Sustainable Ways to Maintain Your Healthy Weight in Menopause
It is incredibly common — and very normal — to gain weight as we age. The average person gains 1-2 lbs (.5-1 kg) a year from early adulthood through middle age. A study done at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden found that fat cell turnover rate decreases as we age, meaning our body burns fat less efficiently with each passing year. Furthermore, muscle mass decreases approximately 3–8% per decade after the age of 30 with an increasing decline after the age of 60, slowing your metabolism even more. There are lifestyle aspects that often show up in midlife, too such as eating more, moving less, and experiencing high levels of stress that trigger cortisol production; cortisol, in turn, slows the metabolism and increases sugar cravings. Finally, some research suggests a correlation between the decrease in estrogen production and the increases in overweight and obesity in menopausal women.
So none of us should expect to stay the same weight we were back in high school forever . We’ve lived and loved and accomplished so much, a few pounds shouldn’t be anything to stress over. But sometimes, we gain more than is considered normal, which can lead to obesity and its corresponding health risks.
Our bodies may be less efficient at burning fat on their own as we age, but that doesn’t mean that burning fat becomes completely impossible. Exercising more often combats the effects of aging by stimulating fat-burning and increasing muscle mass. Exercise is a great way to relieve cortisol-creating stress while simultaneously stimulating the production of feel-good endorphins.
To get the most out of exercising, be sure to include all four types recommended for older adults in your weekly routine
- Endurance or aerobic exercise on its own has been found to result in clinically significant weight loss for both men and women without any changes to diet whatsoever. It also has the advantage of improving heart health and reducing the risk of chronic conditions including type 2 diabetes, mental illness, and dementia. Endurance exercises include simple, easy favorites like walking, dancing, swimming, and playing your favorite sport. Find two to three endurance exercises that you love and commit to at least 150 minutes a week.
- Strength exercises are necessary to reverse age-related loss of muscle mass. Exercises like weightlifting may not burn as many calories as aerobics while you’re doing them, but they have profound aftereffects on both muscle gain and metabolism. You don’t need to commit to being a powerlifter, but incorporating weight machines, handheld weights, or resistance tubing to your exercise routine can help you reap the benefits and lose weight.
- Stretching exercises may not burn many calories, but they’re still important. Stretches enable your body to move more comfortably and can even help relieve pain; One study even found that just 10 minutes of daily stretching before bedtime decreased self-reported feelings of depression in menopausal women. Regular stretching exercise also contributes to weight loss by preventing pain that would otherwise keep you sedentary and relieving stress. Try developing your own pre-bedtime stretching routine for the added benefits of improved sleep for weight loss.
- Balance exercises, much like stretching, do not inherently burn a lot of calories, but they offer benefits that are almost as important as we age: they improve mobility, reaction time, strength, and overall quality of life. Perhaps most importantly, balance exercises help prevent falls, which are increasingly dangerous as we get older. Practicing balance helps prevent injuries so your exercise routine stays on track. A simple home routine will make a huge difference, but if you’d like to take it to the next level, sign up for a Hatha yoga class to improve balance over time.
Evaluate Your Diet
As the saying goes: you can’t out-train a bad diet. If you’re eating more calories than you’re burning, the weight isn’t going anywhere. And during menopause, it’s especially important to re-evaluate what you eat as diet has a significant impact on symptoms.
When it comes to re-tooling your diet, focusing on foods that are healthy to eat — rather than foods you should limit — is a more sustainable approach. Healthy foods you should incorporate into your diet upgrade include:
- Fresh produce including fruit, vegetables, and mushrooms. These foods are naturally low in calories and nutritionally dense. Basing your meals around produce keeps them light on calories, while also helping you meet your daily vitamin, mineral, and fiber needs.
- Whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, oats, and whole-wheat bread. Your brain needs carbohydrates to work at its best capacity, but refined (or simple) carbs have fewer nutrients and may even increase the risk of obesity. Whole grains give your brain the energy it needs, nurture the body, and increase feelings of satiety.
- Protein is considered the single most important nutrient for weight loss. It burns more calories, reduces appetite, and helps prevent the metabolic slowing effects of muscle loss. However, the sources of protein you eat matter. After all, fried chicken is protein-rich, but it also has a slew of unhealthy side effects including weight gain. Focus on incorporating healthy protein sources into your diet prepared simply, without added oils and breading.
At any age, but especially in midlife, yo-yo dieting presents many health risks, and rarely provides long-term health results. So if you’ve decided that losing weight is a way to improve your quality of life, you don’t have to make sudden, drastic changes; these smaller sustainable ones will help make sure you can get the most out of life through perimenopause and beyond.