Most women will gain some weight during their menopause years. But does this necessarily mean that menopause is directly responsible for those few extra pounds in your hips and stomach? Well, researchers have been examining this link for quite some time now and have yet to provide a definitive answer. What we currently do know is that the link between menopause and weight gain is a complex one and that most women can gain control over their body as they enter this transitional period of their life.
What happens during menopause
Menopause occurs 12 months after the last menstruation and marks the end of a woman’s reproductive cycles. When estrogen production decreases during the few years before menopause, women often experience uncomfortable symptoms such as hot flashes, mood disturbances, and sleep problems. Another commonly reported symptom of menopause is weight gain, especially in the abdominal region.
Women often notice their body changing from pear shape to more of an apple shape. A study published in a 2010 issue of JAMA confirmed this to be true as 65.5% of women aged 40-59 years in the U.S. had extra belly fat and 73.8% of women aged 60 years and older were reported to have extra weight in their mid-section area.
So, do women gain weight during menopause?
Although women tend to gain weight during their menopausal years, this shift in weight is not directly a result of menopause but rather of age-related metabolic changes. Researchers from the University of Vermont tested for differences in resting metabolic rate (RMR) and fat-free weight (FFW), among other things, in 183 healthy women ages 18 to 81 years. What they found was that both measurements decline with age and that the decline in RMR was a result of a decline in muscle mass. This makes perfect sense considering that muscles play a huge role in fat metabolism and that many people tend to lose muscle mass with age.
What about hormones?
Most symptoms of menopause are a result of declining hormone levels but does the hormonal status in menopause cause weight gain? According to a review article on a large number of studies on this particular topic published in Climacteric, no it does not. The study in question found no causal link between menopause and weight gain and attributed weight gain during this period to depression.
The only link between declining estrogen levels is found in a tendency of body fat to redistribute to the abdominal area. A loss of muscle mass with age also means that women may have a different body composition during menopause than during their premenopausal years.
Can weight gain during menopause be prevented?
According to a study published in a 2003 issue of the Annals of Behavioral Medicine, reducing calories and exercising regularly can significantly lower your chances of gaining weight during menopause. The women in this study were divided into an exercise and control group. What the researchers found was that the group of women participating in a fitness program either lost weight or maintained their weight at baseline levels while the control group gained 2.4 kg on average after 4.5 years.
What else could be causing weight gain
Since many women experience sleep disturbances and depression as they go through menopause, they may also gain weight as a result of these problems. Sleep is important for normal metabolism functioning because and blood glucose regulation. The sleep disturbances are now recognized as being a risk factor for weight gain and obesity. Depression may also contribute to weight gain due to its effect on appetite and an increased aversion to activity.
Women going through menopause should talk to their gynecologist about any problems and concerns they may have. To prevent weight gain, make sure to address any sleeping issues, monitor your calorie intake, and exercise regularly. Also, keep in mind that water retention is normal during menopause and you might confuse water retention with weight gain.
Menopause just like, any period in life, has its ups and downs. On the one hand, women don’t have to worry anymore about pregnancy and period pain and on the other hand, they experience a host of uncomfortable symptoms. Another downside to menopause is a tendency to gain weight more easily than before. However, this does not mean that you will inevitably gain weight as you transition through this stage of life. With regular exercising and a balanced diet, you significantly reduce your risk of gaining weight during menopause.