Many people wonder if weight gain in menopause is common. The truth is that many people going through menopause will gain weight, but it is not due to the process of menopause itself. In general, there is a trend for people to gain weight as they get older. In fact, women gain an average of 1-1.5 pounds per year between the ages of 45 and 60. In the US, almost two-thirds of women between age 40-59, and three-fourths of women over 60 are overweight. There is no good evidence to support metabolism actually slowing down, until the age of 60.
During the transition to menopause (called perimenopause), estrogen production decreases, leading to a variety of symptoms such as hot flashes, decreased sexual desire, changes in skin and hair, and other symptoms. Many women also gain weight during this period, but weight gain in mid-life is not necessarily caused by menopause. Instead, weight gain is likely due to age and lifestyle. Regardless of the cause, obesity and overweight are associated with increased risk of cardiovascular and metabolic disease.
From pear-shaped to apple-shaped
Although menopause itself is not thought to cause weight gain, the hormonal changes of perimenopause is correlated with a redistribution of body fat. In fact, estrogen produced by the ovaries causes fat to be stored around the hips, thighs, and buttocks. It is thought that as estrogen decreases, the stores of fat in the body reflect this new ratio of hormones. Many women notice that rather than around the hips, thighs, and buttocks, fat begins to settle around the abdomen.
Diet, metabolism, and menopause
As women age, their metabolism slows, and lean muscle mass decreases. It’s important that they continue to build muscle in order to burn calories more efficiently and to protect bones. Both cardio and strength-training exercises will help to build lean muscle.
In addition to decreased muscle mass, women’s calorie needs also decrease with age. During their 50s, women need about 200 fewer calories per day than during their 30s and 40s. Eating unprocessed foods rich in nutrients, such as vegetables and lean proteins, helps to satiate hunger without exceeding calorie needs.
Some studies have shown that Vitamin D and Omega-3 fatty acids can protect against metabolic disorders and reduce BMI and waist circumference in postmenopausal women. In North America, some foods such as milk and enriched cereals are often fortified with Vitamin D. Foods containing Omega-3 fatty acids include flaxseeds, walnuts, and soybeans as well as seafood.
Related: What Is The Age For Perimenopause?
Medical solutions for menopausal weight gain
Some studies show that estrogen or estrogen-progestin therapies may decrease the accumulation of total body fat and abdominal fat. However, more studies are needed in order to make evidence-based recommendations on who can benefit from hormone therapies for metabolic health. Talk to your doctor or ob-gyn if you are considering hormone therapies for any menopause-related symptoms.
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