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Win the Battle of the 'Menopause Belly' Bulge

By: , SparkPeople Blogger
6/15/2011 6:00 AM   :  29 comments   :  47,740 Views

Editor's Note: Cathy Cram, M.S., is the resident maternal fitness expert on our sister site, BabyFit.com. She writes a monthly series on menopause health and fitness.

By Cathy Cram, M.S.

One of the first changes many postmenopausal women notice is a subtle shift in how fat is distributed on their bodies. Women who never had much belly fat see the beginnings of a pad of fat the front and sides of their abdomens, and women who have always had a bit of a tummy notice it's much more pronounced. This change in body fat storage after menopause is referred to as the "menopause belly."

My own experience with menopause belly started with tummy jiggle whenever I drove over a bumpy road as well as finding that my favorite jeans suddenly were harder to zip up. My abdomen wasn't the area where I normally stored fat (my arms provide that reservoir) so it was a perplexing new problem. I was curious about whether other postmenopausal women experienced the same situation, so I questioned my 50ish friends to see if they'd noticed any changes in the size of their waist. Nearly all of the women I asked lamented about the appearance of their "menopause belly." We all laughed about this new and unwelcome addition, but in reality our expanding waistlines became less funny when entire wardrobes no longer fit.

So what does research say about the validity of the menopause belly? Is it the result of hormonal shifts or the penalty for reduced physical activity and excess calories? A study that examined research on menopause-related changes in body fat distribution offers some interesting findings. The researchers stated that studies using waist circumference or waist-to-hip ratio showed no menopause change in body fat distribution compared to premenopausal women. But in contrast, studies that used more high tech measuring tools (duel-energy X-ray absorptiometry, MRI or CT) showed that postmenopausal women had increased trunk fat and intra-abdominal fat levels in comparison with premenopausal women. The data from collective studies on menopausal body fat distribution suggest that starting in early postmenopause there is an associated increase in intra-abdominal fat independent of age and total fat level.

Great. It appears that we may not be to blame for this indignity, but I do feel we have some control over the extent of how much belly fat we gain as we age. In my situation, I did some thinking about why I may have put on extra weight and made some focused lifestyle changes to see if they would reduce my middle jiggle. One illuminating association I found was that the appearance of my expanding middle coincided with the end of cross country ski season and the lull before biking weather. My activity level had decreased during the lull (even with my attempt to keep up with some stationary biking and walking) and my caloric intake hadn't changed from what I was taking in during ski season.

The bottom line? My body wasn't as metabolically active at 50 as it was at 40, and I needed to add more exercise or cut back on calories. I did a little of both, adding an extra 30 minutes of exercise to my routine and cutting 300 calories in my daily diet. The diet revision required some record keeping to help me determine just how many calories I was taking in each day, and the food record had an added benefit of giving me an overview of the quality of my diet. I chose to stop eating my favorite sugary, fatty snack every night and combined with the extra exercise my "menopause belly" was gone within several months.

For the vast majority of postmenopausal women, it's the slow decline in activity level and lack of modification in diet that lead to the body fat changes. The bottom line is we need to increase our exercise level and more closely monitor our diet to maintain our premenopausal body fat level. The key is to make the commitment to the extra effort that's needed to maintain fitness and weight control as we age.

Remember, there are two issues associated an expanding tummy: increased body fat and poor abdominal muscle tone. Abdominal exercises won't reduce your tummy fat, but they will help provide support for your abdomen, and as you lose fat the increased muscle tone will give your abs better definition. If you're not willing to go gently into that flabby belly night, then join me in adding a short routine that'll tone your tummy and straighten up your posture. The article linked above features a series of five successive exercises that were developed for postpartum women to help rehabilitate abdominal muscles after pregnancy. I've found that these exercises work great for anyone, and they've become my favorite exercises for strengthening lower abdominal muscles.

The best years are to come, so let's focus less on the things we can't change and more on those that we can. No matter how old we get, there's always something we can do to make our life healthier and more intellectually stimulating. You're already on a positive lifestyle track as a SparkPeople member, so by combining the great diet information here with the specialized abdominal exercises featured below, you may trade a menopause belly for a leaner and toned core.

