Hopefully you had a chance to read Laura’s fantastic article looking at the menopause back in the summer.
I wanted to write a short article today specifically looking at body weight in relation to the menopause. I’ve been doing a bit of reading about it and the learning points are really worth sharing.
There’s a widely held belief that women are more likely to put on weight specifically during the years around menopause. Actually that doesn’t seem to be the case. Long term studies following up body-weight in a number of countries have shown that on average, in women, body-weight gradually increases from your 20’s until your late 50’s and not just during the years around menopause.
However, what does change during the period around the menopause is body composition. There is an increase in abdominal fat, and a loss of muscle mass particularly in the the legs.
There are various reasons for this – the first is hormonal. Low oestrogen levels are associated with higher levels of abdominal fat.
Then there’s the whole issue of the amount of energy we use over the course of the day – what’s known as energy expenditure. In post-menopausal women the amount of energy used while at rest is lower. This is because of the change in body composition. If you have less muscle mass in your body you use less energy.
But that’s not all post-menopausal women also tend to do less physical activity then pre-menopausal women. Actually, on average physical activity reduces during the years in the run up to the menopause. If you’re not doing as much physical activity you don’t use as much energy.
Believe it or not, your body needs energy for a normal menstrual cycle, so if you no longer have a menstrual cycle you don’t use as much energy.
And finally, and this seems to be related to age rather than specifically to menopause – it would appear that what’s called “spontaneous energy expenditure” or the amount of energy you use when you’re moving around but not deliberately exercising reduces. Basically as you get older you fidget less.
Increases in abdominal fat are associated with increased risk of diabetes and heart disease, and so, not a good thing.
What is more positive is that there’s a lot you can do with a healthy lifestyle to minimise theses changes.
Having a healthy diet, particularly one that is high in fibre has been shown to be associated with reduced body fat and weight gain.
Have a look at Laura’s post on Fibre from last week if you’d like to know more about improving your fibre intake.
The main take home message is the massive positive impact that staying as physically active as you can can make. Being physically active means you’re less likely to gain weight. But it’s more than that – you’re less likely to develop or to increase the abdominal fat mass that’s so bad for you and less likely to lose muscle mass.
Aerobic exercise like walking, or jogging is particularly associated with reduced abdominal fat mass. The more time you spend doing aerobic exercise the more impact it has. Women who did about 4 hours a week were found to have a 25% reduction in abdominal fat.
Resistance exercise has been shown to maintain and even increase muscle mass.
And if you combine a healthy diet with physical activity you get the best results.