Good news! Aging does not have to equal weight gain. Women do tend to put on a pound a year in their 40s and 50s, but it’s more likely due to a drop in activity rather than hormones. However, hormonal changes can shift your body composition, so any pounds you do gain tend to land in your middle. Find out how to stay slim, reduce menopausal symptoms, and cut the health risks that can rise after menopause.
If you’re overweight you can minimize menopausal symptoms and reduce the long-term risks of declining hormones by losing weight. Slimming down not only reduces the risks of heart disease and breast cancer, both of which go up after menopause, but new research shows that it may also help obese or overweight women cut down on hot flashes.
If you need to shed pounds, weight loss is no different during menopause than before it. If you take in less calories than you burn for a long period of time, you’re going to lose weight. Any balanced diet that cuts calories—and that you can stick with in the long run—will do the job.
While watching your calorie intake, be sure to plan your diet to include foods that are beneficial:
Bone up on calcium
Your calcium needs go up after age 50, from 1,000 milligrams per day to 1,200 mg. With less estrogen on board, your bones don’t absorb calcium as well. If you have a cup of low-fat milk, one latte, and one 8-ounce yogurt, you’re getting around 1,100 mg calcium. This means you need to take only an additional 100 mg of supplements a day—less than one caplet’s worth—to make up the difference. If you’re eating dairy, choose low-fat products. These have roughly the same amount of calcium as their full-fat counterparts, but with fewer calories.
Eat fiber rich foods
Eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grain cereal products, especially those high in vitamin C and carotene. These include oranges, grapefruit, carrots, winter squash, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, and green leafy vegetables. These foods are good sources of vitamins and minerals and the major sources of dietary fiber. Fiber helps maintain bowel mobility and may reduce the risk of colon cancer. Young and older people alike are encouraged to consume 20 to 30 grams of fiber per day.
Say yes to soy
Soy contains plant estrogens, so many women think it can increase their breast cancer risk. However, there is little data to support this. The misconception likely comes from studies of high-dose soy supplements, which may stimulate the growth of estrogen-sensitive tumors.
Soy foods like tofu, soy nuts, and soy milk may offer relief from mild hot flashes and are not thought to increase breast cancer risk. Women in Japan have the highest soy intake and the lowest risk of breast cancer, but Japanese women who move to the U.S. and eat less soy have a higher risk.
Exercise is extremely important throughout a woman’s lifetime and particularly as she gets older. Regular exercise benefits the heart and bones, helps regulate weight, and contributes to a sense of overall well-being and improvement in mood. If you are physically inactive you are far more prone to coronary heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and osteoporosis. Sedentary women may also suffer more from chronic back pain, stiffness, insomnia, and irregularity. They often have poor circulation, weak muscles, shortness of breath, and loss of bone mass. Depression can also be a problem. Women who regularly walk, jog, swim, bike, dance, or perform some other aerobic activity can more easily circumvent these problems and also achieve higher HDL cholesterol levels. Studies show that women performing aerobic activity or muscle-strength training reduced mortality from CVD and cancer.