Women complain to me about their menopause middle and ask how to get rid of it. Exercise, good nutrition and sound sleep – the traits of a healthy lifestyle at any age, are ever more important at middle age. According to Nancy Clark, author of the upcoming new edition of the best-selling Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook (Human Kinetics, November 2013), women do not always gain weight during menopause. “Yes, women aged 45 to 50 commonly gain weight as fat settles in and around the abdominal area,” Clark says. “But, these changes are due more to lack of exercise and a surplus of calories than to a reduction of hormones.”
In a three-year study of more than 3,000 women (initial age 42 to 52 years), the average weight gain was 4.6 pounds. The weight gain occurred in all women, regardless of their menopause status. According to Clark, weight gain is not caused by the hormonal shifts of menopause, but by other culprits associated with midlife. That is lack of exercise and excess calories.
Middle age women (and men) tend to be less active which is especially unhealthful as we age. We need to keep our muscles strong and flexible for many reasons: better balance, good bone mass, and for weight control.
more muscle = faster metabolism = increased calorie burn
FORGET DIETS AND EXTREME EXERCISE – GO FOR JOY
You’ve probably dieted a gazillion times by now, has it led to permanent weight loss or are you dieting several times year? That ought to tell you something about how effective that approach is. There is no magic bullet when it comes to food or fitness.
What does work is eating fresh, whole foods that are nutrient dense. That is foods that pack a lot nutrition for the amount of calories – think apple vs pretzels. They may have the same calories but your body gets more satisfaction out of that apple.
Choose movement that you enjoy. If you like boxing – great! Weight-lifting, Pilates? Perfer bike riding to dancing? Do what feels good. Mix up some resistance training with activities that increase your heart rate enough so that you can talk but not sing while you are doing it and you’ve got a good aerobic pace.
exercise 3 – 5x/wk for at least 30-minutes.
Once you experience how good it feels to live in a strong, fit and healthy body, you’ll want to keep it that way. You only have one body, one life. It is mostly up to you how you’re going to feel in it. Of course, you’ll probably reduce or get rid of the menopause middle too. That’s just the bonus. Feeling great in your own skin is the real prize.
Great article … especially since I can relate!
In all my experience as a 53 year old women with regular menstrual cycles, normal pregnancies, consistently active, healthy diet, no medications including birth control … the only stage in my life that was challenging to maintain a balance of energy to battle weight gain began as menopause approached and evened out as menopause came to an end. Every other stage was clearly due to a lack of discipline with diet &/or exercise, and was easily remedied with diligence.
I must say, there was an additional component I had to overcome during the onset of menopause that involved poor quality of sleep, very uncomfortable hot flashes, random menstrual cycles, general malaise, trying to keep up to speed with work, family, socializing and wiped out at the end of each day! It was not as basic as staying active and cleaning up my diet, so I empathize with women who have a difficult time during menopause. In my particular circumstance, it wasn’t until several months passed without a menstrual cycle that everything seemed to settle down and even out! Thank Goodness!
Lori thank you for you comments. You bring up a very important point about how hormone shifts during perimenopause and menopause negatively affects sleep. Inability to sleep soundly is a culprit in many health issues. Lack of sleep has been implicated in weight gain in many studies. Every woman will experience menopause differently. And as you say it may not be as simple as cleaning up your diet and getting active. If those things ARE already in place, time to try other alternatives. For some hormone replacement is the answer; for others, like myself herbs may help. I turn to Maca, St John’s Wort and Rhodiola. Glad to hear that things have evened out for you and thanks for sharing.
Wait a coincidence that I read your post this morning, while eating breakfast I had a thought come to me. All of my life I have been little, barely weighing in at 110, I have always been very active and easily kept my petite figure the same even after 3 children. I was getting ready to post a blog about living in a delusion my whole about thinking that I actually was going to be able to control my weight/size my whole life as long as I exercised and watched what I ate…wrong. I am right now 20 pounds heavier, despite practically living on air and exercising my best, I have not been able to drop a single pound in 2 years. The menopausal weight gain is real, and sad to say that hormones really do affect every aspect of your life whether positive or negative.
If good nutrition and exercise is already a part of your lifestyle I’d say yes hormones are the culprit. I think Nancy Clark and researchers also point to the very real reality that many people, men and women, do not have such a healthy lifestyle and tend to blame things like hormones when it could be lifestyle choices that cause weight gain. I also know women who have greatly suffered through perimenopause then tried and and have found relief (including weight control) with bioidentical hormone replacement.
Thanks for sharing your experiences.