How to Stop Menopause Weight Gain

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Weight gain during menopause is a common complaint. In fact, research shows that women gain about 1.5 pounds per year during their 50s and 60s. It tends to settle in the abdominal region.

How much of that weight gain is due to the hormonal changes of menopause or other factors like the effects of getting older isn’t entirely clear.

What is clear, though, is that menopausal weight gain—which tends to occur in about half of people going through “the change of life”—need not be inevitable. Here is what you need to know about causes of weight gain, risks, and how to keep your body weight in check.

Walking in menopause

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Causes of Menopause Weight Gain

A number of factors can contribute to weight gain around the time of menopause, including:

Aging

People of any sex tend to gain weight as they age, thanks to a naturally occurring loss of lean muscle mass (called sarcopenia).

Research shows that people lose 3% to 8% of their muscle mass every decade after age 30, with things really picking up after age 60.

Hormones

Females tend to gain weight as they age regardless of whether or not they are in menopause. But hormones—especially declining levels of estrogen—do play a role.

Some research points to the fact that estrogen can help block the body’s hunger signals, which, in turn, can help you eat less. What’s more, when weight is gained, it tends to settle as fat around the midsection.

One study followed average-weight premenopausal women for five years. By year three, those who had hit menopause or were transitioning into it (called perimenopause) had a significantly higher total fat mass, “truncal” fat (abdominal fat), and visceral fat (fat deep inside the body) than when the study started.

Lifestyle

As muscle mass decreases, metabolism—or the rate at which we burn calories—slows. That’s because it takes more energy to maintain muscle, even at rest, than fat. And when calories aren’t burned, weight creeps up. 

Physical activity of any kind, be it aerobic exercise, strength training, or both, is key to staving off weight gain at all stages of life. But research finds that older adults are less likely to even think about engaging in regular exercise, let alone actually do it.

One study looked at older, middle-aged, and younger adults of all sexes. They found that 60% of those in the older group had no intention of engaging in regular physical activity in the next six months vs. just 25% in the young adult group.

Sleep Problems

Hot flashes, night sweats, and increased anxiety are just some of the things that can keep menopausal people up at night.

Research shows that lack of sleep can contribute to weight gain. That may be because sleeping poorly at night makes it more likely you’ll be too tired to be physically active the next day. It may also be due to how our bodies use fat as we sleep.

Risks of Menopause Weight Gain

People are three times more likely to be obese or have metabolic syndrome after menopause than before it.

Metabolic syndrome is characterized by high blood pressure, high blood sugar, abnormal cholesterol and lipid levels, and excess abdominal fat. Sixty-five percent of American women age 40 to 65 are obese, as are 74% of women over age 65.

Some of the health risks associated with this excess weight include:

Diabetes

In one study, postmenopausal women who were what researchers referred to as “metabolically unhealthy overweight/obese” had four times the risk of developing diabetes than “metabolically healthy normal weight” postmenopausal women.

Diabetes, a disease characterized by having high blood sugar, can wreak havoc on your body, upping your risk of heart disease, stroke, and kidney damage.

Heart Disease

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women. The risk of heart disease increases for women after menopause.

That’s largely due to the lack of estrogen, which has protective effects on the heart. But add in obesity or being overweight—another risk factor for heart disease—and you can see how menopausal weight gain can spell trouble for a woman’s heart health.

High Blood Pressure

Menopause can be a risky time for women and their blood pressure. Without the protective effects of estrogen, blood vessels are more likely to narrow, making it harder for blood to flow freely.

What’s more, menopausal weight gain tends to settle as belly fat. And the bigger a woman’s waist circumference, the greater her risk of high blood pressure.

Preventing or Losing Menopause Weight

While menopause weight gain is common, it doesn’t have to be a given. What can you do to keep it at bay?

Nutrition

Step number one: Think about cutting back on your overall calories. Women in menopause burn roughly 200-220 fewer calories per day than women younger than 30. After age 60, it can be even more than that.

But steer clear of very-low-calorie diets, which are unsustainable for the long haul.

