Most women gain weight during the menopause transition. Those trying to lose weight find it challenging. Hormonal changes, stress, the age-related slowdown in metabolism, and muscle tone contribute to weight gain. While conventional wisdom suggests that you can’t lose weight after menopause, research has shown that it is possible to lose weight after menopause. Read on to know more about the relationship between menopause and weight and ways to reduce it.
What is menopause?
Menopause is the point in time when your menstrual cycle permanently cease. You enter menopause when you haven’t had a period for one year or 12 consecutive months. Menopause can cause specific uncomfortable symptoms like mood swings, excessive sweating, vaginal changes, and weight gain.
Before you enter menopause, you go through perimenopause. During this period, even though your periods may be regular, your hormones start fluctuating. Many women start putting on weight during this period.
Menopause and weight gain
Women often find it hard to lose weight after menopause due to mixed factors related to menopause and aging. Here are some of the factors that lead to weight gain during menopause –
1. Body mass changes
Your lean body mass decreases with age. This loss of muscle mass occurs due to decreased physical activity and hormonal changes (1, 2). This loss of muscle mass leaves your body without the highly efficient calorie-burning engine. Due to lower muscle mass, we burn fewer calories when we rest and when we exercise.
2. Hormonal changes
During menopause estrogen levels dip substantially. Low estrogen levels may cause an increase in total body fat and abdominal fat (3). Abdominal fat can increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
3. Poor sleep
4. Higher levels of insulin
Insulin helps the body to retain more fat. Estrogen plays a critical role in combating the spikes in insulin. When estrogen levels fall during menopause, the body is unable to prevent the spikes in insulin, which leads to higher fat retention (6).
5. Natural aging process
Weight gain is also related to the natural aging process and lifestyle habits. As we age, we tend to become less active physically. Less exercise and slower metabolism lead to weight gain.
Sometimes doctors prescribe medicines like anti-depressants to some women during menopause, which can lead to weight gain.
How to lose weight after menopause?
You can gain weight after menopause despite following the same diet and exercise routine that you have for years. So, you must change your strategies for weight loss.
1. Watch your calories
Since the metabolic rate declines with age, women should consume around 200 fewer calories per day than what they did before menopause (7). However, do not cut down on your calories drastically. Severely restricting calories can cause a loss in muscle mass, which can slow down your metabolism even further (8).
Insufficient calorie intake can also lead to loss of bone mass, which can increase the risk of osteoporosis (9). If you are not sure about how many calories you need to consume to lose weight or maintain your current weight, consult a dietician.
2. Increase your activity
Increasing exercise helps to sustain weight loss, prevent weight gain, and leads to favorable changes in body composition. Postmenopausal women should do moderate-intensity exercise for 30 minutes every day.
Research shows that aerobic exercise can reduce body fat in postmenopausal women (10). Another study showed that resistance training performed three times a week can reduce metabolic syndrome score, decrease fasting blood glucose, improve body composition, and muscle strength in postmenopausal women (11).
You can also increase our activity levels around the house –
- Do some gardening.
- Take our dog for a walk.
- Take the stairs instead of elevators.
- Park at a distance and walk to your destination.
- Stand up while taking telephone calls.
3. Sleep well
You must get enough high-quality sleep to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. According to research, changes in sleep patterns associated with menopause have metabolic health consequences.
Sleep restriction and changes in circadian rhythms influence changes in appetite, reproductive hormones, energy expenditure, and body adiposity (12). People who sleep less have reduced leptin and higher ghrelin. These are likely to increase appetite. Focus on getting enough high-quality sleep to reduce weight gain during menopause.
4. Relieve stress
Stress relief is also essential for weight loss post-menopause. High pressure increases the risk of heart disease and elevates cortisol levels, which increases abdominal fat (13). You can lower your stress by following alternative therapies like yoga, meditation, herbal treatment, and hypnosis. Many studies have found that yoga can help reduce stress in women going through menopause (14, 15). Studies also found that pycnogenol, also called pine bark extract, can also reduce stress and other symptoms associated with menopause (17).
5. Stay hydrated
As we grow older, our sense of thirst becomes less precise, and we can forget to drink enough water. Water is a natural appetite suppressant. Drinking more water also helps you burn more calories. According to a 2008 study, drinking water helped in weight loss in overweight dieting women independent of diet and activity (18).
So, drink plenty of water. We need between six to eight glasses of water per day to stay hydrated. If you exercise regularly, you should drink more water.
Diets that work during menopause
Research shows that these diets can help women lose weight and maintain it during menopause.
1. The vegetarian diet
Vegetarian and vegan diets help you lose a significant amount of weight. During a 2007 study, 62 postmenopausal women followed either an NCEP diet or a vegan diet for 14 weeks. The results showed that the women who were assigned the vegan diet lost significantly more weight than the other group (19). However, for older women following a vegetarian diet, consumption of dairy and eggs helps in weight loss along with improvement in body composition and lipid-lipoprotein profile (20).
2. The Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet involves eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats. It also includes moderate intake of fish, poultry, eggs, beans and dairy and limited intake of red meat. During a 2014 study, when men and women in the age group of 55 to 80 followed a Mediterranean diet, it helped reduce belly fat and the risk of hyperglycemia and cardiovascular disease (21).
3. The low-carb diet
Not only are low carb diets good for weight loss, but they also help to get rid of abdominal fat, which many women tend to gain during menopause (22). During one study, postmenopausal women around the age of 54 followed a low-carb diet for six months. They lost 21 lbs, 7 % of their body fat, and 3.7 inches from their waist (22).
- Opt for vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and whole grains.
- Add dairy to your diet.
- Eat foods high in soluble fiber.
- Drink green tea.
- Avoid processed foods and sugar.
- Don’t eat very late in the evening.
- Eat smaller amounts but more often.
- Practice mindful eating.
Best exercises for weight loss
1. Strength training
Strength training helps build muscle mass and improve metabolism. Strength training also helps in maintaining bone mass. Weight training machines, exercise bands, dumbbells are some forms of strength training.
2. Low impact aerobics
Low-impact aerobic exercises like walking, swimming, cycling, dance, aerobics, and tennis are great for the heart and lungs.
3. High-intensity interval training
High-intensity interval training is more effective in burning fat and building muscle than low-intensity cardio. Studies also show that they improve overall strength and increase endurance in older people. Studies also show that HIIT helps to reduce abdominal fat (23).
- Always check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.
- Buy the correct shoes for the exercise.
- Always do a ten-minute warm-up before you begin exercising. Stretch your muscles before you start your exercise routine.
- Start with easy exercises and gradually build up the intensity of the activity.
- If you feel any new pain, stop exercising, and visit a physician.
Menopause is the time that marks the end of your menstrual cycle. Many women start putting on weight during this time and find it challenging to get rid of this fat. Many factors influence weight gain during menopause, including hormonal changes, change in muscle mass, poor sleep, higher levels of insulin, and the natural aging process.
You can lose this weight by lowering your calories intake, increasing physical activity, sleeping well, reducing stress, and staying hydrated. The Mediterranean, low carb, and vegan diets are the best diets when it comes to losing weight during menopause. You must also cut down of sugar and processed foods, and increase your intake of proteins, dairy, foods high in soluble fiber and drink green tea.
Strength training, low impact aerobics, and high-intensity interval training help burn fat and improve muscle mass. Always warm-up before you exercise and build the intensity of your workout slowly. Check with your doctor before you start any exercise program.