One of my favorite things about being an empty nester is that I have more time than ever to focus on my health and wellness. When I was younger I didn’t think about that too much because I was focused on raising my family and in fact, I wasn’t, and am not, alone. Most parents with kids in the home don’t put importance on the need to recharge and take care of themselves as they should. Things are different for me now that I’m older and the kids are grown and flown, thank goodness. It feels great to be able to make changes and create new, healthy habits because surely this lifestyle will head off the weight gain I’ve always heard that menopausal women like me gain…right?
As it turns out, that’s only partially right. Yes, my healthy habits will likely stave off the average increase of 1.5 pounds per year, but that potential menopause weight gain we’re all dreading doesn’t seem to be completely related to midlife hormone changes. While menopause has a bad reputation for causing all kinds of “destruction”—a well-deserved reputation, if you ask me—weight gain has been tossed onto the list of symptoms because that’s a convenient place for it. In truth, studies show that putting on pounds during our forties and fifties might be caused by the hormone changes that come with menopause. More likely it is simply a result of the aging process itself and the life changes we experience as a result of being midlifers, many of these changes causing us to regularly move our bodies far less than before. Check out this list of typical life shifts at our age, by Very Well Health:
- Kids move away from home
- Decreased workload around the house
- Increased travel
- Increased interest in leisure activities
- Increased time for social activities, such as cooking/entertaining/dining out
- Change in life priorities, a slower pace in life
If you’re experiencing perimenopause or menopause along with me, you won’t be shocked to learn that all but one of those things describe my life at the moment. You might also have an equally long list of matching items!
Dr. Stephanie Faubion, Executive Director of the Women’s Health Clinic and Office of Women’s Health at the Mayo Clinic says that “about two-thirds of women ages 40 to 59 and nearly three-quarters of women older than 60 are overweight.” Extra weight in midlife is a problem for many reasons, not the least of which is an increased risk of chronic illness in postmenopausal women.
Adding insult to injury with all of this weight gain nonsense? As we age, muscle mass tends to decrease, which means we burn fewer calories when we’re resting. As a result, body fat tends to increase. The good news is, I’ve already realized that while I have extra time for all of that stuff on the list, I also have extra time to exercise regularly, fitting in at least an hour on most days. I’m doing what I can right now, and time is of the essence because let’s face it, our bodies become less predictable and reliable as we age. Injuries and illnesses can sideline us for longer periods of time, so doing our part to take care of our bodies by staying physically active for as long as we can is incredibly important.
Exercise isn’t the only key to success, however. Just like we’ve heard for our entire lives, the health of the body relies on both a regular exercise routine along with good dietary habits. Dr. Faubion says, “The general recommendation is 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days per week. In terms of the type of diet, none has proven superior to any other in terms of weight loss. The diet that will work the best is one that cuts calories and that you can stick to, keeping in mind that drastic changes in diet are probably not sustainable.” Dietary changes for midlifers can include consuming more calcium and less sodium and limiting alcohol, in addition to these other helpful tips from Health magazine.
Finding the perfect-for-you balance of diet, exercise, and lifestyle that will allow you to remain “you-sized” may take a little work, but the rewards are well worth the effort. YOU’RE worth it. It’s one part of the menopause years over which we have some control, so I’m all in! How about you?