In this article we discuss an issue of great importance to all women – the menopause, and menopause weight gain. We discuss its symptoms, and ways in which you can help reduce these through healthy living. Joining a fun, supportive exercise and advice group such as Jane Mackenzie’s Weight Control Café is the ideal way of making a change towards a healthier lifestyle; one that will benefit you hugely through the menopause and beyond.
Menopause Weight Gain
The menopause is now becoming a subject that women are talking about more openly. It is now well documented that menopause can cause wide-ranging symptoms, with weight gain being one of them.
The menopause is the phase in a woman’s life when her oestrogen levels begin to drop, and her periods become less frequent and eventually stop. This may happen suddenly or gradually over several years. It is a natural process of aging and usually occurs between 45 and 55 years of age. The average age for women to reach the menopause in the UK is 51.
As you approach the menopause, you may start to notice the frequency of your periods becoming irregular, as well as becoming unusually light or heavy. The body’s production of the sex hormone oestrogen is reduced, and the ovaries no longer release an egg each month. Other hormones such as testosterone, progesterone, cortisol and insulin are affected by the menopause, hence there can be many wide-ranging symptoms, which can be different for every individual. These symptoms can start a few months or even years before your periods finally stop.
Weight gain around the middle of the body is commonly often associated with the menopause. This can be disheartening and affect one’s self-esteem and confidence. We are losing our youthful looks and now we have put on weight! These changes can sometimes feel overwhelming.
You may have heard about the common symptoms of menopause. It can all seem a bit scary when you first look into it. On the other hand it can be a relief, as you may have been suffering from these symptoms and not been sure what the cause was. However, it is always worth consulting your GP for advice if any of these symptoms are bothering you, in order to rule out other medical problems.
Common symptoms include:
- Hot flushes – short, sudden feelings of heat, usually in the face, neck and chest, which can make your skin red and sweaty
- Night sweats – hot flushes that occur at night
- Difficulty sleeping – this may make you feel tired and irritable during the day
- A reduced sex drive (libido)
- Problems with memory and concentration
- Vaginal dryness and pain, itching or discomfort during sex
- Mood changes, such as low mood or anxiety
- Palpitations – heartbeats that suddenly become more noticeable
- Joint stiffness, aches and pains
- Reduced muscle mass
- Recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs), such as cystitis
Does any of this sound familiar to you? Don’t panic there is help and advice available! Don’t ignore these symptoms, and do what you can to reduce their effects on your everyday life. There are medical treatments such as Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), but you can also help yourself by maintaining a healthy, balanced diet and exercising. These are simple steps you can take to improve the symptoms of menopause.
The by-product of focusing on your menopausal symptoms – there is a silver lining!
Moving towards a healthier lifestyle in order to reduce the symptoms of menopause will also benefit your general health. Exercising regularly can improve your sleep patterns, causing you to feel more invigorated, increase your social interaction and make new friends. And of course you may also lose weight and generally feel better about yourself. Taking part in weight-bearing exercise is known to help lessen the effects of osteoporosis and increase in muscle tone.
Putting the correct food into your body will make sure it has plenty of the right types of vitamins and minerals. Eating a balanced diet can reduce the likelihood of you becoming Stage 2 Diabetic. Your stomach will be healthier, because it isn’t being fed chemicals, sugars and saturated fats.
How hormonal changes during menopause affects our bodies
Hormones’ regulate all aspects of our bodies’ functions, including mood, sleep, stress, metabolism, movement, digestion, reproduction and many more.
When your oestrogen levels drop, this has an effect on insulin production in the body. Insulin takes sugars and fats from the blood and puts it into the cells to be burned for energy. So instead of the body using up these sugars, it stores more of them as fat.
Progesterone is a female hormone which works alongside oestrogen to prepare the womb for pregnancy. It also helps to stabilise cortisol, which can cause us to feel more stressed. A reduction in progesterone can reduce muscle mass in the arms and legs, and increase body fat around your middle. Does this sound familiar?!
Testosterone is commonly thought of as a male hormone, but is very important in women too. It is produced in the ovaries and the adrenal gland, but in smaller amounts than in men. Testosterone production decreases during menopause as well. This can affect bone strength and lean muscle mass.
What can you do to help yourself?
Reduce simple carbohydrates in your diet such as refined sugar, cakes, cereals, and many processed foods which have a high percentage of sugar. Cut out drinks full of sugar. Reduce your alcohol intake. Eat more complex carbohydrates which are higher is fibre and starch. Eat more fresh vegetables, and make your own food rather than buying processed foods.
As your body gets older and begins to change, you need to find out how much you can eat to maintain a healthy weight or even lose weight if necessary. Make sure there is adequate protein and healthy fats in your diet, and drink plenty of water (1.5 litres a day).
Take more exercise such as resistance training in order to increase your testosterone levels. Try interval training and shorter intense work outs, as well as walking, swimming and cycling. Weight-bearing exercise such as Pilates and yoga can be hugely beneficial in increasing strength and tone as well as relaxing and improving flexibility.
Reduce stress in your life as much as possible. With the unchecked Cortisol levels in the body during menopause, you may be prone to becoming more irritated and feeling more stressed. Take some relaxation time ideally each day if you can. Take hot baths, and enjoy fresh air and the country side or sea.
Join a weight control group
Whether you wish to lose some weight, or just ensure you don’t put any on as you go through the menopause, joining a combined exercise and advice group such as Jane Mackenzie’s Weight Control Café can be invaluable. To start with you will be adding to your all-important weekly exercise routine, but you will also be able to discuss the issues and problems important to you, and receive plenty of advice and support. And don’t forget the importance of socialising, too!
Jane Mackenzie runs her Weight Control Cafe classes at two locations in Folkestone, Kent, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.