Love handles around the middle? Afraid to step on the scales? Putting on extra pounds is not just unpleasant; it’s also a danger to your health. It’s especially important to prevent weight gain after forty.

Weight gain after menopause increases a woman’s risk for breast cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Most of this mid-life weight gain settles around the middle, and it’s that abdominal fat that is especially dangerous, at least as far as your health is concerned. Becoming unhealthy as one gets older is unfortunately what the majority of women experience.

Is it menopause? Nearly 90% of women put on extra pounds between 45 and 55. The decrease in estrogen and other ovarian hormones at menopause would seem to be a likely culprit. If that were the case, wouldn’t taking estrogen or other hormone therapy help with that weight gain?

If only it were that simple! Research shows that women who take estrogen therapy at menopause and those who don’t gain about the same amount of weight. Hormone therapy makes no significant difference. But what we do know is that the drop in estrogen changes the distribution of fat in your body. Whether or not you gain pounds, menopause tends to move fat from your hips to your abdomen.

Now, you may not like fat anywhere! But fat around your hips is not nearly as dangerous to your health as fat around the middle. And that’s exactly what DOES happen with a drop in estrogen. That redistribution of fat is at least one reason why women after menopause have an increased risk of many common diseases including heart disease.

Your body’s metabolism changes significantly during your forties and fifties. Your muscles naturally shrink somewhat, and that means they have less ability to burn calories. If you continue eating exactly the same as you have been you’ll put on a few pounds each year after forty.

Your energy level may also take a hit after forty. The sleep difficulties some women experience during menopause add to your fatigue. And weight gain may become a self-fulfilling prophecy: gain weight, feel depressed, eat junk, sit around, gain more weight, get more depressed. It’s a vicious cycle. And if you gain only 5 pounds a year between 45 and 55, you’ll be 50 pounds overweight by then. Not a pretty picture.

But weight gain after forty is not inevitable! If you understand how your body is changing you can use it to your advantage, and become healthier than ever.

Here’s how to keep the pounds from creeping up on you and beat the battle of the bulge:

  1. Get regular aerobic exercise. This will increase your basal metabolic rate – the amount of calories your body burns at rest. You need 30 minutes 3-5 times/week of brisk walking, cycling, swimming, jogging, tennis – something to get your heart rate up and rev your metabolic engines. And you won’t only burn extra calories during your exercise period, but 24 hours a day.
  2. Build your muscles. Muscles are the biggest calorie-burner you have, and they naturally shrink as you get older. Strength training 20-30 minutes twice a week can prevent much of that decline, build or at least maintain that muscle mass, and burn up calories at the same time. We’re not talking body-building here, but just keeping your muscles toned and strong.
  3. Toss the processed carbs. If there ever was a time to decrease the refined flour products you use, it’s now. Baked goods, pasta, cereal, snacks – if they aren’t whole grain, they’re going straight to your hips and belly. Refined flour increases blood sugar, which increases insulin, which increases fat storage directly. Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are a totally different story. More whole grains and produce actually helps you control your weight and live longer.
  4. Eat adequate lean protein. You need enough daily protein to keep your muscles and bones strong – 45-50 grams/day if you’re counting. This may be somewhat more important after menopause because of the natural decline in muscle mass older women experience. Lean unprocessed protein such as baked or broiled fish or chicken, or legumes, is best.

The sooner you embrace the changes your body is experiencing and make the necessary lifestyle changes you need to, the healthier you’ll be.

And the best news: by living healthy you’ll almost guarantee you won’t get heart disease. 

It’s not too late. Getting sick is not inevitable! Your best years can still be ahead of you.

Your Turn: How is weight gain after forty affecting you? Leave a comment below. 

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