|Most women above the age of 30 find it difficult to avoid gaining weight, especially inches that tend to settle around their waistlines. In fact, on average, women gain about a pound a year during the years leading up to menopause and beyond. But middle-life weight gain doesn’t have to be inevitable.
Weight gain during middle age is caused by a combination of factors:
*Pregnancy. Weight gain during pregnancy is normal and necessary for a healthy baby, but most women don’t lose all the added weight after childbirth. Additionally, many will gain much more than the 25 lbs that is recommended by obstetricians as healthy weight gain
*Lack of physical activity. Work and family obligations often make it difficult to find time and energy for regular exercise.
*Hormonal shifts. Levels of estrogen decline with the approach of menopause. In response, the female body turns to secondary production sites, including body fat, to boost estrogen.
*Loss of muscle mass because of age. Because muscle burns more calories than fat, the less muscle you have, the fewer calories you’ll burn. Most women lose muscle as they age if they are not exercising regularly due to the normal decrease in hormones causing a decrease in muscle mass
*Slower metabolism. As we age, our metabolism (the number of calories we need to maintain basic body functions) slows down by about 2% every year.
So what can we do about this? I recommend making some changes. The following strategies can help you get to and maintain a healthy weight in midlife and beyond:
*Exercise regularly-at least 4 times a week for 30 minutes at a time. Aerobic exercise boosts your metabolism and burns fat. Strength training (i.e. working out with weights) increases muscle mass and raises metabolism so you burn more calories when not exercising. (Strength training is also essential for women older than 40, because the more muscle you have, the better able you are to prevent injuries from daily tasks and falls. Stretching exercises such as yoga help increase flexibility and prevent injury to joints).
*Follow a healthy diet. Focus on a low carbohydrate diet which includes fruits, vegetables, dairy products and lean protein (chicken, fish and nuts). Most women need as much as 25% fewer calories in their 40s and 50s as compared to their 20s. Cutting back on sweets, unhealthy carbs and alcohol, and adding regular exercise will help offset this decreased caloric need.
*Cut back food portions. When it comes to food, even too much of a healthy food can lead to weight gain. Use smaller plates and avoid second helpings. Also avoid eating on the go and while distracted, otherwise you’ll end up eating more than you should without even noticing it.
*Eat breakfast. Skipping breakfast, or any meal, in order to cut calories backfires because it slows down your metabolism and makes it more likely you’ll overeat later in the day. Add on a mid-morning and a mid-afternoon protein snack as well (i.e. ¼ cup of nuts, peanut butter on an apple, hummus and veggie sticks, or yogurt).
Maintaining a healthy weight before and after menopause requires effort, but it can be done. This is not just so you can look good but more importantly so that you’ll feel well and be able to do all that you want to do to continue to enjoy your life and even live longer.