Exercise Tips for Menopause Weight Gain

Mar 29, 2021
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While many women report menopause weight gain—this natural life change isn’t the real reason we’re finding it increasingly difficult to maintain a healthy weight.1 The most common reasons women gain weight during menopause have more to do with the natural aging process and lifestyle changes.1 Aging slows down metabolism, causes lean body mass to decrease, and changes how the body stores fat.1 As we age, we also tend to become less physically active, which means burning fewer calories, both of which can contribute to menopause weight gain.2 While many of these factors may be outside of our control, finding a safe and fun way to stay active is well within our grasp.  

Why women gain weight during menopause

While decreasing hormone levels may not be behind menopause weight gain, hormonal changes can change how you store body fat. Your body may move from storing fat in your hips and thighs to your abdominal area, which can make it seem as though you’re carrying more abdominal fat.1 Menopause may increase your body’s storing of visceral fat, the fat surrounding organs like your liver, intestines, and other organs, which is different from subcutaneous fat, the belly fat right beneath the skin. Both may draw extra attention to waist circumference, but visceral fat is associated with certain health risks.3

This may also be why women's body shape after menopause shifts from pear-shaped to apple-shaped, although further study is needed. Regardless of age, women in perimenopause show an increase in abdominal fat and a decrease in lean body mass.1  Both of which can contribute to the feeling and the reality of menopause weight gain.

7 Reasons Why Women Gain Weight During Menopause

How much weight do you gain during menopause & how long does it last?

How much weight do you gain during menopause varies, but the average weight gain for women during menopause is anywhere from 4.6–11.2 pounds.4

How long does this menopause weight gain last? That also varies and depends on a range of factors, including your lifestyle, physical activity, and dietary intake. Postmenopause seems to bring some relief, however, as one study of over 1200 women showed. In this study, participants’ weight gain during menopause seemed to stabilize, stop, or even decrease in some cases during postmenopause.5

But for menopausal women in the middle of this transition, some exercises can help to maintain a healthy weight, increase muscle mass, stave off unwanted weight gain, and help improve our general quality of life as we traverse this natural stage of life.

The best exercises for menopause weight gain

There are many reasons why women gain weight during menopause, from fluctuating hormone levels and natural aging to diminished physical activity, diet, and the ease and access of not-so-healthy foods in the United States. The combination of all these factors can make it difficult to feel like we’re making progress, let alone feel motivated enough even to try. But thankfully, when it comes to exercise for menopause weight gain, a little every day—can go a long way.

Strength Training

Simply put, building muscle mass helps you burn fat.6 But women naturally lose muscle mass after menopause, which can contribute to a slower metabolism.7 Increasing your muscle mass through strength training exercises can help build this back up, so you’ll burn more calories.6 Plus, strengthening your muscles does more than just build muscle mass, it also makes the stress of daily activities less work on your joints.7

It’s generally recommended that women incorporate some resistance training into their workout routine 2–3 times / week to help maintain bone and muscle mass.9 Here are some examples of strength training exercises:10

  • Lifting weights
  • Using elastic bands
  • Weight machines
  • Standing or lifting your own body weight

Weight Bearing Exercises

Another way to combat early menopause symptoms such as menopausal weight gain is through weight bearing exercise. Weight bearing exercises help support strong bones and can get your heart pumping to burn even more calories (which has the added bonus of supporting a healthy heart).9 These can include:

  • Dancing
  • Running
  • Jogging
  • Tennis
  • Jumping rope
  • Elliptical machines
  • Stairstep machines

Aerobic Exercises

Another way to speed up your metabolic rate is through aerobic exercise. Gynecologists generally recommend 20 minutes / day of moderate physical activity.9 Even an aerobic activity as simple as walking will not make your hot flashes worse and may actually improve them.9 Aerobic exercises include:9

  • Walking
  • Jogging
  • Swimming
  • Cycling

Balance Exercises

Balance exercises such as yoga and T’ai chi can help to improve posture, manage stress, and build balance to help prevent falls. Not only is yoga a great way to build balance and core strength—studies show practicing yoga improves sleep quality and helps relieve hot flashes in menopausal women.9 While not directly tied to weight loss, balance exercises can help improve general quality of life. Besides, who doesn’t love an exercise you can do barefoot, in your pajamas, from the comfort of your own home?

Working out shouldn’t feel like work

Variety is the spice of life, as they say, and this is true for your workouts too! Incorporating a little bit of strength training, weight bearing exercises, aerobic exercises, and balance exercises every day can help maintain a healthy weight during menopause and beyond—which is great news for those of us who find it difficult to stick to any one workout routine.9 If resistance training seems like too much one day, try something simple like a walk or simple yoga pose stretches. And celebrate your accomplishments along the way, because when it comes to taking care of yourself, every little bit matters.

We recommend speaking to your healthcare provider before beginning a new exercise regimen.

This information is only for educational purposes and is not medical advice or intended as a recommendation of any specific products. Consult your health care provider for more information.

References

  1. NAMS The North American Menopause Society. “Changes in Weight and Fat Distribution.” 2021. Accessed on March 25, 2021.https://www.menopause.org/for-women/sexual-health-menopause-online/changes-at-midlife/changes-in-weight-and-fat-distribution
  2. Northwest Community Healthcare. “Why is it so hard for women over 50 to lose weight.” 2018. Accessed on March 25, 2021. https://www.nch.org/news/why-is-it-so-hard-for-women-over-50-to-lose-weight/
  3. Harvard Women’s Health Watch. “Taking aim at belly fat.” 2010. Harvard Health Publishing. Accessed on March 25, 2021. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/taking-aim-at-belly-fat.
  4. Proietto, J. Obesity and weight management at menopause. RACGP. 2017; 46 (6): 368-370. https://www.racgp.org.au/afp/2017/june/obesity-and-weight-management-at-menopause/
  5. Greendale, Gail A et al. “Changes in body composition and weight during the menopause transition.” JCI Insight. 2019;4(5):e124865. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6483504/
  6. Harvard Women’s Health Watch. “Winning the weight battle after menopause.” 2019. Harvard Health Publishing. Accessed on March 25, 2021. https://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/winning-the-weight-battle-after-menopause
  7. Mayo Clinic. “Menopause weight gain: Stop the middle age spread.” 2021. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Accessed on: January 26, 2021. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/womens-health/in-depth/menopause-weight-gain/art-20046058
  8. Health Essentials. “Yoga Poses That Can Strengthen Your Core Muscles” 2018. Cleveland Clinic. Accessed on March 25, 2021. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/yoga-poses-that-can-strengthen-your-core-muscles/
  9. Chopra, Sakshi et al. “Weight Management Module for Perimenopausal Women: A Practical Guide for Gynecologists.” J Midlife Health. 2019;10(4):165-172. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6947726/
  10. Mishra, Nalini et al. “Exercise beyond menopause: Dos and Don'ts.” Journal of mid-life health 2,2 (2011): 51-6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3296386/
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