By Michael O'Reilly, M.D. ThirdAge Women's Health Expert
Q: Why do our metabolisms give in after menopause? Why do we have to work so hard to lose weight at this stage? What's going on with our bodies? And do you have medical suggestions for dealing with this? Diets don't work for me.
A: I don't have to tell you that women tend to gain weight after menopause, but for that matter so do men. For women being overweight is associated with an increase in diabetes, gallbladder disease, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure and arthritis.
Metabolism slows as we age, partially because of decreased activity and muscle mass. That's why exercise is so important. One-third of adults in the United States do not engage in any physical activity. Exercise increases the metabolic rate and increases muscle mass. It doesn't take much to get started -- one national study showed that women who walked at a brisk pace for three or more hours a week had a significant reduction in their risk of heart attack.
"Dieting" further decreases metabolism. However, eating a high-fiber, low-fat diet including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean meats and poultry is not considered dieting and can reduce weight as well as decrease the chance you will develop a disease associated with obesity.
While most women gain weight after menopause, those on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) gain less. Weight loss is not a legitimate reason for going on HRT but it is a factor to discuss with your physician. Other drugs such as Meridia and Xenical are showing promise but they are expensive, are not covered by health insurance, have unpleasant side effects and only result in minimal weight loss.