From talking to my friends & clients I know the menopause can bring numerous side effects that range from irritating to life disrupting, including mood swings, hot flushes, insomnia, night sweats, depression & fatigue. But one of the most frustrating is the seemingly inevitable “weight gain”, especially in the belly area, named the “menopot.” Unfortunately this new or expanded pot belly can develop even if you’re on track with nutrition & maintain a regular workouts schedule, thanks to a number of factors unique to the menopause.
Although genetics is often involved in terms of where you store fat, some research suggests its often possible to overcome a genetic predisposition through exercise.
Why the gain in weight?
Usually occurring in women between ages of 47-55, menopause is caused by a loss of oestrogen. When that happens you tend to accumulate fat, especially around the abdomen & also lose muscle mass. The result is tell tale belly and love handles.
This happens because when your ovaries stop producing oestrogen, your body searches for it elsewhere & the only other place its generated is in the abdominal fat cells. Your body stores fat there in an effort to increase oestrogen levels.
Weight around your middle is not only upsetting but can also increase health risks, including a greater chance of cardio vascular problems & metabolic disease.
Women tend to put on about 1-5lbs each year in 50s and 60s because of hormones plus muscle loss.. Since muscle burns more calories than fat, this causes a metabolism slow down. So even if you’re eating the same amount you alas have, you’re likely not burning the calories at the same rate as you once did. As you continue to lose muscle mass (unless you work on building it up) the problem can get worse, leading to faster weight gain.
Lift weights & “lift yourself” through the menopause
During the first few years after menopause, bone density loss speeds up, which increased the risk of osteoporosis. Although any kid of exercise is helpful for cardio vascular health, strength training specifically has been shown to help prevent bone loss and maintain bone mass, even in those who already have osteoporosis.
Strength training can also be useful for reducing that growing middle.
Women over the age of 50 should try lifting weights and doing other strength training exercises if they want to kick menopause symptoms.
In addition to potentially lowering weight, this type of exercise often makes it easier to climb stairs and reduces knee and hip pain.
The best possible approach is to combine cardio and strength training during the week. For example cardio like interval training and circuits that work different muscles, along with lifting weights or doing resistance training 2-3x per week.
In addition to focussing on your nutrition in the kitchen and your fitness at the gym, you should try to get more sleep. Sleep deprivation can increase levels of cortisol, the hormone responsible for your stress response. Heightened chronic cortisol also tends to cause more belly fat storage. The lack of sleep many experience in the menopause is a hormone double whammy.
SUMMARY OF BENEFITS OF EXERCISE FOR THE MENOPAUSE
- Improves bone density
- Reduces risk of osteoporosis
- Reduces risk of disease
- Increased your metabolism
- Improves skin condition and elasticity
- Improves sleep
- Boosts your mood
The last point is the key one for me – exercise is a mood booster. Ladies, unfortunately we are all going to have to go through the menopause and all our symptoms will be different. Its one of the challenges us females are going to have to face and support one another through. If nothing else, when you do some exercise, those happy endorphins will be released and you will Feel Good for doing it!