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Doomed to Get Old and Fat?

Exercise Plus Fewer Carbs - That's What Works After Menopause
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WebMD Feature

Sad to say, we all put on weight more easily as we get older. Women are especially prone to get a bigger waist. But it's not inevitable.

Exercise and estrogen seem especially key in winning the war against late-life obesity, says Lila E. Nachtigall, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist and director of the Women's Wellness program at New York University School of Medicine in New York.

Studies have shown that in their reproductive years, women put on weight in their hips and thighs, which helps keep their cardiovascular system healthy, Nachtigall tells WebMD.

Whether menopause causes weight gain or not or if it's merely a factor of aging is a hotly debated issue among medical experts. But what's not debated is that menopause changes where you put on the fat and can make it more difficult for you to lose it.

"At menopause, women begin to put it on in the abdomen, the waist, and that's not good for cardiovascular health," she says. "That leads to [high blood sugar or] insulin resistance [a sign of diabetes], and that leads to more of that type of weight gain." Weight gain after menopause is also associated with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and breast cancer.

What women don't realize is just how poor our body's ability to burn fat becomes as we age. We tend to have less muscle that burns fat less efficiently for energy. Research suggests that some of the fat-consuming efficiency of muscle tissue further declines with the decrease in estrogen production following menopause.

So What's a Woman to Do?

Pump iron. Beyond HRT, exercise is the best way to keep weight under control. In fact, experts believe it's probably more important than diet in curbing weight gain, Nachtigall tells WebMD. "The more the better," she says.

Experts recommend regular aerobic exercise such as walking briskly 30 minutes a day, five days a week. And, just as important, add weight training to increase muscle mass. The more muscle you have the more calories your body can consume.

Eat ... and drink right. "I think [a diet of] low-fat, low-process carbs -- what I call the white carbs -- a little higher in protein, fruits and vegetable kind of carbs [is best,]" says Natchigall.

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