Postmenopausal weight gain is a common issue among women who have reached menopause, which is the permanent cessation of menstruation. It is estimated that up to 75% of women experience some weight gain during this time. This weight gain is often accompanied by changes in body composition, including an increase in fat mass and a decrease in muscle mass.
There are several factors that contribute to postmenopausal weight gain. Hormonal changes, including a decrease in estrogen levels, play a significant role. Estrogen has been shown to regulate metabolism, increase insulin sensitivity, and promote the breakdown of fat. With lower levels of estrogen, the body becomes less efficient at processing and utilizing energy, leading to weight gain.
Additionally, aging can also contribute to postmenopausal weight gain. As we age, our metabolism naturally slows down, making it more challenging to maintain a healthy weight. A decline in physical activity, due to a decrease in energy and mobility, also contributes to weight gain.
Lifestyle factors such as a sedentary lifestyle and a diet high in processed foods and sugar can also contribute to postmenopausal weight gain. A diet that is high in calories and low in fiber and nutrients can also lead to weight gain and increase the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and other health problems.
To combat postmenopausal weight gain, it is important to adopt a healthy lifestyle that includes regular physical activity and a balanced diet. Physical activity, such as resistance training and aerobic exercise, can help increase muscle mass, improve insulin sensitivity, and boost metabolism. A diet that is rich in whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein, can help support weight loss and improve overall health.
Frequently asked questions
- How much weight does an average woman gain during menopause? On an average, women gain an average of 5 pounds after menopause although it does vary - some women gain more than others.
- What causes the post menopausal weight gain? Lower estrogen levels may play a role in weight gain after menopause.
- Weight gain may be caused by your metabolism slowing down as you age.
- You may also not eat as healthy or be as active as when you were younger.
- You also lose muscle mass as you age as muscle burns more calories at rest than other types of tissue in the body.
- Other factors may include:
- family history of obesity
- use of anti-depressant or anti-psychotic medications
- lowered metabolic rate
- altered lifestyle – for example, eating out more.
- What are the risks of being overweight or obese? Weight gain can raise your risk for high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, heart attack, and stroke. The risk is greater if you are already overweight or are not active or eating healthy.
- What the body changes that happen at menopause? As we age, our muscles decrease in bulk and our metabolism slows down. These changes can contribute to weight gain around the time of menopause. Other physical changes associated with menopause may include:
- skin changes, such as dryness and loss of elasticity
- vaginal dryness
- hair growth (or loss).
- These changes may affect a woman’s body image and self-esteem and increase her risk of depression and sexual difficulties. Taking steps to manage the symptoms of menopause can help.
- What is the effect of oestrogen on fat distribution at menopause? A change in hormone levels, mainly oestrogen, may influence body fat distribution. Many women in perimenopause and early post menopause years gain fat mass as their oestrogen levels drop. Women of childbearing age tend to store fat in the lower body (making them ‘pear-shaped’), while men and postmenopausal women store fat around the abdomen (‘apple-shaped’). Animal studies have shown that a lack of oestrogen leads to unwanted abdominal fat, although the exact mechanisms are not yet understood.
- Can hormone replacement therapy (HRT) lead to weight gain? Contrary to common belief, weight gain is not linked to hormone replacement therapy (HRT) – also known as menopausal hormone therapy (MHT). In fact, some studies suggest that use of HRT/MHT is associated with less fat gain and potential beneficial effects on muscle mass. If a woman is prone to weight gain during her middle years, she will put on weight regardless of whether she uses HRT/MHT. Some women may experience symptoms at the start of treatment, including bloating and breast fullness, and these may be misinterpreted as weight gain. These symptoms usually disappear within three months of the therapy doses being modified to suit the individual.
- What is the relationship between menopause and cardiovascular disease? As women get older, their risk of cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) disease increases. This may be partly due to the postmenopausal tendency to put on weight around the abdomen. Body fat stored within the abdominal wall and around the internal organs (visceral fat) is a risk factor for the development of cardiovascular disease. Hormone replacement therapy may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by preventing the accumulation of abdominal body fat. In addition, oestrogen replacement boosts ‘good’ blood cholesterol (high-density lipoproteins, or HDL) and lowers ‘bad’ blood cholesterol (low-density lipoproteins, or LDL).
- How to manage menopause-related weight gain? To manage weight after menopause, try to:
Eat a healthy diet (calorie control will help in losing weight); other options such as a low-carbohydrate diet (for example, the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet), the 5:2 diet, or commercial programs such Weight Watchers, Lite n’ Easy or Jenny Craig may be useful strategies for some women engage in regular and sustained aerobic exercise. This will give your metabolism a boost. Aim for at least 30–60 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days build and maintain your muscle mass with strength training such as weight training or weight-bearing exercise such as walking (see your doctor before starting a new exercise program) accept the changes to your body that are age related and work towards decreasing your risks by taking healthy lifestyle measures. Doing yoga can help to decrease waist circumference and weight. Avoid crash diets - A crash diet involves severely reducing the amount you eat over a short time. Due to the body changes that occur in your muscles, this means you are likely to put on more weight when you start eating normally again. Leptin (the ‘fat hormone’) plays an important role in body weight management, as it contributes to appetite control and metabolic rate. Studies show that leptin levels drop after a crash diet, which increases the appetite and slows metabolism.
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