Catherine Cram, M.S. is the author of Fit Pregnancy For Dummies, and the owner of Comprehensive Fitness Consulting, LLC. Catherine's company specializes in providing prenatal postpartum fitness information to health-care professionals.

Have you experienced "menopause belly"? How did you work to overcome it?


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Comments

  • PJWCAMPBELL
    29
    Very simplistic article and I don't think it offers any advice that addresses the problem. - 9/17/2013   1:02:41 PM
  • 28
    I am currently fighting the "menopot"! Working out makes me feel better and what I need is the resolve not to let life get in the way of exercise. Great blog. Thanks! - 9/4/2012   11:06:16 AM
  • 27
    I have stopped drinking diet pepsi - only occassionally as a treat - when I "need something Sweet" and have noticed that my belly is much flatter.
    Glad I am not alone on this "what on earth is happening to me train???" LOL - 8/18/2011   8:53:54 AM
  • 26
    I thought so! I never carried fat around my middle....a pear....until a couple of years ago. Glad to know there was a reason for the change. - 7/14/2011   11:19:30 PM
  • 25
    I have tired everything with my doctor's help......I am going to an anti-aging doctor and going on bio-id hormones. - 7/14/2011   11:13:21 AM
  • 24
    Thank you for the information. I now have an additional roadmap in this post-menopausal journey of mine. - 6/17/2011   4:27:12 PM
  • GREATATTITUDE
    23
    Thanks so much for your article. Great stuff !!! - 6/17/2011   8:41:05 AM
  • 22
    I had a hysterectomy that threw me into menopause and have been trying to figure out why my abdomen has really changed.Now I know. Thanks for the blog.I know it isn't my imagination. Now as soon as I am healed, gotta get more active!!Any good exercises until the doctor gives the okay for me to go back to Curves & my prior extra active dairy farmer's wife lifestyle. - 6/17/2011   2:32:59 AM
  • 21
    Good blog - glad for the advice for the future. - 6/16/2011   4:00:20 PM
  • 20
    Intersting article. I'm noticing a little more jiggle and have accused myself of being a slacker. The only thing is, in the last few years I've adopted some healthier habits and increased my physical activity exponentially. I'm thinking that it could have been much worse if that hadn't happened. I'M NOT GOING DOWN WITHOUT A FIGHT! - 6/16/2011   12:59:38 PM
  • 19
    I never gained weight until I was in my mid to late 40's. Now at almost 60 I battle it constantly and yes, I have the middle jiggle. Guess I have to work a little harder! At least there's hope! - 6/16/2011   9:09:23 AM
  • 18
    Thank you so much for this information. Very interesting findings. Thank you! - 6/16/2011   8:56:07 AM
  • 17
    Thanks for the information. This is a big problem for me and I feel a little more equiped to deal with it. - 6/16/2011   7:59:40 AM
  • 16
    Interesting. - 6/15/2011   11:08:51 PM
  • LOVESLIFF
    15
    Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou. i am in the group who has always been weighty but recognise the problem of the menopause poundage. In addition i agree with the comments about doing abs as well as back excercises to support the spine and abdomen. - 6/15/2011   5:00:31 PM
  • 14
    I struggled with belly fat for twelve years during and after
    menopause. Exercise and dieting really did not change
    the shape of my body even when I lost weight. And if
    I would regain, it all settled right on my belly. My waist
    which had been 26'-27" had become 34"-35."

    Finally two years ago I solved the puzzle. My waist is
    now 25." Size four jeans are loose in the waist!

    How did I do this? It is a combination of interval training
    which only takes about 30 minutes three times a week
    and a diet that is centered around low glycemic foods
    as well as lots of omega 3 fats. I have lost 60 pounds
    and completely reshaped my body. And I find it a
    very easy program to follow.

    - 6/15/2011   2:01:25 PM
  • 13
    I am starting to go through menopause. I have maintained my weight and %body fat for about 4 years. In the last month or two, I have notices a change in my body shape. My belly bulge is much more pronounced. I am starting to feel flabby and fatter. I have not been on a scale for a couple of weeks (the last time I was I had gaind 2 pounds). I am a bit nervous because I think the gain is up to about 5 now. My diet and exercise has been pretty consistent but based on what I just read that is not going to work any longer. I suppose I will have to build more time into my day for my workouts, adjust my intake and really watch the weight like a hawk. I refuse to give in, I have worked way to hard to be where I am now. - 6/15/2011   1:52:15 PM
  • 12
    I'm laughing at MEATBALL44.

