Menopause and Weight Gain: Is Exercise the Answer?

Weight gain is common during menopause, and it is often due to a combination of factors, including age, genetics, lifestyle, and hormonal changes.

In this article we will discuss more about what menopause is and help you understand why weight gain may occur during menopause and how to manage it.

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Women go through many phases throughout life, including menopause. Menopause is part of the aging process and occurs about one full year after you have your  last menstrual period.1,2 Menopause occurs when you have not had any bleeding or spotting for 12 consecutive months.1-3 At this point in time, amounts of the hormones estrogen and progesterone produced by your ovaries may decrease.1 On average, women in the United States experience menopause at age 52.3

In this article we will discuss more about what menopause is and help you understand why weight gain may occur during menopause and how to manage it.

As you approach menopause, you will likely experience changes that feel anything but natural. Let’s briefly discuss the most common symptoms of menopause and how they may impact you. These symptoms are not exclusive to menopause, so it is important to have a discussion with your health care provider if you think you may be experiencing menopausal symptoms.

  • Hot flashes are the most common symptom amongst women before, during, and after menopause.1,3 They are caused by changes in the levels of estrogen in your body.1 You may experience a warm or hot feeling throughout your upper body.1 You may also experience episodes of sweating and shivering.1 When hot flashes occur at night while you are sleeping, they are referred to as night sweats.1 The duration and frequency of hot flashes may vary.1
  • Mood swings may cause you to feel irritable and emotionally unstable. Why changes in mood occur during menopause is not well understood, but it may be due to a combination of stress and fatigue.1 Having a family or medical history of depression may also play a role.1 Mood changes may be accompanied by unexplained episodes of crying.3
  • Changes in your sleep patterns may occur.1 Sleep disturbances may develop as you age and as a result of hormonal changes.1,3 Other menopause symptoms such as hot flashes may impact your quality of sleep.1 These changes may range from waking up too early to having trouble going back to sleep.1
  • You may notice changes in your body, and weight gain is common during menopause. On average, women gain 5 pounds during menopause.3 This may be caused by lower levels of estrogen in the body or a result of your metabolism changing and slowing down.2,3 

While weight gain does occur commonly during menopause, it may not be the sole culprit of the extra weight.2 Factors that may contribute to weight gain during menopause include the normal aging process, genetics, lack of sleep and lifestyle factors such as eating habits and exercise patterns.4

There isn’t a one size fits all solution to the issue of menopause weight gain, but ensuring you stay active and adopting healthy eating habits are a good  start.4

Why Does Menopause Cause Weight Gain?

Weight gain that occurs during menopause is common and likely due to age and lifestyle factors rather than the process of menopause itself.5 As you get older, your metabolism becomes slower and you may start to accumulate more body fat.5 As your body changes naturally, you may notice accumulation of more fat around your abdominal area and the presence of more fat versus muscle. You may also notice appetite and metabolism changes. This is likely caused by a decrease in estrogen levels, with weight gain and an increase in fat storage as a result.2

What is perimenopause?

One common misconception is that menopause occurs when your monthly menstrual cycle starts to change and you begin experiencing symptoms. However, this stage of life is called perimenopause.1 Perimenopause is also commonly referred to as the menopause transition.1 It is the phase that occurs in the years leading up to menopause and may last several years before you stop having cycles completely.1,3 

It typically begins midlife between the ages of 45 and 55.1 During this phase you may experience changes in your hormone levels and irregular menstrual cycles. You may also experience menopause symptoms including changes in body weight. Once you have gone 12 months without a menstrual cycle, perimenopause ends and menopause begins.1-3

The Risks of Weight Gain After Menopause

Potential health risks and complications associated with post-menopausal weight gain are similar to the risks associated with overweight and obesity.2 Because women tend to gain more belly fat during this phase, there is a greater risk of developing chronic health conditions. When compared to women who have not yet approached menopause, over 47% of postmenopausal women over 50 years old are overweight and over 25% have obesity.6

Low levels of estrogen after menopause, in addition to weight gain, place postmenopausal women at risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and osteoporosis.3 Additionally, obesity and weight gain are likely to further put postmenopausal women at risk of developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease,  and different types of cancer.2,4

Is Exercise the Answer to Menopause Weight Gain?

In general, exercise can help mitigate weight gain and can help with weight loss, however it is only one part of the equation.7 The most effective methods to tackle menopause weight gain include a holistic approach that consists of not only regular exercise, but also a healthy diet, adequate sleep, and stress management.2,4 

Tips for Managing Menopause Weight Gain

The recommendation for physical activity is to engage in 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week, with at least 2 days of strength training  activities.7 Commit to exercising for 30 minutes, 5 days out of the week to reach the 150 minute weekly goal.  Exercise will also help reduce the loss of muscle mass and the loss of bone strength, that may occur during menopause.7 Of course, before starting any new exercise program, check first with your healthcare provider to ensure it is safe.

Calorie reduction is the most effective way to lose weight.7 It is recommended to reduce daily calorie intake by 500 calories per day to lose weight. 7 Research has shown promising results related to the Mediterranean Diet and menopause weight gain. Ideal foods include those that are plant-based and rich in nutrients. Avoid foods that are high in fat content, sugary or overly processed.2

There is a link between poor sleep habits and weight gain so do your best to promote proper sleep hygiene and get a good night’s rest.7 You can practice this by developing a sleep schedule or routine, limiting distractions during or right before bedtime, and avoiding taking naps  in the late afternoon.2

Stress management is also an important part of maintaining your health and preventing weight gain.8 Some practical ways you can reduce stress include exercising, talking to someone you trust, engaging in activities you enjoy, making time for self-care, and practicing yoga, meditation, or deep breathing exercises.8

The major key to weight management during menopause is to incorporate the previously mentioned recommendations into your lifestyle routine and surround yourself with others who support your lifestyle changes. Maintaining a healthy weight takes work but is absolutely possible! It is important to follow up with your healthcare provider regularly to help monitor your weight and assess any health risks.

Are There Any Medical Treatments For Menopause Weight Gain?

Implementing and maintaining lifestyle changes doesn’t come easy for everyone. While exercise and a healthy diet should be utilized first, it’s okay if you need extra help managing menopause-related weight gain. Medical treatment can help. Let’s review the available medication therapies.

Weight Loss Medications

Weight loss medications should be used only in combination with the lifestyle changes mentioned previously. Some medications are approved by the FDA for weight loss and some are used off-label. Discuss your options with your provider. 

Explore weight loss medication options on our site [insert link/hyperlink] and learn more about which might be right for you.

Non-hormonal Therapies

These therapies may help with symptom management of hot flashes which may also help with weight loss and weight management. Non-hormonal therapies include antidepressants such as bupropion (Wellbutrin).10

Conclusion

You can get ahead of menopause weight gain by understanding what factors contribute to weight gain and taking the steps to proactively incorporate healthy habits. Exercising regularly, eating healthy, getting enough sleep, and practicing stress reduction techniques are ways you can stay healthy and minimize weight gain. 

Remember it’s okay if you need help on your journey. There are medications available to help with weight loss in combination with these positive changes. Consult with your healthcare provider to design a personalized plan for managing weight gain during menopause.

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