Midlife Belly Bulge - What We Now Know

Science used to say that weight gain at midlife was inevitable, but we now know this isn’t true. I have shared posts and articles stating this in the past, so now I am sharing what we have since learned about weight gain at midlife.

What we currently do know is that women begin to store more fat around their belly as their hormones change with the onset of menopause. That extra fat you are seeing around your tummy, it is real, you are not imagining things unfortunately.

But, the notion that our metabolism declines with age has also been found to be untrue (before the age of 60), so the idea that menopause hormone changes are directly to blame for weight gain has now been scientifically dismissed. This information was taken from research conducted by Pontzer et al 2021.

So What Is Actually Going On?

There are very real issues that arise for women at midlife, as a result of age related hormone changes during the peri and post-menopause years. These are the factors which can have a big impact on weight gain. There are also day to day stresses specific to this time of life that need to be taken into consideration.

These Are:

  1. Poor sleep quality and duration due to hormonal changes causing hot flushes and sleeplessness.

  2. Real time fatigue as a result of hormone changes and a lack of sleep.

  3. Mood swings which can make daily tasks more challenging.

  4. Lack of motivation caused by changing hormones.

  5. Joint pain and injuries making it harder to exercise.

  6. More life stresses than ever before. Women may have teenagers at home, ageing parents to care for and high stress work environments to contend with.

All of these factors add up to less time, energy and inclination to take care of ourselves, and we know that over time this can lead to more stress, moving less, eating/drinking more and gaining weight.

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What Else Is Happening?

Many women choose the wrong type/amount of exercise for this stage of life. Cardio exercise such as running and walking are often the first option many women turn to if they want to lose a few extra kilos. There is nothing wrong with running or walking, its just not the most effective type of exercise for weight loss or the longterm health of middle-aged women. In fact, exercise in general is not very effective at helping with weight loss full stop! Nutrition is a far better tool, keep reading to learn more. Saying this, exercise is fundamentally important to our overall health, so don't put away those running shoes just yet.

So What Is The Best Type Of Exercise At Midlife?

  1. Lifting weights

  2. Short bouts of high intensity training like HIIT, TABATA etc.

  3. Restorative and calming movement like yoga and stretching.

  4. Incidental movement like gardening, household chores, walking instead of driving etc. I wrote more about this HERE.

Of course, you are not going to go all out 100% if you haven’t been lifting weights or performing HIIT training in the past or for a long while. Start at a level that is appropriate to you and your current fitness status and build yourself up slowly over time. Enlist the help of a personal trainer who understands your changing needs.

Building muscle is beneficial for metabolic health, bone health and cognitive health, something all women absolutely need to be thinking about as they age.

Statistically women over 50 are at greater risk of bone fractures than their male counterparts. This is in part due to the reduction in available estrogen post menopause. Unless women actively work towards building and retaining bone mass, hip fractures and a loss of independence can ensue. This is something every woman wants to avoid at all cost.

Short bouts of high intensity intervals provide an effective stimulus for muscle growth without the fatigue promoting potential of long sessions. We need to train harder in a smarter and more calculated way as we age.

Rather than exhausting yourself with exercise every day, it is important to remember that rest and recovery are paramount as women get older. Make time for relaxed walks in nature, yoga and stretching to calm your nervous system, lower stress and encourage recovery.

Remember that incidental movement plays a much bigger role in your daily activity than you may have realise. Aim for 8,000-10,000 steps a day every day outside of any planned exercise sessions you participate in. This can be achieved through gardening, walking the dog, playing with your children/grandchildren, walking to work, daily chores etc. You can have a lot of fun here and enjoy movement just for the sake of moving.

I must add that women need to stop trying to ‘burn away’ the calories they are eating with hours of cardio. This kind of thinking is what keeps women stuck in a negative cycle of binge dieting, binge exercising and self loathing. STOP! You are worth SO MUCH MORE than this!

What About Dieting?

Does a woman need to severely cut back on the foods she loves as she gets older?

Anyone who wants to lose weight, needs to cut back on excess calorie intake, there is no way around this unfortunately. The notion that women need to eat low carb or any other extreme diet method is incorrect. Restrictive diets lead to rebound eating and weight gain, you will hear this referred to yoyo dieting. What women over 40 need, is a sustainable calorie deficit that allows them to eat some of the foods they enjoy, in amongst lots of plant foods (fruit, veg, legumes etc) and plenty of protein.

Weight Loss Tips:

  1. Eat sufficient protein every day.

  2. Add lots of green and brightly coloured vegetables and some fruit to your meals.

  3. Monitor high calorie, easy to eat food & drinks and keep them to a minimum.

  4. Check in on how much alcohol you are drinking. Alcohol calories can soon add up to a whole meal worth.

  5. Find a way of eating that supports weight loss, is easy to maintain but also allows you to enjoy your life.

Weight loss takes time and may require you to learn a new way of looking at food. The weight-loss industry has warped how women see their body and food. If you feel your relationship with food is a mental health issue, don’t be afraid to reach out to a trained dietitian or a psychologist for help.

So What Does All Of This Mean?

Excitingly it means that women over 40 have more capacity to take control of their health and waistline than was previously believed. We are not at the mercy of our hormones like we once though…woohoo!!! We also know that drastic measures are not necessary and only compound any issues we are experiencing as a result of sleeplessness, high stress and lack of energy.

Women at this time in life really need to take a closer look at all factors that are contributing to them feeling less energised.

Ask Yourself These Questions.

  1. How can I get more sleep?

  2. How can I hand over some of my responsibilities to others?

  3. How can I make time for my own needs?

  4. What professional help do I need for mental health or hormonal support and advice?

  5. How can I make time for exercise that is beneficial?

  6. What can I change in my diet today that will benefit my longterm health?

  7. Am I eating enough to support activity?

Put Yourself First.

Ladies, you have very likely been putting everyone else first for a very long time, now it is time to think about you. Your body is asking for something different from you. It is asking you to listen, to acknowledge and to respond to its changing needs. It's time to ditch the old beliefs about what it takes to stay in shape and embrace some new ones.

If you are finding this hard to do alone, please reach out. I am here to support you to find a better way forward that will see you looking and feeling the best you have in years. Mel x

#strongwomen #midlifewoman #stronglikeawoman #trainlikeawoman #youareworthit #selflove #newyou #mybestlife #growstrong #weightloss #womensfitness #midlifefitness

Hi, my name is Melanie Briony and I am a fitness and lifestyle coach with over 10 years experience in the fitness and wellness field. As a woman in my late 40s, I began to notice how women my age and older were missing from the conversation when it came to their fitness needs. I was also noticing changes in my own body that I couldn't find answers to which was really frustrating considering all the study I have undertaken over the last decade. Learning about menopause has been really enlightening, how did I not know this about my own body? That is why I am making it my business to bring this information to you from the best research available. Have any questions? Send me a message.

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