A Healthy Weight While Aging Can Protect Women's Heart Health

Dorian Martin Health Guide

    Women who are going through menopause often complain of gaining weight. The Mayo Clinic points out that as they age, women may experience weight gain, which tends to accumulate around the abdomen instead of the hips and thighs due to hormonal changes. However, menopause alone isn’t necessary behind this weight gain; instead, aging, genetic factors and lifestyle play a big role in whether you pack on the pounds.


    Because of our tendency to add pounds, I wanted to share information from two new studies that offer compelling reasons why it’s really important for women to maintain a healthy weight as we go through menopause and continue to age. Here we go:

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    Weight Loss in Middle-Aged Women


    The first study looks at middle-aged women’s weight and their risk of developing heart disease and diabetes. In this study, researchers from the University of California-San Diego, the University of Arizona and Kaiser Permanente Center Northwest followed 417 women who were participating in a weight-loss program for up to two years. These women were, on average, 44 years of age and weighed approximately 200 pounds when the study started.


    The researchers’ analysis found that overweight and obese middle-aged women who lose a modest amount of weight over a two-year period lower their risk of developing heart disease and diabetes. The participants who lost 10 percent or more of their body weight over the period of the study had lower levels of many measures that can lead to heart disease, including total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol (which is the “bad” version), triglycerides, insulin, glucose and inflammation markers. Furthermore, women who were found to have the highest risk based on these factors when the study started received the most benefit from modest weight loss.


    The researchers stated that women who participate in short-term weight loss programs often lost more weight during the first six weeks, but then started regaining the pounds. “Our study revealed the need for healthcare providers to provide women with longer-term support for weight control. It seems to pay off in terms of modifying risk factors for obesity-related disease,” said Dr. Cynthia Thomson, a professor in the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and Director of the University of Arizona Canyon Ranch Center for Prevention and Health Promotion.


    Heart Disease and Cognitive Decline in Older Women


    So let me take you one step further on why you should watch your weight as you age – the link between heart disease and cognitive decline. Although the previous study did not focus on mental function, another new study (that did not look at obesity) did look at the linkage between heart disease and the brain.


    Researchers in Germany found that the development of heart disease in older postmenopausal women is associated with a higher risk for cognitive decline, including dementia. The study involved approximately, 6,500 women from the United States between the ages of 65 and 79; each woman exhibited a normal brain functioning when the study started.


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    In this study, the researchers’ findings included:

    • Postmenopausal women who had heart disease or vascular disease were almost three times more likely to experience cognitive decline over time than study participants who did not have heart disease.
    • Participants who had a heart attack had almost a 50-percent higher risk or cognitive decline than participants who did not have a heart attack.
      Participants who had surgery for heart disease (such as bypass surgery or surgical removal of a blocked artery in the neck) had a greater risk for cognitive decline.
    • Women who had peripheral artery disease also were at greater risk for mental decline.
    • Women who had developed high blood pressure or diabetes experienced an increased risk for cognitive decline as they aged.

    While these researchers also said being obese didn't notably increase the risk of cognitive decline in participants over time, I would stress that it's important to focus on taking as many protective actions as possible as we age. One of the top ones on the list for middle age women should be protecting heart health that support heart health as we age -- which, in turn, can protect brain health. That's why I'd suggest that maintaining a healthy weight is part of the action plan you should adopt for 2014.


    Primary Resources for This Sharepost:


    American Heart Association. (2013). Heart disease linked with dementia in older postmenopausal women.


    American Heart Association. (2013). Modest weight loss may reduce heart disease, diabetes risks in middle-aged women.


    Mayo Clinic. (2013). Menopause weight gain: Stop the middle age spread.

Published On: December 20, 2013