Menopause and Weight
Menopausal women tend to gain weight overall and around their waist, which is a health concern because both weight gain in general and increased abdominal fat
in particular are linked to increased cardiovascular health risks.1
The years surrounding menopause are a vulnerable time for weight gain for women. While individuals vary, the average woman gains about 5-7 pounds.1 As part of the hormonal changes that come with this period in the life cycle, women also tend to experience a change in body shape, with weight accumulating around the waist, rather than at the hips and thighs.
Why is Weight Gained?
Research has shown that the weight gained in women of menopausal age is more related to the aging process than to the hormonal changes that occur with menopause. As women age, they experience a gradual decrease in muscle mass (which burns more calories) and an increase in body fat (which burns fewer calories), resulting in a gradual reduction in metabolism. Consequently, the number of calories needed to maintain body weight is reduced.
Most women also become more sedentary as the years go by, which further reduces the number of calories needed for weight maintenance. In fact, many studies have found that lack of physical activity is one of the most important factors contributing to weight gain during menopause.
Negative thought patterns and moods that are common during the menopausal years may also contribute to weight gain. A study from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found that middle-aged women who reported high levels of depressive symptoms and anxiety, were more likely to experience greater amounts of weight gain.2
Because weight gain is mostly related to the aging process, not changing hormone levels, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) does not appear to have an effect on weight changes during menopause. Most studies have shown no significant differences in weight gain among those women receiving HRT and those receiving a placebo.
Is Weight Gain Inevitable?
Given the health risks of obesity and excess abdominal fat, trying to prevent or minimize weight gain is a reasonable goal for women in the years surrounding menopause. Results from the Women's Healthy Lifestyle Project, a 5-year randomized clinical trial, found that women who participated in a lifestyle modification program were much more successful at preventing weight gain and excess abdominal fat than women who did not participate in the program.3
Increasing physical activity may be an especially effective strategy during this time of life. Studies suggest that menopausal women who are physically active are more successful at preventing weight gain, excess abdominal fat, and preserving muscle mass compared to their pre-menopausal counterparts.4,5 They also report improved quality of life.6
The Bottom Line
Making wise food choices and being physically active can help to prevent the weight gain often experienced around the time of menopause.
In the Spotlight One More Reason to Exercise
Other Science Library topics:
Hormones and Weight
Davis SR, Castelo-Branco C, Chedraui P,et al. Understanding weight gain at menopause.
Climacteric. 2012 Oct;15(5):419-29.
2Sammel MD, Grisso JA, Freeman EW, Hollander L, Liu L, Liu S, Nelson DB, Battistini M. Weight gain among women in the late reproductive years. Fam Pract. 2003 Aug;20(4):401-9.
3Simkin-Silverman LR, Wing RR, Boraz MA, Kuller LH. Lifestyle intervention can prevent weight gain during menopause: results from a 5-year randomized clinical trial. Ann Behav Med. 2003 Dec;26(3):212-20.
4Williams PT, Satariano WA. Relationships of age and weekly running distance to BMI and circumferences in 41,582 physically active women. Obes Res. 2005 Aug;13(8):1370-80.
5Guo SS, Zeller C, Chumlea WC, Siervogel RM. Aging, body composition, and lifestyle: the Fels Longitudinal Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999 Sep;70(3):405-11.
6 Moilanen JM, Aalto AM, Raitanen J, et al. Physical activity and change in quality of life during menopause--an 8-year follow-up study. Health Qual Life Outcomes. 2012 Jan 23;10:8.