Does menopause cause weight gain? No, but…
Does menopause make you fat?No, but it's complicated, say Nick Fuller.
Here's a question people often ask: Does menopause cause weight gain?
Women typically gain weight as they enter menopause. Research shows that women aged 46-57 gain an average of 2.1kg over five years.
But like many things related to weight, all is not what it seems, and the relationship between menopause and weight gain is not simple.
Here's everything you need to know about menopausal weight gain and what you can do to cope.
What usually happens during menopause?
Menopause marks the natural end of the reproductive phase of a woman's life. It officially begins when a woman goes 12 months without a period, and most women reach menopause between the ages of 45 and 55, but it can happen earlier or later.
However, the transition to menopause usually begins four years ago, and perimenopause marks the beginning of a woman's ovaries slowing down and producing less estrogen and progesterone. Eventually, levels of these hormones drop to the point where the ovaries stop releasing eggs and menstruation stops.
Symptoms associated with the menopausal transition are varied and include menstrual irregularities, breast pain, vaginal dryness, hot flashes, night sweats, fatigue, trouble sleeping, and changes in mood and libido.
So does menopause cause weight gain?
The shortest answer is no. But it's complicated.
When it comes to menopause and weight, weight redistribution — not weight gain — is actually a symptom. Research confirms that menopause is associated with increased belly fat but not overall weight gain.
That's because the hormonal changes of menopause only prompt changes in where the body stores fat, making it easier for women to gain weight around their midsections and waists. Studies have shown that postmenopausal women have nearly 50 percent more visceral fat (fat deep in the belly) than premenopausal women.
It's also important to recognize that some menopausal symptoms may indirectly contribute to weight gain:
- Sleep problems can lead to sleep deprivation, disrupt the body's appetite hormones, increase hunger and trigger food cravings.
- Some mood changes activate the body's stress response, increasing production of the hormone cortisol, promoting fat storage and triggering cravings for unhealthy foods. Emotions can also affect motivation to exercise.
- Fatigue, breast pain, and hot flashes can make physical activity difficult or uncomfortable and can affect exercise ability.
Aging Is the Real Cause of Menopausal Weight Gain
You read that right—the weight gain often associated with menopause is a byproduct of aging.
As the body ages, it no longer works effectively. It experiences an involuntary loss of muscle mass — called sarcopenia — and fat levels start to increase.
Because muscle mass helps determine the body's metabolic rate (how much energy the body burns at rest), when we lose muscle, the body starts burning fewer calories at rest.
Aging also means dealing with other health issues that can complicate weight management. Medications, for example, can affect physical function, and arthritis and body aches can affect mobility and the ability to exercise.
In short – the body's aging process and changes in constitution are the real reason why women experience weight gain during menopause.
more than weight gain
While menopause won't make you gain weight, it can increase a woman's risk of other serious health problems.
The redistributed weight that causes more fat to be carried around the belly can have long-term effects. Belly fat (visceral fat), located deep in the abdominal cavity, is a particularly unhealthy type of fat because it's stored close to the organs. People with high levels of visceral fat have a higher risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes and heart disease than those with high levels of fat around the hips.
The reduced amount of estrogen produced by the ovaries during menopause also increases a woman's risk of heart disease and stroke. This is because estrogen helps keep blood vessels dilated — relaxed and open — which helps lower cholesterol. Without it, bad cholesterol can start to build up in the arteries.
Lower estrogen also leads to bone loss, putting women at greater risk for osteoporosis and more prone to fractures and fractures.
Can We Prevent Menopausal Weight Gain?
Menopause itself does not cause weight gain; unfortunately, it just occurs at a stage in life where other factors may. The good news is that weight gain associated with aging is not inevitable, and there are many things women can do to avoid weight gain and health risks as they age and go through menopause.
Start with these six steps:
- Incorporate exercise routines into your routine, mixing intensities and a variety of exercises, including twice-weekly body-strengthening exercises.
- Stop dieting. Dieting increases the weight your body will try to regain (your “set point”), so you end up heavier than you started. Every diet you follow also slows down your metabolism.
- Curb sugar cravings naturally. Whenever you crave a sugary or fatty food, reach out to nature first—fruit, honey, nuts, seeds, and avocados are some suitable examples. These foods release the same feel-good chemicals in the brain that process and fast food do to keep us feeling full.
- Create positive habits and minimize comfort eating. Instead of relaxing on the couch in the afternoon or evening, go for a walk, pick up a hobby or try something new.
- Eat slowly and away from distractions to reduce the amount of food you eat mindlessly. Use an oyster fork, kid's fork or chopsticks to slow down your eating.
- Turn off electronic devices at least an hour before bed to improve sleep quality.
Nick Fuller, Director of Research Programs at the Charles Perkins Center at the University of Sydney. This article is reproduced from The Conversation.
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