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Weight gain around the middle: a curse of menopause? Or is there a way to avoid it? While gaining weight is often an unwelcome side effect of menopause, the good news is that there are a number of things that you can do to keep the creeping pounds away from your waistline. Here's what you need to know.
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Menopause is when a woman's periods stop, which means she can no longer conceive naturally. There are many possible side effects of the menopause - one being unwanted weight gain.
"Since the perimenopause and now what seems to be the full-blown menopause, my waist is thickening at an alarming rate!"
A reason for an increase in weight around this time is due to the average age a woman experiences menopause - usually between 45 and 55. We've all heard of the middle-age spread, and there is a reason for this: as we grow older, our metabolic rate slows down due to a decrease in muscle. This means it's harder to burn calories, so what you eat may well affect your waistline far more than it did 20 years ago...
A loss of oestrogen during menopause also doesn't help. This change in hormones can speed up the ageing process where skin loses its support, meaning what was once firm can begin to lose its shape.
You may find yourself wondering if the cause of your weight gain is actually because of an underactive thyroid or another medical reason. While it's unlikely to be due to this, if you're worried about unexplained weight gain or menopause bloating, it's worth visiting your GP to discuss your concerns and rule out any medical problems.
While weight loss does get more difficult with age, not all hope is lost. Read on for some handy lifestyle changes that can make a difference...
There are a number of different ways that you can combat or avoid menopausal weight gain, whether you're looking to lose weight or have just started to experience menopause symptoms.
"I do hula hooping and, for the first time since menopause, I've actually got my waist back!"
"I have always been a very active person walking a lot, swimming and doing a lot of gardening. You can get plenty of exercise without having to do anything formal."
Weight gain during menopause can also be attributed to a sedentary lifestyle - we lose muscle mass as we age, which slows down our metabolism. Although exercising regularly can be difficult for those with health issues or physical disabilities, it's important to partake in physical activity in order to stay happy and healthy.
The good news is you don't have to start training for a 5K run in order to up your fitness levels, although if you do want to take up running the Couch to 5K plan is a fantastic way to take you from couch potato to runner in just nine weeks! Even just walking to the shop or taking the stairs instead of the lift can help.
It's important to incorporate both cardiovascular exercise and strength training into your lifestyle to fight the middle-age spread.
"If you can't get to a gym or exercise class, there are lots of videos online. Just make sure you warm up first, don't go straight into a new or difficult exercise, and do a stretch afterwards."
Cardio exercise speeds up your heart rate and breathing rate, and has a variety of health benefits, including strengthening the heart, lowering blood pressure and preventing diabetes. Oh, and it's also great for burning calories too which makes it a key element if you're wanting to lose weight.
The following exercises are all examples of cardio:
While it's great for weight loss, it's not advisable to focus solely on cardio. As we age, we lose muscle so it's essential to also include strength training in your routine to maintain and build muscle.
Strength training includes lifting weights and exercises using bodyweight, such as squats, sit-ups and lunges. Not only does such training improve balance - which can prevent falls - and tone the body, but it also helps fight sarcopenia (loss of muscle).
Maintaining and building muscle should be a priority when you work out to improve your overall fitness level and strengthen your body. When it comes to weight around the middle, focus on exercises that specifically target your waist and abdominal area, such as sit-ups and crunches, or, for a full-body workout and to improve muscle mass, try these strength training exercises that can easily be done at home.
"I use a Fitbit to monitor my activity. I aim for over 10,000 steps a day and often do many more."
If you struggle to remember what you've eaten during the day and want to control what you consume to help reduce excess weight gain, make a note of your meals and snacks. Apps, such as MyFitnessPal, are useful for counting calories, keeping track of your progress and for providing nutrition information to help you make healthier food choices.
"I started eating 'low carb, high fat' just over a year ago, and lost 19 pounds within nine months. I feel much better for it and I shall continue with this way of eating for life."
Exercise is highly important, but changing your diet is crucial to shifting those pounds. When it comes to weight gain and menopause, what you eat can make all the difference. In fact, a shift in our food choices can help with a multitude of health issues. It's also worth remembering that certain foods can help to relieve symptoms of menopause. You can find more menopause diet tips here.
If you find that you feel tired, bloated or generally lacking in energy more often than not, it could be time for a change in your diet. While the key is always 'everything in moderation', it's important that you do your research and select your food choices carefully, especially if you have diabetes or suffer from a specific health condition.
There are lots of tips and tricks you can try to adopt healthier habits. Start by weighing your food to better understand portion sizes, or follow the NHS's Eat Well guide, which tells you exactly how much of each food group you should be eating per day.
If you don't know where to get started, there's inspiration aplenty on our recipe section, where you can search our library for delicious healthy meals (and the occasional treat), and share your own. Bon appétit!
"My sister is dieting with me and that's good motivation to keep going. We check each other's food diaries and share recipes."
Do you lack motivation when it comes to diet and exercise? Do you find it difficult to stick to a regime? Don't take on the challenge alone. Find a family member, a friend or even a neighbour to help you along the journey by providing encouragement and support.
There's also a supportive community on our menopause and dieting and exercise forums, so you can talk anonymously to other gransnetters for advice, motivation and tips. Strength in numbers, as they say.
"It's HRT and swimming for me!"
While hormone replacement therapy (HRT) won't necessarily prevent menopause weight gain, it will help to ease other menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats, symptoms that may make day-to-day life, including sticking to a diet and exercise plan, more challenging.
Some health experts also say that HRT may help to increase your metabolism and help you to lose belly fat caused by menopause.
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Here are a few extra health tips, strictly from our users, so you can find out how to lose weight during the menopause.
"Three years ago I did the 5:2 and lost two stone. The secret for me was limiting myself to 1,200 calories on non-fast days, but being less strict when away or out with friends."
Dr Michael Mosley's 5:2 Diet has certainly garnered praise, particularly for its no-nonsense approach to dieting and its positive effect on blood sugar levels. While some have found the diet tricky to adjust to at first, it has proved extremely useful in helping them to lose weight, so when it comes to menopause and weight gain this is something you might want to consider.
Those on this 'intermittent fasting' diet will eat normally five days a week and then cut calories to 500 for the other two days.
"I love gardening, which can be very heavy going at times, but a good workout."
Believe it or not, a session of gardening can burn up to 200-400 calories an hour. Not only is this a fun, not to mention productive, way to fit exercise into your daily routine, but you will likely forget you're working out and time will fly. Plus you'll have a wonderful garden as a result - win win!
If your garden's on the small size, fear not, as we have loads of tips for making the most of a minimal space here.
"I'm taking care of my microbiome with great results. Weight loss without any effort, better sleep and I have lost count of the number of people who have said how well I look."
Reducing the load of unfriendly gut bacteria can be pivotal in helping with weight management. The main way that you can improve your gut bacteria is by eating the right foods and enjoying a diet rich in fibre. These foods may help:
"I do think that alcohol is my downfall. I never thought of liquid as being calorific in the past but I suppose a couple of bottles of red a week takes its toll."
It may be tempting to reach for a glass (or two) of wine after a hard day but cutting down your alcohol intake may help you lose weight quicker. Alcohol is highly calorific and low in nutritional value, so it's definitely worth saving it until the weekend or cutting back completely if you're wanting to lose weight.
Want to know more about the menopause? We recommend Menopause: The Answers by Dr Rosemary Leonard, a definitive guide of everything you need to know about this stage of life.
Disclaimer: The information on our health pages is only intended as an informal guide and should not be treated as a substitute for medical advice. Gransnet would urge you to consult your GP before you begin any diet if you're concerned about your weight, have existing health conditions and/or are taking medication.