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Prevent Weight Gain During Menopause

Maintain Your Weight or Achieve Weight Loss During Menopause and Beyond

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Updated February 15, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Prevent Weight Gain During Menopause

Stay active to maintain your weight as you age.

Fred Froese/Getty Images
Both women and men complain about midlife weight gain. But women often attribute the weight gain to menopause. The hormonal changes that occur during the midlife transition can wreak havoc on your body.

But is weight gain during midlife inevitable? Scientists have studied the changes that women go through during this time, and their research provides clues about how to maintain your weight or achieve weight loss during menopause.

What is Menopause?

Perimenopause, or early menopause, begins with changes to a woman's menstrual cycle. The changes may occur in the early to mid-forties or as late as the mid-fifties. The average age for the mid-life change is 51.

In the early stages, a woman's levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone begin to decline. During this time, her menstrual cycle may become irregular. Menopause occurs when a woman has not had a menstrual period for twelve months.

Many women experience hot flashes, difficulty sleeping and/or concentrating, and moodiness or irritability during this transitional time. Some women also report bone or joint aches, and weight gain during menopause. Weight loss during menopause is often difficult.

Is Weight Gain in Middle Age Inevitable?

Researchers have studied the link between weight gain and menopause. Many studies have confirmed that menopausal and postmenopausal women are likely to gain weight and have larger midsections than women who have not gone through menopause. But the reason why this weight gain occurs is not clear.

One research study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology questions how different factors such as age, menopause, and lifestyle changes account for the weight gain often experienced by midlife women. They studied the activity levels of over 3000 women across the country. They found that by remaining active, many women prevented weight gain.

In another study where both men and women were studied over the course of 20 years, researchers found that those who maintained a very high level of physical activity experienced smaller increases in BMI and waist circumference.

Prevent Weight Gain During Menopause

So what really causes midlife weight gain? In addition to the changes that happen in women's bodies during middle age, consider some of the other life changes that often occur.
  • Kids move away from home
  • Decreased workload around the house
  • Retirement
  • Increased travel
  • Increased interest in leisure activities
  • Increased time for social activities, such as cooking/entertaining/dining out
  • Change in life priorities, slower pace in life

Not every person will experience these changes, but many of them result in a decrease in our overall physical activity level. When our physical activity level decreases, so does our metabolism. This pattern has led some researchers to wonder if weight gain occurs because of a change in lifestyle rather than a change in our hormones.

To achieve weight loss or to prevent weight gain during menopause, stay active and eat a healthy diet. If your lifestyle begins to change as you age, try to keep physical activity and portion control at the top of your priority list.

  • When kids move away from home, use your extra time to exercise. Join a gym, organize a hiking or walking group, or learn a new sport.

  • If you have more time to entertain, learn a few healthy cooking tips and share low-calorie, low-fat meals with friends and family.

  • Travel and leisure activities can include exercise. Many travel companies specialize in active vacations. Instead of laying on the beach, bike, hike, or paddle through your favorite tropical destination.

Can Hormone Replacement Therapy Prevent Weight Gain?

Hormone replacement therapy is the use of prescription estrogen, progesterone or testosterone to reduce menopausal symptoms. In some women, hormone replacement therapy has prevented weight gain. But HRT is also associated with side effects, such as an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

If you would like to consider hormone replacement therapy, speak to your health care provider. Together with your physician, you can determine the best treatment for your menopausal symptoms.

Sources:

Chmouliovsky L, Habicht F, James RW, Lehmann T, Campana A, Golay A. "Beneficial effect of hormone replacement therapy on weight loss in obese menopausal women" Maturitas. 1999 Aug 16;32(3):147-53.

Ulf Ekelund, Herve Besson, Jian'an Luan, Anne M May, et al. "American Society for Nutrition." Physical activity and gain in abdominal adiposity and body weight: prospective cohort study in 288,498 men and women February 23, 2011.

The ESHRE Capri Workshop Group, Maggiore Policlinico Hospital. "http://humupd.oxfordjournals.org/content/17/5/706.abstract." Human Reproductive Update September-October 2011.

Arlene L. Hankinson, MD, MS, Martha L. Daviglus, MD, PhD, Claude Bouchard, PhD, Mercedes Carnethon, PhD, Cora E. Lewis, MD, MSPH, Pamela J. Schreiner, PhD, Kiang Liu, PhD, Stephen Sidney, MD, MPH. "Maintaining a High Physical Activity Level Over 20 Years and Weight Gain." JAMA. 2010;304(23):2603-2610.

Donato, Giovana B, Fuchs, Sandra, Oppermann, Karen Bastos, Carlos and Spritzer, Poli Mara. "Association between menopause status and central adiposity measured at different cutoffs of waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio." Menopause March/April 2006 - Volume 13 - Issue 2 - pp 280-285.

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