Is weight gain inevitable after menopause?

CLEVELAND — Many middle-aged women try to brace themselves for menopause and a reduced metabolism as it tends to lead to weight gain. While this can seem like a hopeless inevitability, researchers with The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) say women are not doomed to gain weight in their later years.

“In the absence of active efforts at healthier eating and regular physical activity, weight gain is an inevitable occurrence in midlife women. It is imperative that women enter menopause with this knowledge and the familiarity with practical tips to prevent and manage weight gain,” says Dr. Ekta Kapoor from the Mayo Clinic’s Center for Women’s Health in a media release.

Why do we gain weight later in life?

As we age, the body’s metabolic rate drops considerably among both sexes due to less fat-burning brown fat activity and reductions in muscle mass. Sleep complications and mood irregularities, which are two common complications of menopause, often exacerbate these effects and make it even harder to manage your waistline.

Furthermore, the additional weight can worsen hot flashes and increase risk of chronic diseases like Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia, coronary artery disease, as well as breast and endometrial cancer.

As evidence and information continues to mount supporting less emphasis on restrictive fad diets that promote unhealthy relationships with food, a caloric deficit is still the most simplistic way to lose weight. While diet is more impactful than exercise in weight loss at the beginning, it becomes increasingly important later on as diet-induced weight loss can plateau.

Physical activity also has a laundry list of benefits like stress relief, improved sleep, and muscle strength maintenance. Different medications are accessible, but there’s several limitations to their use, such as adverse reactions, cost, and toxicity. In rarer cases, bariatric surgery is an option, but this procedure can result in lifelong complications.

“Without a doubt, women face an uphill battle against weight gain as they age and transition through menopause, but that does not mean there aren’t ways to help them combat the issue. This presentation promises to provide some valuable insights that healthcare professionals can leverage when providing weight management advice to their menopause patients,” says NAMS medical director Dr. Faubion.

Drs. Kapoor and Faubion hope that their presentation sparks necessary conversations about the course of actions that help women ease into their menopausal years and improve quality of life during that time.

Researchers are presenting these findings at the NAMS Annual Meeting in Atlanta.

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