Women who are approaching menopause often worry about weight gain. Menopause seems to go along with weight gain as hormonal fluctuations trigger appetite and a slow-down in metabolism. Is menopause getting unfairly blamed for causing weight gain? According to a new study, menopause isn’t the culprit that causes weight gain but it does change where your body fat stores fat.
Menopause and Weight Changes
According to a new study sponsored by the International Menopause Society, the hormonal changes women experience during menopause don’t cause weight gain. Sounds like a good thing – but there’s bad news too. Menopause IS linked with changes in body fat distribution. Even though you won’t gain new body fat from menopause alone, you’ll store it differently. Researchers came to this conclusion after reviewing all of the available evidence from previous studies. Where does most of the fat go? Straight to your belly. After menopause is when most women start to complain about the dreaded “muffin top.”
Some women argue that they had more trouble controlling their weight after they entered pre-menopause or menopause. The researchers in this study point out that weight gain during this time is more of an age-related phenomenon than it is a direct consequence of menopause. On average, women put on about a pound a year of body fat after the age of 50. This is primarily due to loss of lean body mass, a phenomenon that picks up momentum with age. This accounts at least partially for the slow-down in metabolism men and women experience with age.
Belly Fat is Bad News
Belly fat may look bad in a bathing suit but the health consequences are even more dire. Much of the added fat that women put on after menopause is visceral fat – deep abdominal fat that produces inflammatory compounds that increase the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer. In fact, a large waistline is a marker for visceral fat and an increased risk for chronic health problems. Even if you’re of normal weight, if you’re carrying around too much belly fat, you’re at greater risk for chronic diseases like heart disease and type 2-diabetes.
How to Lose Menopausal Belly Fat
Is it possible to fight your hormones – and win? The best defense you have against unhealthy belly fat is a healthy diet and exercise. Contrary to popular belief, abdominal crunches won’t trim a pudgy belly. Real results come from high-intensity exercise or interval training that maximizes your heart rate and allows you to recover so you can pick up the intensity again. Moderate intensity aerobic exercise like jogging or cycling at a moderate pace has less of an impact on belly fat. Strength-training that focuses not only on the abdominal muscles but the large muscles in the lower body activate hormones that break down body fat is also important.
Of course, diet is a critical component of any belly fat loss plan. Limiting high-glycemic carbs helps to stabilize insulin levels and reduce your body’s tendency to store fat. Adequate amounts of dietary protein combined with resistance training helps to preserve lean body mass as you age. This keeps your metabolism primed to burn fat.
The Bottom Line?
Gaining weight? Don’t blame it on menopause – but it’s important to up the intensity of your workouts – both strength and cardiovascular – to avoid a “spare tire” or a “muffin top.” Even better start before you enter menopause.
Medical News Today. “Menopause Does Not Result in Weight Gain – It Increases Belly Fat”
Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2008 Nov;40(11):1863-72.
Journal of Obesity. Volume 2012 (2012), Article ID 480467