Midlife changes are inevitable and can be frustrating at times. People age, we get wrinkles, pain in the joints and elsewhere begin to creep into daily life. One question that seems to come up with clients more than any other in this age group is how to prevent the over 50 weight gain in women who have begun the season of life that includes menopause. Muscle loss and lack of energy typically accompany this shift in hormones, which further complicates the problem.
According to recent research, the average weight gained during the menopausal phase is a little more than 1 pound per year. Hormonal changes are blamed for many body processes, but what about weight gain? It's relatively common that most women gain weight during this time; however, is it preventable?
For women, estrogen levels decline as the years go by, which causes our bodies to increase fat stores, especially in the abdominal area. Less fat is stored in our arms and legs as it travels to our midsection. Hunger hormones also increase, and metabolism slows. For a more detailed review of what’s going on physiologically, check out this article.
The good news is that it is preventable. However, adjustments in our lifestyle habits have to change to counteract what’s going on internally. If we were to look at the reasons for the weight gain, we would most likely find that the extra pounds are only minimally attributed to menopause and more primarily due to a failure to adjust eating and activity habits over time.
My advice is to take the focus on exercise as a way to lose weight. It doesn’t work. Activity, especially in your forties and beyond, contributes to a healthier cardiovascular system, maintain or increase muscle mass, flexibility, functionality, better sleep, and stress management. Focusing on including high-quality foods and controlling portions in the diet is critical. Particular importance should be placed on eating enough protein with each meal. 1.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight dispersed throughout the day will help with maintaining muscle mass.
Additionally, people generally begin to decrease their purposeful, planned, and spontaneous activity. Children are growing older and are moving out or are away from home more often. These life changes commonly translate into people eating out more and a reduction in activity. Although physiological changes are taking place, so are major lifestyle factors.
WHAT DOES THE SCIENCE SAY?
There is proof that energy needs to go down as women move into the decade of their 50s, mainly because of lower energy expenditure. In a study done on more than 8000 Australian women between the ages of 45 and 55, it was found that menopause was an independent risk factor for weight gain. What this means is that in addition to menopause, less exercise, smoking cessation, hysterectomy, and spending a more significant amount of time in sedentary activity were all associated with weight gain. Again, it's the changes in lifestyle habits that have most of the effect of increased pounds on the scale. It is possible that decreases in estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone may be associated with weight gain, but the findings are inconclusive in human studies. In mouse studies, the weight gain that was because of lack of estrogen was mostly due to reduced energy needs along with overeating and reduced physical activity. Translation: It appears that there is much more to weight gain after 50 than just hormones.
CAN WEIGHT GAIN BE HEALTHY?
According to a study done in 2001, researchers found that a small to moderate amount of weight gain may not be detrimental to health. It may have a cardioprotective effect. The researchers thought it could be due to increased estrogen, which would originate from the increased number of fat cells. What's important to note in this research is that although there was a smaller amount of weight gain, the women maintained a healthy BMI. People who were considered overweight or obese according to BMI charts did not have the same benefits to the cardiovascular system.
WHAT SHOULD I DO TO AVOID MENOPAUSAL WEIGHT GAIN?
Whether hormones or lifestyle changes cause weight gain, researchers can agree that the majority of women require fewer calories to maintain a healthy weight. You either eat less or increase daily physical activity. Or, what I recommend is that a woman does both. Other studies have shown that for women in their 50s, those who exercised for 60 minutes per day at moderate intensity gained about half as much weight as those that don't.
In addition to weight management, exercise also improves flexibility, helps maintain muscle mass, improves sleep, relieves stress, and improves quality of life. It is essential to include both a cardiovascular type of exercises such as swimming, biking, walking or hiking, and strength training due to age-related muscle atrophy. These types of activities work in conjunction with a calorie controlled diet and will help preserve muscle tissue.
Portion control and paying attention to how much you're eating throughout the day will help. While several different trends in mindful or intuitive eating are becoming more popular, counting calories still does work for some people. Do what works for you! We are not all the same in how we respond to measures to monitor our intake. Personally, using a food tracking app like MyFitnessPal works well for me. Research has shown that most people tend to eat more than they think they d. Others may just need to pay more attention to body cues to control their diet. Whatever method you choose, making even small changes can have a significant impact as you move past your 40s and 50s in terms of good health, weight management, and quality of life.