For many generations, women have battled with the 'middle-aged spread', which so often starts to appear around the time of the menopause, with blame often being laid on the menopause, or on the use of HRT. Although it is often the source of jokes and teasing, weight gain can have significant health implications, not to mention the psychological effects - we all know how depressing it can feel when clothes just feel too tight, or don't fit at all.
It is known that as our hormone balance changes, with a shift in the balance of estrogen and testosterone production (estrogen declining and so steady levels of testosterone have more of a dominant effect), we tend to distribute fat more around the middle and tend to develop the male-like apple shape instead of the female-like pear shape. Along with the change in hormone balance, our rate of metabolism changes as does the way that our body handles glucose and insulin. So all in all, the hormone changes of the menopause itself contribute to weight gain and a change in shape. Taking HRT has not been shown to cause weight gain and, in some women, may help to restore the hormone balance and so have a beneficial effect.
What else can we do? There is no simple magic answer, but the time of the menopause should be the time that we review our diet and lifestyle and, when necessary, make simple changes to reduce weight or maintain a healthy weight and increase exercise to both reduce menopausal symptoms, and to improve later health. If we are overweight, losing weight can reduce risks of heart disease, stroke, breast cancer, diabetes and cancer of the womb. We all need to find an eating style that includes a good variety of vegetables, salads, fruits, lean meats, fish and with minimal sugars and processed foods that we enjoy and can stick to. Similarly, exercise should be something that we enjoy and is sustainable, whether it be walking, Zumba, a sport, gym classes, swimming...and don't forget lots of sex!
We can use the time of the menopause as a positive wake up call to invest more time than we may have done for many years, to look after ourselves.
For more advice, visit the Diet, Lifestyle & Exercise section of Menopause Matters.