As a woman, there are some things you just can't do anything to avoid, no matter how hard you try. Death and taxes, as we all know, are two of them. Menopause is a third.
Menopause occurs in midlife, generally in women between 45 and 55 years old. While official menopause doesn't begin until a year after your last menstrual cycle, but most women begin experiencing symptoms of menopause long before that. These symptoms include:
- Irregular sleep patterns
- Hot flashes
- Mood swings
None of the symptoms of menopause are particularly pleasant, especially for women who have lived healthy, active lives. But the most depressing - and concerning - effect of menopause is this: menopausal weight gain, which usually accompanies the onset of menopause, tends to focus around the abdomen.
We've talked before about the dangers of excess belly fat. While researchers are unsure of why menopausal weight gain focuses around your midsection,they do have an idea of why the numbers on your scale tick upwards when you hit menopause. For one, menopausal women tend to exercise less - which is somewhat understandable when you aren't getting a good night's sleep and are constantly plagued by hot flashes. Plus, muscle mass decreases with age. So even if you continue on the exercise plan you used in your 30s and early 40s, chances are you're not getting the same benefit. If you don't replace the lost muscle mass, you'll eventually be less muscle, more fat. Since muscle revs your metabolism, and fat slows it, you'll be faced with a situation where you're still eating right, still exercising as you had when you were younger, but are gaining weight.
Excess fat is something we all want to avoid, and belly fat is something we should be particularly wary of, since it increases your risk of developing cardiovascular problems, diabetes and certain cancers (breast cancer among them). To ward off menopausal weight gain, take the following steps.
- Change your exercise plan: Try to work out 30 minutes every day. This doesn't need to be 30 minutes of intense cardio (though go for it, if you'd like). Running errands, walking the dog or gardening all count. If you live in a walkable city or community, consider walking to town instead of driving. Strength training is important too, since muscle burns calories, so try 2 sessions of weight training a week.
- Consider swimming: If you have bad joints, walking or doing other land-dependent exercises may not be an option. Swimming is a great, low-impact cardio exercise for people with joint problems. Plus, swimming improves cardiovascular efficiency and lung capacity while providing an excellent opportunity to stretch. Water resistant weights make swimming a great strength training routine too.
- Keep an eye on your diet: You may need to rethink your diet when confronted with menopausal weight gain. While focusing on calories may not be the right way to go, keep an eye on what you're eating. Replace unhealthy foods with fruits and vegetables, and be aware of portion sizes. Also, consider eating your largest meals earlier in the day, so your metabolism has time to burn all the calories you feed it.