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Menopause and Weight Gain

Avoiding the Bermuda Triangle of Menopause


Updated June 13, 2014

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

Menopause and Weight Gain
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The end of your period is something some women want to celebrate, but the process of that can drag out for 10 years or so (known as perimenopause) before finally reaching menopause, a time many of us associate with weight gain. Even active, healthy women may gain weight in the years leading up to menopause, but it isn't inevitable. Learn what you can do to manage your weight during menopause.

Why We Gain Weight

The reason we gain weight is a matter of calories in vs. calories out - as in, there are more coming in than going out. What prompts this weight gain, however, is where the frustration comes in since, as some of my active clients say, the weight gain seems to come from nowhere. "I'm doing the same workouts and eating the same as always, yet I suddenly have this belly," one client said.

Unfortunately, there’s a Bermuda Triangle effect that happens before and during menopause, three things that, when put together, lead to weight gain:

  • Increased calorie intake: Studies show that women eat more calories as estrogen declines and that we crave more fat and sugar and less nutritious, more satisfying foods that have protein and fiber.
  • Decreased physical activity: Spontaneous physical activity also decreases, often without us even being aware of it. This may be compounded by some perimenopause and menopause symptoms like fatigue, difficulty sleeping, depression and other mood changes.
  • Decreased RMR: Experts suspect that declining estrogen can decrease your resting metabolic rate (RMR) by 40-70 calories a day, calories that add up if you don’t compensate for them with diet and exercise.

    It's obvious that estrogen plays an important role in weight management. It affects our appetites, how active we are and the foods we crave. The lack of it even changes how fat is distributed, depositing it around the belly which puts us at risk for heart disease and diabetes. There are other age-related issues that can make things worse: Loss of muscle and aerobic power as well as a decrease in the number of calories you burn during exercise. In Exercise, Weight Gain and Menopause, Wendy Kohrt states that a young, healthy woman can increase her energy expenditure by 8-10 calories per minute during exercise, while a middle-aged woman may only be able increase it by 6-8 calories per minute. That means maintaining the same calorie burn may require more frequent and/or more intense exercise.

    That doesn't mean you're doomed to gain weight and exercise is your first line of defense against the Bermuda Triangle of menopause.

    4 Things You Can Do to Avoid Weight Gain

    If you're frustrated with changes in your body that seem to come from nowhere, there are things you can do about it. By creating more effective workouts and looking at other areas of your life that may be contributing to the problem, you can get your weight under control.

    1. Add Intensity to Your Cardio – How hard you work is directly related to how many calories you burn and raising the intensity can help you burn more without having to add time or frequency to your workouts. Here's what you can do:
    2. Make Friends With Strength Training - Of all you do, strength training is the most important for maintaining your strength, balance, muscle mass and weight as you get older. Studies show that older adults can increase resting metabolic rate and energy expenditure by adding resistance training. One study even shows that a combination of high intensity cardio and strength training, along with a balanced diet, is the best way to reduce abdominal fat. Get the most out of strength training:
      • Lift heavy – Most women don’t lift enough weight because they’re afraid of bulking up or injuring themselves. If you're a beginner, work up to heavy weights over time but, if you’re experienced, going heavy enough that you can only complete 8-10 reps of each exercise will help you build more muscle. Your last rep should be hard, but possible with good form.
      • Mix it Up – Try split routines where you work different muscle groups each day to focus more attention on each muscle. Try different training techniques such as drop sets (starting heavy and dropping your weight by 20% for each set), supersets (doing two exercises for the same muscles, one after the other) or other training methods to shock and challenge your body.
      • Hire a Trainer. If you feel like you're doing everything right and you're still not losing weight, a trainer can help you figure out the best way to change what you're doing to get better results.

    Next Page: More Ways to Manage Your Weight

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