Im married to a 46-year old woman who’s most definitely smack dab in the middle of peri-menopause AND as the personal trainer of dozens of women who are about to face similar challenges, this is a subject that’s NEAR and DEAR to my heart!
There’s SO much to say about hormones and weight gain after 40 for women that I can’t possibly cover it all in a single blog post.
Instead, I thought that we might explore the topic together, over a series of posts, guided by my research but also fueled by my clients questions to this topic.
I’d like to start the series by painting a picture of what naturally happens to a woman's body as they age, in particular, from the mid-30’s to the late 50’s; the twenty year period during which hormones gradually change and menopause is typically reached (a woman is said to have reached menopause twelve months after the cessation of menstruation).
As you read through this list, don’t despair; there are lots of things you can do on the exercise and nutrition front to offset, slow down and in some cases REVERSE the normal trend!
- From about age 35 onwards, your body start to lose lean tissue. Organs (including your liver and kidneys) lose cells and muscles begin to shrink (or ‘atrophy’). Because muscle is metabolically active (meaning that it burns calories, even at rest), reduced muscle mass often results in a reduced metabolic rate.
- Peak bone mass and bone density are reached by approximately age 30. Both decline by a percent or so each year up until the point menopause is reached, at which annual rates of bone density loss increase to 2-3%. For the average woman, this translates into a loss of about 53% of their peak bone density by the time they reach their 80th birthday.
- Body fat increases steadily after age 30 and may increase by as much as 30% by the time menopause is attained. The distribution of body fat shifts from subcutaneous (under the skin, evenly over the body) to visceral (around the internal organs). Visceral fat is known to raise your risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer.
- During the menopause transition, the ovaries gradually stop making the hormone estrogen. Estrogen is responsible for making your breasts grow at puberty and maintaining pregnancy by regulating the levels of another sex hormone, progesterone. When estrogen declines, cortisol and insulin production increase. Both contribute to fat gain, in particular, fat around the midsection.
- Peri-menopausal and menopausal women frequently report changes in their sleep patterns. Difficulty falling asleep, middle of the night waking and insomnia all contribute to lower energy levels and feelings of fatigue. Chronic sleep deprivation is also linked to elevated cortisol levels.
- On average, women tend to continue gaining weight until about age 65, at which time weight loss occurs due primarily to muscular atrophy (as opposed to fat loss).
If this is the ‘normal path of aging’, is it any wonder that it becomes more challenging for women to maintain their physique of early adulthood into the 40’s and beyond?
Of course, many women give up. They read statistics like the ones I’ve shared above and decide that accepting the aging process is easier than fighting it.
While I do believe that women need to be more compassionate with themselves as they age (i.e., stop comparing your current body to the one you had in your 20’s…),
Stay tuned for Parts 2, 3 and 4, in which we’ll explore some exercise, nutrition and lifestyle tools for women who want to stay fit and fabulous into their 40’s!
Dwight Obey, Independent AdvoCare Distributor