The menopause starts after twelve consecutive months of being without a period. Before that, you may need to deal with hot flashes, fatigue, and changes in the menstrual cycle. The pre-menopause phase (perimenopause) lasts a few years, and it has a significant impact on women’s lives.
In the US, the average age for menopause is 51 years, but some women go through it as early as their 30s or as late as their 60s. In the case of a hysterectomy, all this can happen even earlier.
Menopausal women have to adapt to a few significant changes in the way that their body functions. Accordingly, lifestyle changes might be necessary. Now, let’s take a look at some of the ways that menopause impacts a woman’s health and fitness.
Basic Symptoms of the Menopause
Women who are going through perimenopause or early menopause can experience a number of unpleasant physical symptoms. Hot flashes may be the most frequent symptom of upcoming menopause, while many women also experience night sweats. Headaches, mood swings, and palpitations are frequent as well.
If you’re going through perimenopause or you’ve reached menopause, you might also notice some changes in your sexual life. Low libido is a frequent symptom, and many women have to deal with vaginal dryness. At the same time, urinary infections can become a frequent occurrence.
But how does menopause affect your bones and muscles? And do you put on weight during menopause?
Bone and Muscle Health During the Menopause
Before menopause, many women have to deal with stiff joints and muscle aches. These changes tend to be temporary and shouldn’t affect your life in the long run. Unfortunately, there are some other, more permanent menopause symptoms that affect your musculoskeletal system.
One of the most dangerous side effects of menopause is osteoporosis, a brittle bone condition that puts you at risk of breaks and fractures. Doctors say that many pre-menopausal or menopausal women ignore the risks of this condition. But by improving your diet and finding the right exercise regimen, you can reduce your chances of developing osteoporosis.
Since this bone condition has a strong genetic component, it’s not always possible to prevent it, but there are ways you can keep it from affecting your life too badly. There are many resources you can access that will help you combat the condition.
Note: While osteoporosis and menopause are heavily linked, the bone condition occasionally appears in men or in young women as well.
Menopause and Your Physique
For women and men alike, older middle age is a time of physical changes. It’s natural for your frame to change as your metabolism slows down, but how does menopause affect this process and do you put on weight during menopause?
When women become menopausal, they start gaining weight in a different way than before. Since menopause comes with significant hormone changes, it affects the way your body stores fat.
While they’re of childbearing age, women tend to store fat in the hips, thighs, and lower body. When menopause hits, weight distribution typically changes. When post-menopausal women gain weight, it usually accumulates around the midriff. Experts call this changing from a pear shape to an apple shape.
But this change doesn’t lead to a higher body weight. Instead, the changes in your weight come from the slower metabolism and the loss of muscle mass.
Other Factors That Influence Weight Gain During Menopause
For many women, menopause comes with lifestyle changes as well. For example, many switch to a more sedentary lifestyle as they get older, as former hobbies and workout routines fall to the wayside. Eating out more can also lead to weight gain, but there are a few other factors at work as well.
1. Number of Children
Women with more children are likelier to have a higher body mass index, and this change is still noticeable decades after the child was born. Interestingly, having children can impact your weight even if the children are adopted.
2. Genetic Factors
Some women have a considerably higher likelihood of weight gain than others. If your female relatives typically gained weight in their older middle age, you can expect the same change to occur in you.
In some cases, hormone changes can lead to mood disorders. These can make it more difficult to stick to a healthy diet, so it’s important to reach out and seek help.
What About Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)?
In cases where the symptoms of perimenopause are intense, doctors may prescribe hormone replacement therapy. This treatment helps with the aches and hot flashes, and it also reduces the risks of osteoporosis.
It is widely believed that HRT leads to weight gain, which is part of why many women decide to avoid it. But doctors say that there’s no connection between this treatment and weight gain. While it doesn’t keep you thin, HRT won’t cause you to gain pounds.
What’s the Best Way to Avoid Weight Gain When You’re in Menopause?
Gaining a great deal of weight can have a negative impact on your health and self-image. As long as you’re mindful about your health, it isn’t too difficult to avoid this issue. It is important to do the following:
1. Eat Well
Choosing the right diet for menopause is absolutely crucial to your health. This means opting for low-calorie foods, seeds, and whole grains, as well as an increased intake of vegetables and fruit. It is also important to add more calcium to your diet, as your bones are at risk of osteoporosis. Vitamin D levels need to be high in order to aid the absorption of calcium.
It is also necessary to cut back on your sugar, alcohol, and caffeine consumption. Spicy foods can cause problems as well.
2. Choose the Best Workout Plan
Some workout routines might be too difficult to maintain, and very intense workouts could have a negative impact on your heart health. You want to go for something where falls are unlikely, especially if you have to deal with osteoporosis. Aerobic exercises are an excellent choice, and many women opt for yoga.
Why do you put on weight during menopause? Diminishing estrogen levels mean that you’re likelier to gain abdominal fat after you’ve reached menopause. But you also have to account for the changes in your metabolism and the way your body starts losing muscle mass. It’s not entirely possible to avoid changes in your body shape, but you can still stay hale and fit at this age.