If you managed to maintain your weight before menopause with 2,000 calories a day, you may need to cut back to 1,800 or so postmenopause. To lose weight, you may need to cut back further—for example, by a couple hundred calories more per day.

For weight loss, many experts recommend the Mediterranean Diet. This eating plan emphasizes whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats like extra virgin olive oil. It’s low in animal fat and high in fiber.

In one study, postmenopausal women following the Mediterranean Diet for two months lost about eight pounds and reduced their waist circumference.  

Exercise

Regular exercise can help reduce not only menopausal weight gain but also some of the bothersome symptoms of menopause, like hot flashes and mood problems.

Of course, get your doctor’s approval before starting an exercise program, but in general, here are some tips:

  • Aim for some aerobic activity, like brisk walking, biking, or swimming that gets your heart pumping but doesn’t make you feel out of breath. Healthy adults should aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week.
  • Three days a week, lift weights or use resistance bands to build/maintain muscle mass. Increasing muscle can rev up your metabolism, leading to weight loss.
  • Weight-bearing exercises also promote bone strength and prevent osteoporosis, which is a risk after menopause. These exercises include walking, running, stair climbing, dancing, and tennis.

Sleep

To help get a better night’s sleep, practice good sleep hygiene:

  • Develop a wind-down ritual, whether it’s taking a warm bath or reading before bed.
  • Go to bed at the same time each night.
  • Don’t watch TV or use electronic devices before bed.
  • Keep your bedroom at a temperature that’s comfortable for you to sleep (for most people it’s 65 degrees).

Visit Your Doctor

Your doctor is your health guide. Reach out to your healthcare professional whenever you have questions or concerns about your health. Besides advising you on proper nutrition and exercise guidelines, your doctor may suggest tweaking your medications to see if that helps prevent or stop weight gain.

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes weight gain during menopause?

Weight gain during menopause has a variety of causes. Some of the gain is due to the body’s natural aging process. As your age creeps up, estrogen and muscle mass decline. That slows your metabolism and changes the way your body stores and distributes fat, leading to weight gain.

Lifestyle factors such as becoming more sedentary and developing sleep problems (both common as people age) can also promote weight gain.

How long does menopause weight gain last?

How much you might gain and over how long a time period is highly individual. A lot depends on your overall diet, activity level, and muscle tone—and not just your menopausal status.

Some data indicates that weight starts to plateau when you’re in your 50s and then drops in your 60s. Other research shows that women tend to keep gaining weight through their sixth decade of life.

How much of the weight gain is related to menopause and how much is related to the other aging factors isn’t entirely clear. 

How can you lose menopause weight gain?

You can lose menopause weight gain the same way you can lose weight that isn’t associated with menopause.

Restrict calories with a healthy diet. Exercise regularly, and aim for a combination of aerobic exercise (brisk walking, biking, swimming) to burn calories and strength training to build muscle. Prioritize your sleep.

Lastly, reduce stress. Stress can lead to things like overeating, excessive alcohol use, sleep disturbances, and other issues that can lead to weight gain.

How can you prevent weight gain during menopause?

The best things you can do to prevent menopausal weight gain are to get and stay active and watch what you eat.

If you notice your weight creeping up, reduce your caloric intake by a couple hundred calories a day. Limit sweets, sugary drinks, and alcohol, and stick with healthful foods high in nutrients and fiber.

Research shows that people who had a high adherence to a reduced-carbohydrate diet with moderate fat and high protein were at decreased risk of gaining weight during menopause.

Summary

Menopause can be a challenging time for people trying to control their weight. Hormonal changes, aging, and even sleep disturbances can all conspire to make weight creep on. Weight gain brings with it risks for diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

Taking care of yourself by eating healthfully and exercising regularly can help you battle the midlife bulge. Your healthcare professional can give you advice and address any concerns you have.

A Word From Verywell

It may feel like nature is working against you when you try to prevent weight gain in menopause. To a large extent, that is true. But empower yourself during this new phase of life to find physical activities you enjoy and change your diet to discover the joys of foods less likely to contribute to weight gain.

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