The Doctor’s Corner | Battling Belly Fat Through Menopause
As you get older, you may notice that maintaining your usual weight becomes more difficult. In fact, the most profound weight gain in a woman’s life tends to happen during menopause and the years leading up to menopause, when body fat tends to shift from to the abdomen. Weight gain after menopause isn’t inevitable, however. You can reverse the course by paying attention and adjusting to healthy eating habits and leading an active lifestyle.
What causes menopause weight gain?
The hormonal changes of menopause may make you more likely to gain weight around your abdomen, rather than your hips and thighs. It may not be the only change to consider. For example, menopausal women tend to exercise less than younger women and muscle mass naturally diminishes with age. If you don’t do anything to preserve the lean muscle by exercising and by eating proper macronutrients to main your muscle mass, your body composition will shift to more fat and less muscle — which slows down the rate at which you burn calories. If you continue to eat as you always have, you’re likely to gain weight.
Why it matters- it’s more than skin deep
The trouble with belly fat is that it’s not limited to the padding located just below the skin (subcutaneous fat). It also includes the fat underneath or abdominal visceral fat (AVF)— which lies deep inside your abdomen, surrounding your internal organs and pushing outside to create that muffin top or bear belly appearance.
Although subcutaneous fat poses cosmetic concerns, visceral fat is associated with far more dangerous health consequences. That’s because an excessive amount of AVF produces hormones and other inflammatory factors that can raise blood pressure, negatively alter good and bad cholesterol levels and impair the body’s ability to use insulin (insulin resistance). All of this can increase the risk of serious health problems, including hypertension, diabetes, and cancers.
In fact, increased belly fat may be a better indicator than weight when it comes to increased risk of premature death. In the Iowa Women’s Health Study, women with a normal weight but with a large waistline were noted to have increased the risk of dying of cardiovascular disease, cancer and other causes.
What’s the best way to prevent weight gain after menopause?
Abdominal exercises can help tone the abdominal muscles, but these exercises won’t get rid of belly fat. Fortunately, however, visceral fat responds to the same strategies that can help you shed excess pounds and lower your total body fat. To fight back the bulge, stick to the basics:
- Move more. For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends moderate aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, for at least 150 minutes a week or vigorous aerobic activity, such as jogging, for at least 75 minutes a week. In addition, strength training exercises are recommended at least twice a week.
- Eat less. To maintain your current weight — let alone lose excess pounds — you may need about 200 fewer calories a day during your 50s than you did during your 30s and 40s. To reduce calories without skimping on nutrition, pay attention to what you’re eating and drinking. If you are actively losing weight, be sure to have enough lean protein so you don’t risk losing more lean muscle mass. Choose more fruits, vegetables. Don’t skip meals, which may lead you to overeat later.
- Consider Estrogen replacement. You may want to have a discussion with your gynecologist or primary care provider about whether estrogen replacement treatment (ERT) may be for you. There have been various studies that suggest postmenopausal women on ERT had lower values for AVF, waist circumference, a more favorable cholesterol, and a slightly reduced risk of Metabolic Syndrome when compared with women not on ERT. These benefits may be more evident when started in the early years of menopause.
- Seek support. Surround yourself with friends and loved ones who’ll support your efforts to eat a healthy diet and increase your physical activity. Better yet, team up and make the lifestyle changes together. We can also help at GreenLite.
Successful weight loss at any stage of life requires permanent changes in diet and exercise habits. Commit to the changes and enjoy a healthier you!