You’re not over the hill yet, but the extra belly fat you’ve gained in the last few years is making it awfully tough to climb to the top. Even if you haven’t gained pounds, your waist may be gaining inches. You’ve probably already heard it’s better to be a “pear” than an “apple”. Belly fat is a risk factor in Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. Why is it so easy to gain weight in mid-life, so hard to lose it, and what can you do about it?
As we age, our metabolism naturally slows, due to several reasons. During menopause and post-menopause, lower estrogen levels can cause a decrease in your metabolism, as well as change where you store body fat. The extra weight may start settling around your stomach and abs, rather than your hips and thighs, where it used to hang out.
Without realizing it, you may have become less active and gained more stress. You suffer poor sleep on a regular basis, with insomnia and fatigue becoming constant companions. And your dietary habits have become even worse. As changes occur in your life and your body, you may be overwhelmed wondering how you could possibly add one more thing to your schedule. So self-care takes a back seat while belly fat is suddenly front and center.
If you want to see a change in your body, you have to bite the bullet and make a change in your behavior. It may not be easy, but it is doable. And you have control over most of it. Here are 8 ways to take care of yourself and give you the best chance to lose that menopause belly fat.
1. Become more active. It’s easy to fall into sedentary habits when we have a lot on our minds and in our schedules. But making a point to walk more, take the stairs, and take breaks from the computer are small things you can do to burn a few extra calories. You may also find that you feel less stiffness when you are moving about regularly than when you sit for long periods of time. Sitting has been proven to be detrimental to your health, whether or not you do regular exercise. So move more.
2. Strength train. As you age, you lose muscle mass. This actually starts in your twenties, but you probably won’t notice until you’re in your fifties. Losing muscle slows down your metabolism since muscle uses more energy to maintain than fat. You will also find that you suddenly can’t do some of the same things you could when you were younger. You should be doing some kind of resistance training at least twice a week.
3. Do regular cardio exercise. This is different from just becoming more active. The intention here is to get your heart rate up for at least 30 minutes five days a week. That’s the bare minimum suggested by the government health experts to maintain your weight. If you’re serious about losing weight and fat, you will need to either increase the time spent, up to an hour each session, or ratchet up the intensity. Doing intervals of higher intensity exercise interspersed with recovery, such as in a jog/walk session, is an excellent way to increase your metabolism.
4. Eat better and less. You don’t need to go on a crazy fad diet to lose weight. You do need to clean all the junk out of it and eat 250 to 500 calories less each day to lose one half to one pound a week. It’s a fact that an energy deficit will cause weight loss. It’s easier to eat 500 calories less than it is to exercise 500 calories more. Of course, if you are doing both, it’s even better. Keeping a food journal will show you exactly what you are eating as long as you stay honest in reporting it.
5. Stretch regularly. Although not a huge calorie burner, stretching tight muscles improves blood flow, joint mobility, and flexibility, making it easier to do the increased moving that will burn calories. Stretching can become a quiet time of contemplation or can be done on a mat in front of the television in the evening. The older you get, the more important it is.
6. Control stress. This is often easier said than done but is a good practice to get into. Everyone is different in how stress affects them and what helps alleviate it. Some suggestions would be to begin a meditation practice, get a massage, watch a good movie, spend some time alone, read a good book, or do anything you’ve been putting off but really want to enjoy. Your limit here is your imagination and creativity.
7. Get better sleep. This is also something that isn’t entirely within your control, but developing some better bedtime habits can help. Keep the same schedule every night, don’t eat heavy meals late in the evening, keep the room dark, and try a white noise generator. Regular exercise will also help, but make sure you do it early in the day. Exercising late in the afternoon or evening can disrupt your sleep.
8. See your doctor. If you’re dealing with hot flashes, headaches, or other menopausal symptoms, you may want to ask about hormone replacement therapy, referral to a registered dietitian, or just get assurance from an expert that everything is okay with your health. This is a good time to discuss strategies for ongoing well being as you enter this interesting and potentially liberating phase of your life.
by Joan Kerrigan
Yours in good health
Marlton Personal Trainer
Athletic Fitness Concepts | Personal Training in South Jersey