In mid-life, both men and women face the heavy challenge of keeping off added pounds. Sometimes genetics plays a role in a person’s predisposition to gain weight, but for most of us, it’s a combination of reduced physical activity, a slowing metabolism, poor eating habits and, yes, loss of hormones. On average women can gain as much as, or more than, a pound a year during the menopausal years which can quickly add up; but, weight gain is not inevitable. There are steps you can take to keep off the pounds that accumulate around your stomach and reverse unwanted weight gains.
Let’s start by taking a closer look at what happens in mid-life and examine ways to fight back with a healthier lifestyle and new habits.
Problem #1: During menopause, a woman’s estrogen levels drop. As the ovaries start to produce less estrogen, her body’s fat cells begin to take over the job of estrogen production. In addition to this, most menopausal women feel stressed, which can trigger stress hormones that signal the body to store all spare calories as fat. Estrogen deficiency also disturbs the normal activity of leptin, the body’s own appetite suppressant and barometer for burning calories, thus affecting cravings and metabolism.
Solution: Minimize stress. For menopausal women it’s important to reduce stress and restore balance by making time for fun, relaxation and healthy pampering. At the same time, stay away from using food as a pacifier.
Problem #2: The body begins to burn fewer calories. Why does your metabolism slow down during menopause? Well, as you age, your body promotes the replacement of muscle with fat. Since muscle burns more calories than fat, your body’s calorie demands lessen as muscle is lost to less calorie-craving fat tissue. Starting in your mid to late 40s you need about 200 fewer calories a day to maintain your weight.
Solution: Exercise to help build back muscle. Also pay special attention to your body’s dwindling caloric needs. Take in fewer calories! Eat only when you are hungry and only enough to satisfy your hunger. Being conscious of and lessening caloric in-take is an obvious first line of defense in winning the weight loss battle.
Problem #3: An overall reduction in our physical activity in our 40s and 50s leads not only to weight gain, but to a dramatic loss of fat-free body mass (muscle). So, get in the habit of regular daily exercise, at least 30 minutes a day. This not only benefits your health, by strengthening your heart and bones, but contributes to a sense of well-being and better moods. Best of all, it helps control your weight.
Solution: Get active! Brisk walking 4 or 5 times a week for just 30 minutes can give you a metabolic boost. It also stimulates bone- and muscle-building to help prevent osteoporosis and keep fat at bay. Strength training can also help build and maintain more lean muscle mass and lessen body fat. Exercise is your second line of defense in winning the weight loss battle.
Problem #4: Increased food intake is certainly a major culprit in weight gain. Beware of eating like you were twenty! Worse yet, avoid eating more food if you have added leisure time on your hands, or, grabbing the wrong foods if you have a hectic schedule and are looking for shortcuts. Limit your consumption of high-fat, high-calorie convenience foods.
Solution: Develop new eating habits. Eat less and watch what you eat. Take the time to prepare healthy sit-down meals that are rich in fruits, vegetables and whole-grain foods – and, if hunger strikes, make these same foods your healthy snacking choices. Limit fat intake to 20-30% of your daily calories and get your fats from sources like nuts and fish or olive and canola oils. Get in the habit of reading product labels to learn how much fat and calories are in a serving size and stick to the serving size! That’s right; be sure you manage portion size or you may be taking in more calories than expected. Also, if you must grab fast food on the run, ask to see the nutrition facts. One typical burger meal complete with fries and soda can come to a whopping 930 calories and 43 grams of fat. That’s nearly a full day’s intake of calories and much more fat than the recommended 20-30% of daily calories. Today, most fast food establishments offer healthier choices like yogurts, fruit cups and salads. Educate yourself and choose wisely.
Remember, excess weight increases your risk of serious health problems like high blood pressure and heart disease, type-2 diabetes and stroke. Studies have also shown that weight gain in menopausal women increases their risk of breast cancer. Post-menopausal women who gain more than 20 pounds increase this risk by nearly 20 percent. Subsequently, women who lose weight can reduce their risk of breast cancer.
Menopause can make losing weight more challenging for both men and women, but understanding how your body works gives you the knowledge you need to fight back and win the weight loss battle. If you’ve tried to combat weight gains alone, but unsuccessfully, then adding the support and guidance of a weight loss specialist or physician may be your answer to shedding unwanted pounds.