Healthy Byte: Weight Management After Menopause

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Whether you’re currently going through the big M or have already gotten past it, you may have noticed that losing weight is more difficult—and “it’s not just in your head,” says Amanda Horton, MD, an OB-GYN at Johns Hopkins Medicine. “It really is harder to lose weight [during this period].”

Indeed, women gain, on average, 1.5 pounds per year in their 50s and 60s, notes Dr. Horton. That’s because low estrogen levels during menopause can alter the balance of leptin and ghrelin levels—the hormones responsible for managing hunger—and increase appetite. Thyroid issues, stress, sleep problems, and certain medications can also contribute to weight gain.

“All the things that lead to weight gain also make it difficult to lose weight. But we do know it’s possible. It just requires continued effort,” says William Yancy, MD, program director for Duke Diet and Fitness Center.

Women who are going through menopause also tend to store more belly fat and lose muscle mass. “Despite following the same diet and exercise routines they’ve had for years, they still gain weight. If you decrease muscle mass, you burn fewer calories at rest,” Dr. Horton explains.

That said, there are things you can do to help you lose weight post-menopause and offset the symptoms of lower estrogen levels. Keep reading to learn how.

Try interval training

When it comes losing weight through exercise, cardio workouts are still the gold standard. But high-intensity interval training (HIIT) has been shown to be more effective for burning fat and building muscle than low-intensity, steady-state (LISS) cardio.

Some studies suggest that HIIT can improve overall strength and increase endurance, especially in those 65 and older,” says Liana Tobin, CSCS, personal trainer coordinator for the National Strength and Conditioning Association. “For muscle mass, a combination of HIIT and strength training would likely yield the best results.”

Both Dr. Horton and Dr. Yancy recommend working out at least 30 minutes per day, five days per week—but if you’re doing intense workouts that leave you breathless, you should aim for three 20-minute sessions per week.