Written by Bonny Osterhage
As if night sweats, loss of sex drive, and chin hairs aren’t enough for women to deal with as they age, Mother Nature in her infinite wisdom decided to add insult to injury with a bonus of a few extra pounds on top of it all. Whether you call it the “menopause middle,” or the “midlife midsection,” the good news is that you don’t have to call this weight gain unavoidable. In fact, there are some things you can do to not only minimize, but also reverse the midlife spread. First, however, you need to understand the causes and concerns.
The hard truth is that weight gain and aging often go hand-in-hand. Research from The International Menopause Society proved that a slight weight gain every year is just a side effect of growing older. Slower metabolism and a decrease in muscle mass as we age means that we burn fewer calories. Couple that with the loss of estrogen that occurs during menopause, which causes the body to store fat around the abdominal area, and you begin to understand why your skinny jeans seem to have suddenly shrunk.
Other than the inconvenience of buying new clothes, is this really a big deal? Well, it can be. In fact, visceral fat (which is the name for the fat stored in the abdominal area) can wreak havoc on your health. Studies have linked it to things like heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes, and other serious issues.
Before you resign yourself to a life of elastic waist clothing, there are a few things you can do to control or reverse the weight gain in your middle, and minimize your risk of serious illness. Here are five tips to help you stay healthy and avoid the midlife muffin top.
1. Move Your Body: You’ve got to move it, move it! Daily exercise is your best weapon in the battle for your belly, but more than that, it is also beneficial to your cardiovascular health, bone density, flexibility, and balance. Try walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, or tennis to get your heart rate up. And if you are not already strength training, there’s no better time to begin. Remember, muscle burns more calories than fat. Need more reasons? Endorphins are also a natural mood elevator! No gym? No problem. We’ve provided 5 Easy Ways to Stay Active at Home.
2. Pay Attention to Nutrition: Gone are the days where you can eat an entire pizza and not pay the price. Slower metabolism means every bite counts, so pay attention to what you are putting into your body. Try to eat real foods whenever possible, avoiding sugar and processed foods as much as you can. An array of fruits, vegetables, smart carbs (like sweet potatoes) and protein should make up the bulk of your diet, along with some healthy fats like nut butters or avocados.
3. Don’t Wine About It: “But I already eat healthy and exercise,” you say. Well, what are you drinking? Wine, margaritas, and other alcoholic beverages can be high in sugar and calories—not to mention they can affect your quality of sleep. Think of them as “treats” and indulge sparingly.
4. Snooze to Lose: It can be tough to get a good night’s sleep as we get older (hello night sweats), but lack of sleep can be a culprit when it comes to weight gain because it affects the hormones that regulate your appetite. And, studies show that when you are tired, you are less likely to make good food choices. Aim for eight hours of sleep per night and set the stage by unplugging at least an hour before bed, taking a warm bath, or sipping some chamomile tea. Create a ritual that helps your body get into a relaxed state so that you can make those zzz’s count. For more helpful hints on how to improve sleep quality, check out our “Ask the Expert” series on this topic hosted by Dr. Alyssa Dweck, OBGYN and Bonafide Medical Advisor.
5. Stress Less: In our hectic world, stress is unavoidable. But how we process it can have an impact on our weight. Stress causes our cortisol levels to rise, which in turn stimulates the appetite—hence the phrase “stress eating.” The next time you find yourself reaching for a snack to deal with stress, try taking a short walk, or doing some deep breathing exercises to calm your system.
Like most things in life, managing our weight becomes more challenging as we age, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t doable. Understanding the changes and adjusting our habits accordingly can help keep our weight down and our spirits up.