One of the challenges of entering middle age is a weight gain. But what’s behind this sudden addition of pounds to our frames?
“Most women find that they put on some weight at midlife that they just can’t seem to take off,” write Barbara Seaman and Laura Eldridge in their book, The No-Nonsense Guide to Menopause. “That weight tends to be in places they didn’t put on weight before: the belly instead of the hips, for example. For years, there have been assumptions both in popular culture and in medical literature that menopause is the reason for this gain.”
Studies do show that women start to put on weight at an accelerated rate between the ages of 35-55. The average is one pound a year during the menopause transition. However, there are mixed views about why women gain weight during middle age. For instance, some experts think it’s due to poor diets, too much alcohol, and sedentary lives. Some also point out that women are smoke fewer cigarettes; smoking has been linked to helping keep off pounds. Seaman and Eldridge note, “Although some studies have observed weight gain to be more pronounced around the change, a link is still unproven, and information from various trials is conflicting.”
In her book. The Cleveland Clinic Guide to Menopause, Dr. Holly Thacker, who is the director of the Center for Specialized Women’s Health at the Cleveland Clinic, suggests that women have target zones where age and menopause intersect. One of these involves weight. Dr. Thacker notes that women in midlife face a slowing metabolism and have less muscle mass that helps burn calories so “our bodies must work harder for us to afford any extra portions or desserts.” She added that the loss of hormones due to natural menopause or a hysterectomy may cause you to notice an accelerated loss of muscle mass. To counteract this, you need to do weight-bearing exercises (think strength training) in order to build up muscle mass. She also noted that women should not gain weight by taking hormone therapy; those who do gain weight are not paying attention to proper nutrition and exercise.
And focusing on getting a handle on those burgeoning love handles during middle age is not only important for our looks; it increasingly is important in stopping debilitating illnesses that we may face later in life. For instance, a new study out of Sweden found a link between being overweight and an increased chance of developing dementia during one’s lifetime. This study involved 8,534 identical and fraternal twins who were 65 years old and above. Researchers found that those who were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia were 70% more likely to have been overweight during middle age. Researchers are hypothesizing that being overweight in mid-life “may reflect a lifetime exposure to an altered metabolic and inflammatory state.” Follow-up research is needed to check on their hypothesis.
Still, the message is there – ramp up the exercise, check your diet, and keep an eye on the scale as you go through middle age and menopause. Your waistline – and your brain – will thank you!
Published On: May 10, 2011