Most women gain weight or at least find it harder to maintain their weight as they age. As a matter of fact, many women gain weight during the transition into menopause. The average weight gain for women during menopause is 5 pounds. Menopause weight gain is not inevitable and you can reverse the course by leading an active lifestyle and paying close attention to your eating habits.
But, what causes menopausal weight gain?
- Metabolism Decrease – Muscle mass naturally diminishes with age while body fat increases. As our muscle mass decreases the rate at which our body burns fat (metabolic rate) also decreases. This metabolism decrease starts in our 30’s and this trend continues into our aging years, slowing our metabolism even more. If your diet remains the same and your activity does not increase, you will probably gain weight. Sixty percent of adults are not active enough as the age group goes up the level of exercise goes down. Even as we exercise, the energy used up during exercise declines. The more active you are, the more weight you will lose or the less weight you will gain.
- Hormonal Changes – Estrogen appears to assist in the control of weight in animal studies. Lower estrogen rates showed that the lab animals ate more and were less physically active. Reduced estrogen also lowers your metabolic rate and causes your body to use starches and blood sugar less effectively, this, in turn, results in more fat storage, making it harder to lose or maintain your weight. These hormonal changes lead to excess fat being stored around your midsection or abdomen.
- Genetics – If your parents or other close relatives battled abdominal weight challenges, chances are you will too.
- Diet – According to the Mayo Clinic, most women need to consume about 200 calories a day less once they reach pre-menopause, which is usually in their 50’s. Try to avoid an excess of food and drinks that have little to no nutritional value like sugary drinks, cakes, cookies, fats, margarine, and alcohol. Increase whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and lean protein. Steer clear of processed foods and do not eat late in the evening.
- Sleep – Make sure you are getting plenty of sleep. The average person needs 7-9 hours of sleep each night and too little sleep triggers a spike in cortisol, a stress hormone that signals your body to conserve energy, meaning that you are more prone to hang on to the fat. A study at the University of Chicago shows that after just 4 days of insufficient sleep your body’s ability to process insulin goes haywire and stores this food as fat. Insulin is a hormone that is necessary to change starch, sugar, and other foods into energy. When you are tired your body craves starches and sugars for the energy boost and a groggy brain is less likely to make wise choices. Not that sleep makes you lose weight but lack of sleep can make you pack on those extra pounds.
We cannot change the consequences and effects that aging has on our bodies, but we can be pro-active in managing our life. As we are experiencing menopause, other changes in our lives are also developing. You may be caring for aging parents, watching the kids leave home and start their own lives – either of these will surely increase your stress level, which can result in sleepless nights. You may have been a stay-at-home Mom and now re-entering the workforce or looking for a way to fill your days and feel like you still have a purpose. All of these things can work against you, just remember that you need to take care of you, physically and mentally! Lead a healthy lifestyle, stay active, get plenty of sleep, and maintain a healthy diet.