You’ve had a flat stomach all of your life, and you’ve pretty much always gained weight in your butt and thighs. So, why do you now have a belly that continues to grow as you age? Well, there are a few reasons why fat starts accumulating in our stomach as we age, but for women, it is a reality of menopause.
There are a variety of other reasons for belly fat, including heredity, genetic predisposition, poor diet and lack of exercise to name a few. But a lot of women, even those who are thin or those who have always had a flat stomach, now have belly fat. Women, as compared to men, typically are less prone to belly fat, but as we age, our metabolism slows and hormones change. Even our distribution of fat changes; the fat in our arms, legs and hips get smaller while our tummies get bigger. This redistribution of fat, also termed “the middle age spread,” happens because of the way we break down fat and because of the various hormone changes that are happening to our bodies.
Menopause causes a loss of estrogen and because estrogen is also made by our fat cells, our bodies produce more fat cells to help balance of the loss of estrogen. In addition, progesterone levels also slow and can contribute to bloating and water weight gain.
The problem and risks of having a lot of belly fat is that it is a visceral or “interior" fat. This kind of fat is deep below the skin and can surround our organs and lead to a multitude of health problems. Visceral fat contains active cells that release hormones and it can disturb your metabolism, which is already slowing because of the aging process.
These out-of-balance hormones can cause insulin levels to go up and thyroid levels to go down. An increase in the stress hormone cortisol also adds to and causes more visceral belly fat. Further, belly fat can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease; cause high blood pressure; an increase in triglycerides; increased LDL (bad cholesterol) levels; lower HDL (good cholesterol) levels; lead to gall bladder problems; increase insulin levels which can lead to type II diabetes; and can contribute to breast and colorectal cancers.
Menopause-related weight gain is unavoidable but you can remedy the effects by exercising and eating a healthy diet. Exercising should be a moderate to intense cardio workout, for 30 minutes, three to five times per week. Whether it be walking, running or swimming, it doesn’t matter; what’s important is that you get your heart pumping and calories burning. Strength training with weights, or resistance exercises, are just as important because the more muscle you build, the more fat and calories you burn, even when resting. Calorie burning becomes all the more important as we age because our thyroid and metabolism are slowing and don’t work as effectively as they did when we were younger. Plus, exercise relieves stress, which will also help with the rise in your cortisol levels and the reduction of belly fat.
It is also very important to eat a healthy diet. A diet low in saturated fat and rich in complex carbs, fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and omega-3s can also counter the effects of menopause. The old adage “you are what you eat” becomes all the more real and true as we age.