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Menopause, Weight Gain, and Exercise Tips

Menopause and weight gain. Do they always have to go hand in hand? It may seem that way, especially because gaining weight is so common after menopause. In fact, about 30% of women aged 50 to 59 are not just overweight, but obese. Here's what you need to know about the risks of weight gain and how exercise can help you lose weight and keep it off after menopause.

The Risks of Weight Gain After Menopause

Many of the risks of weight gain are well known: high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes, to name a few. Extra fat at your waistline increases these risks still more. Unfortunately, a bigger waistline is more likely after menopause. If you now have a waist measurement of more than 35 inches -- it's time to take steps to reverse this trend.

Why Weight Gain Often Occurs After Menopause

What is it about menopause that makes it so challenging to keep off the weight? It is likely a combination of factors related to menopause and aging.

The impact of estrogen. In animal studies, estrogen appears to help regulate body weight. With lower estrogen levels, lab animals tend to eat more and be less physically active. Reduced estrogen may also lower metabolic rate, the rate at which the body converts stored energy into working energy. It is possible the same thing happens with women when estrogen levels decrease after menopause. In fact, some evidence suggests that estrogen hormone therapy increases a woman's resting metabolic rate. This might help slow weight gain. Lack of estrogen may also cause the body to use starches and glucose less effectively (insulin resistance), thus increasing fat storage and making it more difficult to lose weight.  

Other age-related factors. As women age, many other changes occur that contribute to weight gain. For example:

  • You are less likely to exercise. In fact, 60% of adults are not active enough and this increases with age.
  • You lose muscle mass, which decreases your resting metabolism, making it easier to gain weight.
  • Your aerobic capacity declines. This is the rate at which you can use up energy during exercise. To use the same energy as in the past and achieve weight loss, you may need to increase the amount of time and intensity you're exercising, no matter what your past activity levels were.

 

How Exercise Helps With Weight After Menopause

Exercise is effective at influencing the levels of total body fat and abdominal fat. The more active you are, the less weight you are likely to gain. A National Institutes of Health review showed that people who participated in aerobic activities every day for 10 or more minutes had 6 fewer inches around the waistline compared to people who did not exercise. And, exercising while you're in the process of losing weight -- as well as after you've lost it -- may be critical to maintaining weight loss.

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