If you struggled to button your jeans this morning, you are NOT alone. Most women gain about a pound a year on average during the menopause transition. While that doesn’t sound like a lot, the big issue is where those pounds are suddenly going—right to your belly! Belly fat is such a common occurrence that there’s even a name for it, the menopot. Unfortunately, it isn’t just a problem when you’re trying to zip up your jeans, extra weight in this area can lead to a host of health problems.
During childbearing years, the hips, thighs, and butt were likely the go-to spots when you gained weight. But once perimenopause arrives, your middle is more likely to be expanding. Estrogen directs fat to the lower body early in life to support childbearing. When estrogen declines, fat instead migrates to the abdominal area, similar to the pattern in which men gain weight.
The location of the fat isn’t the only difference. Weight gained in the hip, thigh, and butt areas is usually subcutaneous, right below the skin. But when you start packing on pounds in your midsection, the fat builds up deeper and around your organs. This fat, called visceral fat, appears to be more active than surface fat, releasing substances, affecting hormones, and increasing your risk of high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer. According to a study in the Journal of the American Heart Association, women with more central body fat had a 10 to 20 percent greater risk of having a heart attack during the seven-year study than women with more overall body fat. A widening waistline can even be risky if you’re otherwise a healthy weight.
Vanity aside, it’s smart—possibly even lifesaving—to take steps to manage your midsection.
Don’t worry, you won’t have to do dozens of crunches. It’s impossible to spot reduce. Instead, a comprehensive approach to all-over weight loss is your best strategy for shrinking your belly and protecting yourself against future health problems. Here are some additional steps that may target belly fat.
Eat more fiber, especially the soluble kind. This type dissolves in water to form a gel-like substance that helps to lower cholesterol and glucose levels. It also appears to help keep belly fat at bay. For every 10-gram increase in soluble fiber, there was a four percent decrease in the accumulation of abdominal fat, according to a study in the journal, Obesity. Good sources include oatmeal, oat cereals, barley, beans, nuts, lentils, peas, apples, blueberries, oranges, Brussel sprouts, and sweet potatoes. Fiber also helps by filling you up for fewer calories and improving digestion.
Kick up the intensity. All exercise is good for your health and body weight, but pushing yourself a bit could help slim down your middle. When researchers tracked over 1,000 adults for five years, they discovered that those who did some type of vigorous exercise—think jogging, jumping rope, fast cycling, speedy walking—at least a few times a week accumulated less belly fat than those who rarely or never got their heart rate cranking. An easy way to up your intensity is by adding short intervals to your usual workout. So, if you normally walk for exercise, speed up or jog for 30 to 60 seconds, then recover for a minute or two, and repeat throughout your workout. Increasing the speed of any activity or adding some impact—if your joints don’t mind—will ratchet up the intensity.
Skip the cocktails, or at least limit them. Drinking alcohol has been linked to a larger waistline, though it’s not exactly clear why those Cosmo calories seem to be drawn to your middle. Most drinks are high in calories, contain a lot of sugar, and often contribute to poor food choice when you’re indulging.
Pick up some dumbbells. If you’re not strength training, you’re losing vital muscle mass that fuels your metabolism. The decline can start in your 30s and means that you’re burning fewer calories. No wonder it’s harder to lose weight and easier to gain it as you get older. But lifting weight, using resistance bands, or doing body weight exercises like pushups can curb the loss and even rebuild some of the lost muscle. And according to research, it can help shrink belly fat. And just two or three workouts a week will do the trick. You can even pump out some reps while your binge watching your favorite show.
Find a way to chill. We know, we sound like a broken record. But, when you’re stressed, your body pumps out higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. One of the effects—there are many negative ones—of increased cortisol appears to be a bigger belly. The good news is there’s no right way to relax so pick what works for you. Walk. Meditate. Listen to relaxing music. Take some deep breaths. Do yoga. Sit on the couch and stroke your dog or cat.
Most importantly, stick with these healthy habits. Because visceral fat is so deep you may not notice the changes right away, but research has found that even if you don’t drop any pounds, you’re reducing your risk of future health problems.
A large waistline puts you at risk for metabolic syndrome, a cluster of symptoms that can lead to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and other health problems. If you have any of these related symptoms or are taking medication for any of them, you should see a doctor.
Increased belly fat is also a primary risk factor for insulin resistance—a precursor to diabetes, and a warning flag for heart disease, stroke, fatty liver, and vascular disease.
Other warning signs that should prompt a call to your doctor:
The information on the Gennev site is never meant to replace the care of a qualified medical professional. Hormonal shifts throughout menopause can prompt a lot of changes in your body, and simply assuming something is “just menopause” can leave you vulnerable to other possible causes. Always consult with your physician or schedule an appointment with one of Gennev's telemedicine doctors before beginning any new treatment or therapy.