One of the most vexing changes of the menopause is a shift in body fat storage to the front and sides of the abdomen. This phenomenon, also known as menopause belly, is a result of shifting hormones, an activation of a “menopausal gene“, as well as changes in exercise and diet.
A decline in estrogen causes fat cells in the abdominal area to store more fat. It may even reduce your body’s ability to burn fat. When the “menopause gene” is switched on, it contributes to belly fat, unfortunately resulting in women gaining between five to ten pounds during the first decade after menopause.
An increase in intra-abdominal fat is linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure, myocardial infarction, diabetes, and elevated cholesterol. Therefore, this shift in body fat storage is more than just a cosmetic issue.
The decline in hormones during and after menopause is just one part of the menopause belly. For many women, their level of activity slows with age. Many women don’t reduce their caloric intake to match the lowered activity. The lower activity level, coupled with a decline in muscle mass from less exercise and estrogen, lowers the metabolic rate, leading to an increase in stored fat.
Although you don’t have much control over the inevitable hormonal induced body fat distribution, here are some simple physical ways to help prevent weight gain and increase muscle mass which is vital after hitting menopause.
Strength training and impact activities (like walking or running) can help to offset the decline of bone mineral density and prevent osteoporosis. Around age 30, you begin losing roughly 1% of your muscle mass each year. Because muscle burns fat, this actually leads to fat-based weight gain. You can reverse this process and fight osteoporosis by weight training. You’ll need to work your major muscle groups (including legs, arms, core, and butt) with some basic moves.
As you get stronger, you must increase the amount of resistance you use to keep building strength. Your muscles should fatigue between 8 to 12 or 12 to 15 repetitions. If you don’t want to use weights, try medicine balls, cables, or bands for resistance.
Rebounding gets your lymphatic system up and running and is a great way to start each day, plus increase bone density. It is the only exercise that strengthens, cleanses, and tones every cell in the body. The lymph system works according to movement. Without movement, the toxins, poisons and heavy metals will lay stagnant in our body.
Rebounding is easy on the joints and is especially helpful for people who are not fans of cardio workouts. The rebounder helps build up all your core muscles by actively engaging your mind-body connection through use of your ocular nerves and inner ear canal. Because your body is moving in directions it cannot always predict, it helps to put your physiology in a kinesthetic state of learning and reacting, increasing stability, balance, agility and coordination.
A busy bee's dream - Cleaning the house and going to the gym can both be chores we'd rather do without, but what if you could blend the housework and a workout? Simple tasks such as cleaning windows can work your triceps, biceps and shoulder muscles, burning as many calories as a 22 minute cycle session!
Vacuuming? Do lunges. Dusting? Strap on weights. Cooking? Try leg lifts and squats. Folding Laundry? Squat! Paying a bill? Turn those bills into abdominal twists. Taking out the rubbish? Bicep curl all the way to the bins. Doing the dishes? Get onto your tippy toes and try out some calf curls.
4.Light Cardio And Dance
Walking, bicycling, and dancing are all good examples of cardio exercise. Cardio exercises burn a good amount of calories, helping to prevent weight gain — which many women experience during menopause. It also helps ward off heart disease, a condition that's more common among women of menopausal age
Embracing dance as a form of exercise can burn calories, improves coordination and postural strength. Research has also proven that dance classes can help with another major side effect of the menopause: low mood. Zumba classes can actually boost your happiness levels with the effects lasting for two months.
5.Mindful Fitness And Balance
Dealing with menopause can be stressful, and activities like yoga and meditation can reduce the tension through their low-key approaches and deep-breathing practices. Yoga can help improve sexual function in women, particularly those over 45 years old, which suggests it might be good to offset sexual changes during menopause.
There’s also some evidence that insomnia, a common menopause symptom, can be relieved through yoga and meditation.
Exercises that enhance your body’s ability to stay upright and steady are particularly important as you enter menopause. As you get older, your balance isn’t as good, you’re at an increased risk for falling — and if you break a hip, your life span can be significantly decreased.
To improve your balance, start out with a simple exercise like standing on one leg for a few seconds. Balance yourself against a wall or chair if you’re unsteady. Tai chi, a relaxing form of exercise that uses slow, fluid movements, can also help with balance and muscle coordination.
Set realistic, Achievable Goals
Rather than vowing to exercise more, for example, commit to something like a daily 30-minute walk after dinner. Frequently update your goals as you achieve greater levels of fitness. Teaming up with someone such as a partner, friend or neighbour can also really help motivation.
A Real Story By Kate Rowe-Ham
Qualified PT and life coach
My name is Kate. I am a 44 year old menopausal on- line personal training mum of 3, and have really struggled with perimenopause and hope that in sharing my story and some tips you don’t feel so alone.
Menopause itself is just the moment in time, marking 12 months of no periods. For UK women, the average age of menopause is 51, but symptoms can start several years before that. Symptoms typically start showing at an average age of 45 years. This is your perimenopause.
The perimenopause can last from 12 months up to five years in most women. From this time, your ovaries release less oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone than in previous years.
In 2018 I started to experience terrible night sweats and my periods started getting further apart, I put this down to age but nothing else really. It wasn’t until February 2020 I started to experience terrible heart palpitations and shortness of breath. I am awful at going to the doctors and tried to ignore it however, after a couple of panic attacks in March and episodes of feeling very sad, low and uncontrollably angry, I felt I needed help, something I hate admitting.
I spent 3 months calling my doctors every two weeks in tears and eventually after a rather desperate call I was sent for blood tests, including hormones and a chest X-ray. Everything came back clear, which is great, but from what I had heard blood tests can be terribly inconclusive and misleading, plus many women are misdiagnosed because there are many other physiological factors to take into account.
It wasn’t until doing my own research and my menopause talks with @dr.rebecca.lewis and a 3 hour menopause course with @bia.menopause, that I realised what I was experiencing were symptoms of the perimenopause. The heart palpitations, breathlessness and panic attacks, were all symptoms. some of them have decreased but I still have moments of seeing red, that can come from nowhere, and have a huge impact on my family.
I have started HRT and still working that out but it is getting better. I’m not saying this will work for everyone, and I stress it’s really important to go the doctor if you are experiencing similar issues to rule out anything else first. What I do know is that as always exercise has helped me enormously manage my mental health, and has also helped manage many of my symptoms.
Though frequent workouts haven’t been proven as a means of reducing menopausal symptoms, they can ease the transition by helping to relieve stress and enhance your overall quality of life, plus a woman’s risk for numerous medical conditions, including breast cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease rises during and after menopause. Working out regularly and maintaining a healthy weight can help offset these risks.
There are many physical activities that have been shown to help protect and strengthen the heart, bones, and muscles, as well as maintain and improve balance, body weight, mood, and one’s overall sense of well-being. You’ve got to mix it up a few times a week to keep improving your health.
Osteoporosis risk skyrockets following menopause (oestrogen is needed to help lay down bone), strength training is especially vital. Strength training exercises will help to build bone and muscle strength, burn body fat, and rev up your metabolism.
At home, opt for dumbbells and resistance tubing. In the gym, choose from weight machines or free weights. Select a level that is heavy enough to tax your muscles in 12 repetitions and progress from there.
The most important thing to know is, if you have some of the symptoms I have mentioned, (there are many others,) then you’re not alone, you can get help. It may take time but don’t give up trying with your GP, and if you feel unsupported please keep looking for qualified menopause specialists that can help you.