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The connection between menopause and weight gain is linked to changes that occur within a woman’s body during menopausal years, all of which can contribute to weight gain. One major reason for gaining weight during menopause is hormonal changes, which affect the way that the female body processes and responds to food intake and exercise. The second correlation between menopause and weight gain recognizes general lifestyle changes, such as a decrease in physical activity or an inadequate diet, as contributing factors. Thirdly, the likelihood of experiencing insulin resistance increases as a woman reaches menopause, which can directly cause her to gain weight.
Hormone fluctuation during perimenopause — the period leading up to menopause, which is the actual cessation of the menstrual cycle — is generally considered to be a major factor between menopause and weight gain. Perimenopause can occur in as few as three years or as many as 15 years. During this time, a woman’s hormone levels change dramatically, causing her body to respond to food intake and exercise differently.
For example, estrogen levels fall during menopause, causing the body to seek another estrogen supply, which it finds in fat cells. In an effort to build up its hormone levels, the body begins to store calories as fat instead of burning them. Similarly, testosterone levels also deplete at this time, which diminishes lean muscles mass and slows metabolism. In addition, progesterone levels decrease, causing water retention and bloating. Finally, an increase in the androgen hormone causes weight to settle around the midsection instead of being evenly distributed throughout the body.
In addition to these hormone changes, poor eating and exercise habits can contribute to the link between menopause and weight gain. Long-time eating and exercise routines that once seemed effective in a woman’s younger years are not necessarily as beneficial during menopausal years. Furthermore, the body requires much fewer calories as a woman grows older, and if she does not change her eating habits or offset them with physical activity, more calories will be stored as fat. This problem is furthered by estrogen and testosterone depletion, which lead to fat storage and a slower metabolism, respectively. Thus, a lack of exercise and a poor diet both contribute to gaining weight during menopause.
Lastly, insulin resistance can cause women experiencing menopause to gain weight. Insulin resistance occurs when the calories a person consumes are automatically converted into fat. This is largely because of hormonal imbalances. With other factors present during menopause that make weight loss difficult, insulin resistance is a serious problem that can make losing weight nearly impossible, even with proper diet and exercise. Insulin resistance does not occur in every case of menopause, but the possibility of it happening increases when a woman’s hormone levels change.
The amount of weight gained during menopause varies for each woman, but putting on as much as 1 pound (0.45 kg) per year for the average 10-15 years that menopause lasts is not uncommon. In addition to hormonal changes, diet and insulin resistance, genetics can also help determine how much weight a woman gains, as well as other factors, such as illness or stress. With the help of a physician, most women can figure out an appropriate healthcare routine that will help them lose any extra weight they have gained.