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Women's Health

Menopause Boosts Belly Fat, Study Says

A commonly held belief is that weight gain during menopause is inevitable. New research suggests otherwise. A recent review of available data on this life change found that menopause doesn't cause weight gain. But it may move fat to your middle.

Photo of woman walking on a treadmill at the gym

Facts about menopause

As women age, they are more likely to gain weight. In fact, women in midlife tend to add about one pound every year. Researchers found that this extra weight isn't caused by the hormonal changes of menopause. It's actually the result of environmental factors and aging, says study leader Susan Davis, a professor at Monash University in Australia.

Although menopause doesn't cause weight gain, it does play a role in belly fat. Researchers found that the drop in estrogen during menopause actually causes a shift in where fat is stored in a woman's body.

"There is no doubt that the new spare tire many women complain of after menopause is real, and not a consequence of any changes they have made," says Davis. "Rather, this is the body's response to the fall in estrogen at menopause - a shift of fat storage from the hips to the waist."

The costs of weight gain

Researchers note that extra weight around the abdomen puts women at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease, the number one killer of postmenopausal women. Being overweight or obese increases their risk for many other serious health conditions, too, such as depression, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

In the study, researchers also found that hormone therapy doesn't lead to weight gain. It may actually prevent belly fat after menopause.

"What this translates to in real terms is that women going through menopause should begin to try to control their weight before it becomes a problem," Davis says. "This means for all women being thoughtful about what you eat and, for many, being more active every day. Estrogen therapy can also help. But each woman is different, so at menopause it is important to discuss your health with your doctor."

The study was published in a recent issue of Climacteric.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

International Menopause Society

National Institute on Aging - Menopause: Time for a Change

North American Menopause Society

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health - Menopause

December 2012

Tips to Avoid Midlife Weight Gain

Maintaining a healthy weight before and after menopause requires effort, but it can be done. Highly motivated women who stay goal-oriented are the ones who succeed. The following strategies can help you maintain a healthy weight in midlife and beyond:

  • Exercise regularly. Aerobic exercise boosts your metabolism and burns fat. Strength training increases muscle mass and raises metabolism so you burn more calories when not exercising. Strength training is also essential for women older than 40 because the more muscle you have, the better able you are to prevent injuries from daily tasks and falls. Stretching exercises such as yoga help increase flexibility and prevent injury to joints.

  • Follow a healthy diet. Focus on fruits, vegetables, nonfat dairy products, whole grains, and lean protein. Most women need up to 25 percent fewer calories in their 50s than they needed in their 20s. Cutting back on sweets, fat, and alcohol, and adding regular exercise can usually cut the calories that are packing on the pounds.

  • Cut back food portions. When it comes to food, even too much of healthy food can lead to weight gain.

  • Eat breakfast. Skipping breakfast, or any meal, in order to cut calories backfires because it slows down your metabolism and makes it more likely you'll overeat later in the day.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

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