Help to all the women who have remained fit and menopause starts and pounds start creeping on. Any suggestions as my food choices and exercise haven’t changed. Fifty and frustrated!
Dear Fifty and Frustrated,
I know firsthand that the onset of menopause can make you feel as if something has taken control over your body and everything that once seemed to work is not working any more. As a younger woman, I used to hear that the average weight gain during menopause is 7-12 pounds, mostly in the belly, that it was like a run away freight train and there was nothing you could do about it. I remember thinking, “I do not want a ticket for that train! Thank you very much!”
Beginning in her late 30’s, a woman’s estrogen levels start to drop and eventually menstrual cycles stop all together, usually around age 52. This entire process can happen over a 20 year time period, which causes the weight gain blame to be focused on the declining hormones when in fact, studies have shown the extra weight to be related to age, lifestyle and hormone changes.
Everyone loses muscle mass as they age and since muscle is very metabolically active tissue, this loss will decrease the number of calories burned each day. Also as we age, we tend to slow down our movements, sitting more and moving less. I think of myself as a mom with four young kids…I couldn’t wait to sit down even if for 5 minutes and now that my kids are older I can sit for hours without having to move. Hormones also do play a role in the loss of muscle mass, which typically means an increase in body fat.
The good news is that we DO have control over this so-called runaway “weight train” and the middle-aged spread is not inevitable. Here are just a few hints to power up your healthy lifestyle as you manage menopause:1. Eat Plant-Based. This does not mean you have to become a full blown vegan but centering your meals around fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean plant-based proteins will not only increase the nutrition-content of your meals but the extra fiber in these foods will fill you up sooner, decrease your overall calorie intake and help to maintain weight.
2. Mix up your fitness routine. Keeping a regular fitness routine is so important for overall health and disease prevention, but if it’s not working to keep weight maintained then we may feel like “why bother?” The routine that worked so well for us in our 30s and 40s may not still have the same effect. Mix it up! I recommend 45-60 minutes of moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise four to five days per week and two days of strength training. This will help to fight muscle loss as well as address other concerns of menopause such as bone loss, sleeplessness, mood swings and hot flashes. Find some new activities that you like and alternate them throughout the week. This will prevent boredom and potential overuse injuries.
3. Move more. Your daily workout routine is a good thing but if you are exercising 1-2 hours each day, sitting for 14 hours and sleeping for 8 then your metabolism will take a nosedive contributing to fewer calories burned throughout the day. Take the stairs, plan a 2-3 minute walk each hour, commute on your bike, park at the back of the parking lot, stand instead of sitting when possible, get a step counting device and commit yourself to 5,000-10,000 steps each day. This works as a great self-check tool reminding you to move. Like having a coach on your wrist!
Kim Juarez, M.S.