Women, advancing age and weight gain are inter-related. Women tend to gain weight at various stages of their lives, but many women have a propensity to gain weight during menopause.
Menopause and weight gain
Menopause is a stage when women stop ovulating and their menstrual cycle stops. Women in their forties and fifties find it difficult to lose weight and also find it very difficult to maintain their weight. Weight gained during and after menopause is difficult to lose. This weight gain is prominently in the abdominal area. Weight gain during menopause is associated with:
- Drop in estrogen levels.
- Physical inactivity.
- Considerable loss of muscle tissues.
- Lifestyle problems like food habits etc.
- Hormonal changes.
Most of the women (at least 2/3rd of them) aged between 35 and 55 gain a lot of weight during perimenopause (years leading to menopause). Weight gained during this period is difficult to lose though it can be controlled to a certain extent. There is also evidence that weight gain after menopause increases the risk of breast cancer. Studies point out that after menopause weight gain over 20 pounds can increase the risk of breast cancer, whereas losing weight after menopause can decrease the risk. Regular exercises and right eating habits can keep a check on the weight gain.
Prior to menopause, weight gained by women is evenly spread over their hips, bottom, arms and thighs whereas weight gain during menopause concentrates mainly around the abdominal area. This gives women an 'apple shape'. Weight gain in the region of the abdomen during menopause is popularly known as 'middle age spread' or midriff. This sudden increase in girth can lead to cardiovascular diseases.
Reasons for weight gain
Weight gain in women of menopausal age cannot be wholly attributed to the hormonal changes in women though hormones play a major role in weight gain. Altering body composition is directly linked to lifestyle and aging. Major reasons for weight gain in menopausal women include:
Excessive eating: Consumption of excess calories without burning them will result in weight gain.
Insulin resistance: Few women develop insulin resistance; this encourages the body to store the calories as fat instead of burning them.
Psychological reasons: Too much stress, fatigue and anxiety can lead to weight gain. These psychological factors can cause a disparity in bodily functions thus causing frequent hunger pangs and in turn weight gain.
Advancing age: As you age your muscle mass drops and fat piles up. Fat stored in the body burns very few calories and lowered muscle mass also reduces the number of calories burnt.
Sedentary lifestyle: As you age you require fewer calories to generate energy. Extra calories consumed gets converted into fat, fat replaces the muscles in the body. Fat stored in the body does not burn as many calories as muscles. Thus the metabolism rate of the body drops. Slower metabolic rate of the body encourages weight gain.
Insufficient exercise: Women in the menopausal phase exercise less when compared to other women hence they tend to gain more weight during this period.
Hereditary factors can also be a major reason for weight gain.
Change in hormone levels or hormone deficiency: This can affect the insulin resistance in the body thus paving the way to excessive storage of fat in the body (this condition converts the extra calories into fat).
Thyroid problems: Menopause weight gain might be linked to thyroid problems like hypothyroidism. If you think your weight gain is due to thyroid dysfunction, you should check it with a doctor.
Poor metabolism: Poor metabolism rate due to minimal physical activity as well as aging can lead to weight gain during menopause.
How to prevent weight gain
Weight gain is an imperative part of aging. Let us look at various ways to combat it:
- Don't stay idle, get some physical activity
- Eat sensibly
- Hormone replacement therapy helps in maintaining a balance of hormones thus helping women to maintain weight.
- Reduce fat content in your food. Restrict saturated fat; settle for fats from healthier sources e.g. nuts, olive, canola and peanut oils.
- Cut down the number of calories you consume every day. You require fewer calories to burn as you age, hence eat sensibly. Drastic reduction in caloric intake is also harmful for the body; your body will start preserving energy thus making it difficult to shed the extra pounds.
- Get active physically. Try aerobic exercises so that you can boost your metabolism rate thereby burning excess fat. Strength training exercises also are helpful as they improve the muscle mass and boost metabolism rate.
- Begin early. Women should begin exercising when they are in thirties and start eating a balanced diet from then on. This will help them to maintain their weight as well as discourage weight gain.
- Include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, etc. in your diet. Settle for low-fat salad dressing, tuna fish, salmon fillets, chicken breast, etc instead of pork, hamburgers, pastas and potatoes.
- Drink plenty of water and cut down on aerated drinks and caffeine.
Perimenopause and weight gain
Perimenopause refers to the years just prior to menopause. Perimenopause brings about hormonal changes in the body that often indicate menopause symptoms. These changes can occur anytime between 35 and 60 years and can last anywhere between 2 to 6 years. Women getting into perimenopause stage experience unexplained weight gain. This weight gain is unavoidable even if women follow a strict diet routine.
Weight management techniques that earlier helped in maintaining weight may appear ineffective. Weight gain in the abdominal area is quite common in perimenopausal women. Hormonal fluctuations, reduced estrogen levels, accumulation of fat cells, etc might be annoying during this stage.
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