 minutes a week or vigorous aerobic activity(such as jogging or higher intensity group exercise classes like Zumba and cycling) for at least 75 minutes a week. Also incorporate strength training exercises at least twice a week. *If you are trying to lose weight, you may need to exercise more*
  • Make healthier dietary choices: to maintain your current weight you may need about 200 fewer calories each day during your 50s than you did during your 30s and 40s. To reduce calories without skimping on nutrition, pay attention to what you’re eating and drinking. Choose more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy products and lean sources of protein (such as chicken, fish and tofu).
  • Seek out support when needed: Surrounding yourself with friends and loved ones who support your efforts to eat healthier and exercise will increase your chances of maintaining your healthy lifestyle. You may also benefit from working one on one with a personal trainer or registered dietitian for added support, education and accountability.

Al-Zadjali, M., et al (2010). Evaluation of Intervention research in weight reduction in post menopausal women. Geriatric Nursing, 31(6), 419-34.

Cazares, A., Kravitz, L. (2012). Weight Gain after Menopause: What is the best way to minimize or prevent post menopausal weight gain? IDEA Fitness Journal, Nov-Dec, 35.

Donnelly, J.E., et al. (2009). American College of Sports Medicine position paper. Appropriate physical activity intervention strategies for weight loss and prevention of weight regain in for adults. Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise, 41(2), 459-71.

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2013).  Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Menopause weight gain: Stop the middle age spread. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/menopause-weight-gain/HQ01076

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