Losing weight is never easy. Research indicates that 95% of people who diet and lose weight will gain all of the weight back—if not more—within one year. There are many factors that make it difficult to shed extra pounds and keep them off, some of which are biological. In fact, menopause plays a significant role in how your body stores and burns fat.
If you’re finding it harder and harder to keep your weight at its pre-menopausal range, know that you're not alone. During menopause, your body doubles the rate at which it stores fat. To make matters worse, increased insulin production during menopause increases fat storage but inhibits your fat cells from exporting fat to be utilized—making it harder for your body to use fat for energy.
Though some lifestyle changes can help you to achieve or maintain weight loss, there are also specific exercises that can help you to increase muscle mass and burn more fat.
How menopause makes it even more difficult to shed those extra pounds
Knowing how menopause affects your body composition can help illuminate why some exercises are more beneficial during this life stage than others.
- Lower resting metabolic rate: During the menopausal transition, your estrogen levels plummet to 1% of what they were. In addition to accelerating insulin resistance, these hormonal changes lead to a lower resting metabolic rate. Over time, this can lead to a gradual increase in weight.
- More body fat, especially around the middle: Hormonal changes during perimenopause and menopause affect how quickly fat is stored and how easily fat is utilized. And as your body pumps out more insulin in response to what you eat, that insulin also drives fat storage. Lower estrogen levels can also change where that fat is stored. Specifically, lower estrogen can lead to more fat around the middle, under the muscles and around the organs. Also known as visceral fat, this fat can be harder to shed and is correlated to higher risk of inflammation and chronic diseases like heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes.
- Muscle mass loss: Muscle mass (also called lean mass) decreases when estrogen levels drop. Because lean mass burns more calories at rest, a lower muscle mass can lead to an increase in weight gain.
Which exercises can help
Regular exercise offers many benefits before, during, and after menopause. Data shows that regular exercise can reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, as well as lower the risk of depression and cognitive decline.
But specific exercises can be especially beneficial when it comes to losing weight and keeping it off during perimenopause and menopause:
- Strength training. Adding strength to your regular workouts can help counteract the effects of declining hormone levels during perimenopause and menopause, namely boosting your resting metabolic rate and muscle mass. It’s recommended that women in perimenopause and menopause do strength training at least twice a week to help reduce body fat, build more muscle mass, and burn calories more efficiently. What’s more, strength training can also help improve bone health, offsetting the decline of bone mineral density and helping to prevent osteoporosis.
- Aerobic exercise. Studies show that roughly three hours a week of aerobic exercise—including walking (which adds up!), jogging, swimming, and cycling—helps to burn calories and provides cardiometabolic benefits to older women. When combined with regular strength training, aerobic exercise can help you burn more fat, even when you’re not active.
- Yoga. While there is no evidence that yoga can directly benefit weight loss, research shows that a regular yoga practice can help to improve the quality of sleep in menopausal women. Because lack of sleep can have a negative impact on metabolism and lead to weight gain over time, practicing yoga may help prevent insomnia related weight gain.
When it comes to shedding pounds during menopause, variety and consistency are key. In other words, incorporating several different exercises into your routine regularly will be the most effective in helping you lose weight and keep it off. Studies show that a combination of aerobics, strength training, and balance exercises (like those performed during yoga) is the most effective strategy to help manage weight and reduce symptom severity and psychological distress during menopause.
Exercise can benefit your health and body in a variety of ways, including weight loss and especially during menopause. Finding the right approach for you can help set you up for great health now and for years to come.