Finding it harder to fit into your favorite jeans? Many women in their 40s and 50s notice an increase in weight that tends to settle at the waist. The good news: By understanding what’s happening to your body during menopause and making a few simple changes in diet and exercise, you can get back into those jeans. What’s more, you’ll steer away from many life-threatening or debilitating illnesses associated with excess fat.
Some experts suggest that hormonal changes during menopause, such as a drop in estrogen and a rise in follicle-stimulating hormone (the hormone that controls egg production), cause women to lose muscle mass and accumulate fat around the waist. Add to that the natural age-related muscle-mass loss and the tendency to be less active, and your metabolism—the rate at which your body uses energy—can slow way down.
To make matters worse, the changes in body fat during menopause are linked to a rise in bad cholesterol (LDL) and insulin resistance, which in turn raise your risk for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease. Studies also show that excess pounds can increase your chances of developing breast, colon and other cancers.
With a healthy diet and regular, moderate-intensity exercise, you can keep the weight from creeping on. Take these three important steps to drop extra pounds:
Do the math. Portion control is vital. Mentally divide your dinner plate into quarters: One quarter should have a portion of lean meat or fish about the size of your palm; another quarter should have a fist-sized portion of carbohydrates, preferably whole grains like brown rice or whole-grain pilaf; and the remaining two quarters should be filled with colorful vegetables.
Get active. Regular physical activity strengthens your heart and bones, reduces your cancer risk and controls weight. It also improves sleep, boosts energy, lessens hot flashes and helps elevate mood. All it takes is 30 to 60 minutes a day of moderate aerobic activity, such as walking, swimming or cycling.
Build muscle. Because muscle burns more calories than fat, strength training will help raise your metabolism so you can burn fat more efficiently. Using a weight you can lift comfortably 12 to 15 times builds muscle and increases your strength.