Menopause can be a truly stressful and uncomfortable time for many women. On top of the hot flashes, night sweats and mood swings, many women find themselves gaining weight, especially in the tummy area, seemingly overnight.
If you’re wondering if this menopausal weight gain is simply inevitable, the answer is no – but you’ll likely have to make a few lifestyle changes.
During menopause, a woman’s estrogen levels drop significantly. This effectively decreases muscle mass, which in turn slows down metabolism. Since some women toss and turn at night due to night sweats or other symptoms, and become quite fatigued, they may be less inclined to exercise, which further aggravates the problem.
Another menopause factor that contributes to weight gain, and especially to belly fat, is stress. The hormonal and mood changes that plummeting estrogen levels often produce can lead to a spike in cortisol, a primary hormone involved in stress, which has been shown to increase the risk of developing belly fat when elevated for continual periods of time.
Belly fat is especially dangerous, as it carries with it an elevated risk of hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, stroke and even certain cancers. In women, having a ring around the tummy increases the risk of breast, colon and uterine cancers. This is one type of fat that you definitely don’t want to be sporting. It is also much easier to prevent than to shed once it settles in.
According to Dr. Lori Warren, a gynecologist with Women First of Louisville, Kentucky, who was interviewed by CBS News, “the most potent medicine we can put into our mouths is the food we eat.” She recommends scaling back the carbohydrates and choosing foods low on the glycemic index, i.e. foods with low natural sugar content, such as many vegetables.
Avoiding processed foods, sugar and wheat, and instead sticking to whole, natural, organic foods such as vegetables, lower-sugar fruits and healthy proteins such as legumes and grass-fed meats is a great dietary change. Adding in some healthy saturated fats, such as organic, extra-virgin coconut oil and avocados, plus foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as flax seeds and wild-caught salmon, is a great recipe to both prevent and deal with excess weight.
Another thing to be sure to add to your daily diet is foods rich in probiotics. Probiotics help to maintain healthy gut bacteria, which along with improving digestion and flushing out toxins also help to cut back cravings for unhealthy foods and support overall immune system health. Great probiotics include Jerusalem artichokes, olives, pickles, natural yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi and blue-green microalgae.
Exercise is of crucial importance to keeping your body trim and fit, and your mind sharp and focused, for everyone, and especially for menopausal women whose metabolisms are slowing. Dr. Warren states, “my prescription for every patient who leaves my office is you have to walk 30 minutes a day. That’s the minimum. If you really want to keep your weight the same and not gain weight in your waistline, you have to increase your heart rate somehow.”
While daily walking is a wonderful option, there are many more activities to choose from: anything that gets you moving. Running, swimming and biking are classic choices. Taking a dance class or even enrolling in a kickboxing class are fun ways to both get your heart rate up, learn a new skill and meet new people. Along with aerobic exercise, add some strength training to your workout to preserve your muscle integrity – just remember to start slow and work your way up.
Besides keeping your body fit and healthy, exercise can be extraordinarily beneficial for the mental and emotional symptoms of menopause, including anxiety. All of the extra stress you may be carrying around can be melted away by a good workout, as all that negative energy is allowed to exit your body and you receive a rush of endorphins. Exercising outside on a nice day adds even more stress relief, as the vitamin D from the sun is known to improve mood.
When it comes to a healthy weight and a healthy lifestyle in general, starting as early as possible is paramount. If you have not yet reached menopause, changing your diet and amping up your exercise quotient now can greatly prevent much of the unwanted weight gain, and perhaps even some of the other symptoms that menopause brings.
Of course, these changes are beneficial during menopause too, but prevention has always been an easier road than tackling an existing condition. With perseverance though, you can get healthy and in the best shape possible at any age.
Start now, and enjoy how great you will soon look and feel!
-The Alternative Daily