I would like to acknowledge a fantastic lecture that I attended online via the International Menopause Society where two wonderful Doctors discussed the topic of weight gain and Menopause. There was some pretty complex medical information about the complexities of the human body, genetics, hormones and brain function but the aim here is to give some simple information that we can all understand. However weight is a complicated multifactorial issue and it is always worth getting medical help if you are feeling you have problems that you can’t solve.
As Pelvic Health Physios, we see women at any stage of life. Menopause is a time when we naturally start to see women asking for help: it is a time when pelvic floor muscles start to need more work for due to loss of the supportive effect of reproductive hormones. This coincides with muscle aging factors.
At this time, many women complain or comment about weight change. They often feel frustrated since they feel that their eating patterns have not changed and even exercise hasn’t changed, and yet, weight is increasing.
So does menopause make us put on weight?
The simple answer is no, menopause itself does not cause weight gain. Menopause does cause a redistribution of fat tissue to the waistline.
When you were younger, weight distribution was more to hips and thighs but after menopause, the weight sits around the waist. I don’t actually know why this evolved over time. There is usually a reason going way back and I don’t know the answer. But because weight now sits around the waist, it makes us more prone to metabolic disease like diabetes and increases risk of cardiovascular health problems. You may already know that weight around the waist is a risk factor for these health issues.
The weight that now sits around the waist rather than hips and thighs, can make us feel that we have put on weight. We may be noticing the fatty tissue more.
But I have actually gained weight. Why?
There is a link with weight gain and aging. There is an average of 3kg increase in weight which we can correctly say is due to aging, but this coincides with menopause so menopause gets the blame. Think for a moment what 3kg looks like: 3 kgs of flour, or rice, or sugar…..its a lot of matter! Think of that around your middle and now you understand why you don’t feel so good.
As we get older, muscles get thinner and less bulky. The name for this is “sarcopenia”. The official definition of “sarcopenia” is “age related, involuntary loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength.” So, with aging and smaller muscles, we actually need to eat less. We also need to exercise more just to maintain and prevent this aging muscle mass decline. So if we go back to the frequently heard lament of “ I am eating the same and exercising the same but have put on weight” then we have our answer: we need to eat less and exercise more. If however you are genuinely doing this and still struggling, then seek help. There may be multiple other issues related to perhaps hormones, genetics, sleep, mental health, other health issues, medications etc etc.
Sarcopenia and pelvic floor
This is also relevant for pelvic floor exercise: many women notice onset of bladder control problems which are linked to the decrease in connective tissue support, but also because the muscles are getting thinner and less bulky as we get older. This “sarcopenia” is affecting our pelvic floor too. For this reason, we may notice problems soon after we stop our pelvic floor exercises. Don’t feel frustrated, simply remember that we are all battling the effects of aging and simply start your exercise again. You will be constantly coming back to these exercises and gradually become better at making them part of life. Easy!