    Great blog!

    I'm not 50 but I believing in preparing for the future. - 6/15/2011   12:57:19 PM
  • 11
    I think this is one reason why I glommed onto having a major part of my personal yoga practice be pilates.

    Another practical issue is that I am not gunning for two-, four- or six-pack abs.

    For my life, functional ab strength is enough.
    This is what pilates gives you ... not the planks and the fancy core-downward-dogs, but the real, ripping, crunch-from-the-floor kind.

    My formerly fanatic swimming habit taught me that ... - 6/15/2011   12:21:20 PM
  • 10
    I'm 55 and have been "in" menopause for about 7 years. I've lost 124 pounds in the last 18 months, do strength training. Pilates, step classes. I run & walk. When I was younger the abdominal area between my belly button and breasts was the first to get flat is lost any weight......this is no longer true. Even though I am at a healthy weight and great fitness level, my abs are are still part of the "old" me. At least it's nice to know why my tummy is still a part of me.....thanks for the blog! - 6/15/2011   11:38:38 AM
  • 9
    I have icreased my exercises, tracked my food, training for races and now incorporate strength training but have noticed no change in 2 years except an increase in belly fat. My jeans look disgusting on and I just feel totally defeated by this natural cycle in a womans life.

    Ok, I am going to begin belly dancing & hoola hoop. Somehow.
    - 6/15/2011   10:07:01 AM
  • 8
    Ladies, one word: BELLYDANCING. You can start it at any age (my teacher is 67!!), you can do it in any weather, it's a great cardio workout, and it'll give you a core that won't quit! :) - 6/15/2011   9:36:09 AM
  • ALBEAUMONT1
    7
    Even before reading this article, I came to the realization this morning that if I have to work this hard to lose weight and trim down, then so be it. My belly issue cannot be ignored, since I can't replace my wardrobe. - 6/15/2011   9:12:32 AM
  • 6
    Diet and more core workouts & I also adding running to my cardio plan it has helped to firm up the lower belly area . - 6/15/2011   8:59:02 AM
  • REDSHOES2011
    5
    Most women are told they don't have to exercise all the areas of the stomach.. Jog on to this advice, many thin women would not be so paranoid if they trained kept their stomach posture muscles in check.. Transversus abs are our corset, they need to be trained like our bladder muscles and this is remembering posture at all times..
    I had surgery I know how these feel being operated, many women take them for granted.. Planks sorry not enough, or did these help avoid back alot of my pain..
    The stomach is three sets of muscle so you get by with one exercise for your back, your chest or your arms?? Many men go for the huge chest and give their legs a miss..
    The menopause belly is the womens lack of training posture.. It took me ages to see this point. Hell it took me years to see anything improvement perhaps I am blind? - 6/15/2011   8:43:30 AM
  • 4
    Yep-going through the whole pre-menopausal thing...I've started seriously working out more in the past year and have lost weight all over. The weight loss creeps up slowly, but like this writer I believe in looking at what I can change/control; not what I can't. I'm growing older-sure, but it doesn't have to be an automatic weight gain life sentence. - 6/15/2011   8:23:31 AM
  • 3
    As a 48-year-old woman, this is a concern for me. I have gotten down to goal weight and maintained for the past eight months after years of being overweight. It scares me that all the work I did getting here may be partially undone by menopause.

    I'm fighting the good fight, though. I am keeping up with exercise and proper eating, and will do everything I can to combat "menopause belly." - 6/15/2011   8:16:25 AM
  • 2
    Yes, sometimes I do think we women get it all! I used to think it was from gaining weight and not exercising. Glad to hear in part that I wasn't all to blame! Diet and more walking has helped to firm up the lower belly area. - 6/15/2011   7:30:32 AM
  • 1
    Yikes.. Once again..Glad I'm a Guy ..! - 6/15/2011   6:24:35 AM

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