Many of us start to notice changes in the shape of our bodies during midlife, including weight gain. There are many factors that contribute to these shifts that often happen around the time of menopause and there isn’t one specific cause or solution to reverse these changes. Nor should there be. Despite what our culture values in youth, there are benefits to aging and there are many ways to remain healthy and strong!
As we get older, many of us lose some muscle mass. Heading into our 40s and beyond, some people also tend to be less physically active as they were before. With less exercise, it’s possible to lose some muscle mass — which has several effects on the body, including lower bone density and energy levels. And getting less aerobic activity has a big effect on heart health. Genetics plays a very important role in your health status as you age. If your close relatives experienced changes around this time in life, you might as well.
Menopause and body shape
While researchers aren’t sure why, studies do show that women may notice subtle changes in body shape, regardless of what age perimenopause starts. We tend to add more body fat in the abdomen. Our bodies may shift from carrying more weight below the waist (in our hips and thighs) to carrying more weight above the waist.
Tips for maintaining your health through these changes
Your body may or many not change in size and/or shape as you enter menopause. Regardless, it’s important to continue taking good care of yourself to prevent health problems down the road.
During the menopause years, osteoporosis becomes a higher health risk. Make sure you’re getting the calcium you need to support bone health. And eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables will help support your immune system, amongst other body functions.
Listen to your body’s signals. Intuitive eating is a great approach to nutrition at any time in life. Getting in tune with your hunger and fullness cues helps you to eat to the point of feeling satisfied and nourished. Doing so can help you maintain a steady state of energy and help you avoid binge eating or feeling compelled to restrict food intake. Consider how certain foods make you feel after eating them. If they give you energy and help boost your mood during the day, focus on those foods. If you feel like dragging or overfull or your stomach hurts after specific foods, avoid those ones. Your body is intelligent and you can trust it!
Stick with your favorite physical activities (or get back to them!), whether you love walking, dancing, swimming, or any other thing that gets your heart rate up. Experts recommend 150 minutes of moderate cardio each week, along with muscle-building activities at least two days per week.
Exercise can help with many health markers! Being active can boost your brain health, make it easier to learn new things, improve your body image, lower your risks for depression and anxiety, and help you sleep better.
Make time for good sleep
Speaking of good sleep. Studies show that people who don’t get enough sleep might be less able to tell when they’re hungry or full, due to hormone changes. Being tired can also lead all of us to choose foods based upon ease rather than what we really want/need to eat at the moment.
Here’s how much sleep experts recommend:
- 7 or more hours of sleep each night for adults up to age 60
- 7-9 hours for people 61-64
- 7-8 hours for people 75 and older
If getting good, restful sleep is hard for you, talk with your healthcare provider. They can work with you to determine if you have a health-related sleep problem, and help you find ways to get better rest.
Weight gain, your health, and your wellbeing
Integrating health promoting behaviors into your day to day life can lower many health risks, including heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, and several types of cancer. If you’re concerned about your health status, talk with your healthcare provider.
It’s important to note that all of the changes happening to your body during this time can be overwhelming and/or emotional. Around the time of menopause, many people have negative feelings about their bodies — this seems to go hand-in-hand with our society’s overload of negative messages about aging and impossible expectations for aging bodies. This time may be extra difficult if you’ve struggled with body image and/disordered eating in the past. This is your reminder that your emotional wellbeing matters.
If you’re having a hard time with your body image or with finding a safe, healthy approach to eating, you are not alone. Please talk with your healthcare provider or a therapist for support.
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team
“Changes in Weight and Fat Distribution.” The North American Menopause Society. The North American Menopause Society. https://www.menopause.org/for-women/sexual-health-menopause-online/changes-at-midlife/changes-in-weight-and-fat-distribution.
“Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.” US Department of Health and Human Services. US Department of Health and Human Services. https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/Physical_Activity_Guidelines_2nd_edition.pdf.
“Benefits of Physical Activity.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). June 16, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/pa-health/index.htm.
“How much sleep do I need?” Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Centers for Disease Control (CDC). September 14, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/how_much_sleep.html.
“Obesity Prevention Source.” Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Harvard University. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-causes/sleep-and-obesity/.
“Get Positive About Body Image.” The North American Menopause Society. The North American Menopause Society. https://www.menopause.org/for-women/menopauseflashes/women’s-health-and-menopause/get-positive-about-body-image.