Menopause Exercise: How It Can Help

April 30, 2014
Menopause Exercise: How It Can Help

On average, women put on 1.5-4.0 pounds per year after age 50. For many, this is terrifying. A few extra pounds a year doesn't seem like much, but if you gain 5 pounds a year starting when you're 45, you're looking at 50 extra pounds by age 55! Contrary to popular belief, the blame doesn't fall on menopause. Exercise and diet changes can help you to combat the weight gain that is actually caused by mid-life changes in metabolism and lifestyle.

While menopause isn't to blame for the overall weight gain, what estrogen does impact is the distribution of weight. That means you can blame menopause if you suddenly have a muffin top even if you haven't gained a pound. This may mean you'll need to revamp your diet and exercise regimen—or risk a very upsetting weight gain.

You are not alone in this newfound struggle to battle the muffin top. Many women come to me with their struggles and here is what I tell them to get them back on track:

  1. "My metabolism stinks, so dieting doesn't work." What you actually mean is that the diet that worked when you were 20 doesn't work anymore. The answer? Rethink it. My advice stems from personal experience, and it's similar to what you'd hear from any nutritionist: Try eating on smaller plates, cut out soda completely, keep an (honest) food journal, and limit your carb and alcohol intake (at 120 calories/glass, 2 glasses of wine at dinner add up to 25 pounds in a year).
  2. "I'm too tired to work out." It's no secret that hot flashes often make it impossible for menopausal women to get a good night's sleep. That's why taking steps to diminish hot flashes, whether that's taking estrogen or a low dose SSRI can be a lifesaver. Women who get 8 hours of sleep are not only more likely to have the energy to work out, but they also have a raised level of certain hormones that speed up your metabolism. This means if you're currently experiencing hot flashes as a part of menopause, exercise becomes a tool to boost your metabolism.
  3. "I hate exercising." It's not all about exercising—it's about being active. I remember visiting Paris and seeing tons of thin women who looked at me like I had three heads when I went for a jog. Most Parisian women would never be caught dead wearing gym shoes and sweating like a pig, but they're thin because they have an active lifestyle, walking whenever possible. If you have a desk job, make taking a few laps of your office every hour part of your schedule. Get up and talk to someone across your office instead of sending them that email.
  4. "I don't have time to exercise." See excuse #3. The more you make being active part of your daily routine, the more you'll see results without the dreaded trip to the gym. One of the best purchases I ever made was my treadmill desk. I very slowly walked on it every day for hours while writing my book and wound up walking miles every day without even noticing. Now, I opt to slowly walk on it as I talk on the phone or watch a movie. Bonus: Walking actually keeps my energy up, so I work more efficiently.
  5. "Every time I work out, a little urine comes out." Losing urine every time you run, jump, or even walk with a bounce is more common than you may think. The more vigorous the exercise, the greater the chance of incontinence, a true disincentive for working out if there ever was one. Pelvic floor muscle training along with behavior modification and biofeedback with an experienced pelvic floor physical therapist is highly effective. If you prefer to do pelvic exercises on your own, InControl Medical distributes pelvic floor strengthening devices for women to use in the comfort of their homes.
  6. "I work out everyday, but I'm still gaining weight." Working out is relative. Sometimes a woman's version of exercise is 20 minutes on the elliptical with minimal resistance. Well, that's not necessarily doing anything—especially if you're sedentary the rest of the day. Most women drive to work, sit at a desk all day, get 20 minutes of mild exercise and then sit around all night. Try stepping your workout routine up a notch, whether that means a higher setting on your elliptical, ten extra minutes, or adding an extra element, like weights, to your routine. Ideally, you should be sweating for the majority of your workout. But, again, the key is to make being active during the day your new norm.

Regardless of whether or not you're experiencing menopause, exercise and making good nutrition choices can really make a difference with your weight. If you find that keeping the weight off is a challenge, just remember that it is never too late to start. Try following a few of these tips and enjoy the positive changes to your health!

Dr. Lauren Streicher
Dr. Lauren Streicher is an Associate Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern University’s medical school, The Feinberg School of Medicine, in Chicago. Considered a thought leader in her field, Dr. Streicher has appeared in numerous national and local media outlets discussing all aspects of Obstetrics and Gynecology. She's an expert contributor to The Oz Blog, and her “What’s Up Down There” segments were seen weekly on NBC’s In The Loop With iVillage. Her book, The Essential Guide to Hysterectomy, remains the #1 book on hysterectomy on She is currently working on a book about sexual health after menopause. For more information on Dr. Streicher, visit Follow her on Twitter @DrStreicher or visit her on Facebook.
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