If hot flashes and night sweats weren’t enough, many women who reach their menopause years have an additional adversary to contend with.
They experience weight gain around the belly and waist, and they quickly learn it’s a struggle to do anything about it.
“Somewhere around menopause, many women find their clothes becoming a size too small,” said Dr. Mache Seibel, a leading American expert on menopause and author of The Estrogen Window (www.EstrogenWindowBook.com/).
“Why is that? Is it simply an aging issue or is it directly related to menopause and the lack of estrogen?”
Seibel said part of the problem behind what some people call the “middle-age spread” is visceral fat that lies deep within the abdominal cavity, and is different from the subcutaneous fat that lies directly under the skin.
Visceral fat (Seibel said it could just as well be called “vicious fat”) can contribute to a host of diseases that increase the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, joint disease and type 2 diabetes.
A number of studies, he said, show that postmenopausal women have greater amounts of visceral fat compared to premenopausal women. One contributing reason is the natural decline of estrogen levels in the body.
And, of course, health problems aren’t the only concern when weight gain starts happening.
“Studies show that being overweight or obese is more than a medical issue,” Seibel said. “It also affects quality of life and self-esteem.”
Seibel suggested women who want to control the accumulation of visceral fat should explore a regimen that combines diet and exercise efforts with estrogen therapy. Specifically, he said:
• Discuss with your physician the possibility of taking estrogen at the opening of your “estrogen window.” “That will offer the easiest and best solution to controlling an expanding waistline and living a fit and energized life,” Seibel said.
The “estrogen window” represents the ideal time to begin estrogen replacement. The window opens the moment a woman enters menopause. Exactly when it closes is more difficult to determine, Seibel said. Generally, it’s a 10-year time frame, but that can vary and women should have ongoing discussions with their physicians, he said.
• Increase your fresh fruit and vegetable consumption by adding two or three more servings to your daily diet. Broccoli, string beans and cauliflower are good choices for vegetables, and fermented foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut also are recommended.
• Work up to walking 10,000 steps a day. You don’t need to train for a marathon or an Ironman competition to establish a good fitness routine, Seibel said. But by simply injecting a little walking into your daily routine, you help create a healthier you.
• Lowering stress and improving sleep also contribute to feeling better and staying trim.
“Having a fit body and maintaining consistent energy levels in midlife isn’t easy,” Seibel said. “Yes, nature and time are working against you. But doing nothing isn’t an option. That’s why it’s important to create habits and set goals you can stick with. Time spent on you isn’t lost; it’s invested.”
And the return on investment is a healthier, happier and more vibrant life, he said.