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Understanding weight gain and menopause


The correlation between menopause and increased body fat levels continues to be studied.

Many women report experiencing weight gain around the time of menopause and in the years after. The average age of menopause is 51, and life expectancy for women is 80 years.

It's true that hormonal changes, such as the loss of estrogen associated with menopause, have been linked to an increased risk for osteoporosis, heart disease, poorer muscle tone, and deterioration in vision and brain function.

When taking a closer look at the issue of weight gain, however, lifestyle habits, rather than menopause itself, may play the biggest role.

Our bodies constantly use calories, both when we are active and when we are at rest. A significant number of calories are needed to help regenerate bone and muscle tissue, and therefore, the more muscle and bone you have, the speedier your metabolism is, 24/7. The No. 1 way to help maintain or increase muscle and bone tissue is physical activity, primarily resistance (strength) training.

The power

Some muscle and bone loss is normal as we age, but we have the power to slow down this process if we make the choice to exercise.

It is equally important to pay attention to how hard you are working when you are active. It's one thing to spend a half-hour taking a leisurely walk, and quite another to spend that time jogging or running.

Regular exercise, with proper intensity, frequency and duration, combined with a reasonably healthy and well-balanced diet, make it much less likely that you will put on pounds and inches as you age.

A huge added benefit is that those who exercise, as opposed to dieting alone to lose weight, stand a much better chance of keeping the weight off. So forget fad or crash diets when trying to slim down.

When researchers compared those who lost weight through dieting alone and those who lost it through exercise, they found that the exercisers consistently lost more belly fat than the dieters.

Shedding just 10 percent of body weight also lowers blood pressure and improves lipid profiles (cholesterol).

Hormone levels

Some evidence suggests that the way body fat is distributed in both men and women is associated with fluctuating hormone levels.

As estrogen levels decline, for example, even if total body weight remains the same, increased visceral fat around the midsection may occur in some women.

Mayo Clinic researchers have found evidence that genetics play a role in the amount and location of abdominal fat in postmenopausal women, while this did not appear to be true for premenopausal women.

The Healthy Women's Study engaged 541 healthy, initially premenopausal women, 42 to 50 years of age. About 20 percent of these women gained 10 pounds or more during the first three years of the study, while just 3 percent lost that amount.

Weight gain was similar in women who remained premeno- pausal and those who became postmenopausal during this time. LDL cholesterol levels increased with weight gain for both premenopausal and postmeno- pausal women.

The factor that was most consistently related to weight gain was a decline in physical activity, and it was determined that the postmenopausal women were less physically active during leisure time than same-age premenopausal women.

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