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How menopause affects your body fat and fitness

An older, dark-haired woman who may be experiencing or may be thinking about menopause. She sits outdoors on the porch of a white-washed house.
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Lisa studied journalism and is a certified fitness and health trainer, as well as a meditation coach! She spent many years working for different lifestyle and fitness magazines, and she writes articles for us on the topics of working out, fitness, lifestyle and mind.

Celebrated by some, feared by others! For most people who menstruate, menopause marks a turning point in life. Between mood swings, hot flashes and night sweats, and gaining weight, there can be many associated symptoms. Read more about how menopause can affect the body here.

Menopause and body fat

With the onset of menopause, estrogen production decreases. Estrogen is not only an important hormone for the menstrual cycle and pregnancy; it also plays a role in fat metabolism. The transition of menopause changes the concentration of the body’s sex hormones; it can cause estrogen deficiency as well as an excess of testosterone.

As a result, fat distribution typically changes; before menopause, anyone who has a period tends to store fat on their hips and butts. But they tend to gain weight around their abdomen with the onset of menopause.

Hormones aren’t the only culprit behind gaining weight during menopause, however. Fat metabolism has been shown to slow down with age, meaning stored fat is broken down more slowly.

On top of that, your basal metabolic rate drops and the body loses muscle mass. Thus, your body’s fat reserves increase by about two kilograms between ages 50 and 60, even if your weight remains the same. (1)

Typical symptoms of menopause

Gaining weight is only one possible symptom of menopause, and it’s a subjective one. No two people experience this phase of life in the same way. While some hardly notice these hormonal changes, others suffer to a varying degree from a range of menopause symptoms.

Here are some typical examples of these symptoms:

  • Menstrual irregularities: Leading up to their last menstrual period, the menstrual cycle is often irregular and bleeding can be both heavier and longer than usual. The onset of this is referred to as ‘perimenopause.’
  • PMS: During menopause, many people suffer from symptoms otherwise associated with premenstrual periods, such as headaches, breast tenderness, and irritability.
  • Hot flashes: Increased body temperature and sweating, both at night and during the day, are typical.
  • Sleep disturbances: Some people have trouble falling asleep during menopause and wake up frequently at night. As a consequence, they might feel exhausted and less productive during the day.
  • Dizziness: Hormonal changes can upset your sense of balance, so people experiencing menopause may suffer from dizzy spells.
  • Hair loss and hair growth: some notice thinning hair or increased hair loss before menopause. Some also experience new hair growth on their face.
  • Thin skin: Hormonal changes cause the skin to be less hydrated, so it can appear thinner, less elastic, and more wrinkled.
  • Vaginal dryness: With the onset of menopause, blood supply to the reproductive organs decreases. In addition, the cervical glands produce less mucus. Characteristics of this change may include vaginal dryness and itching.
  • Digestive problems: Bloating, constipation, and gaining weight are common symptoms as metabolism becomes sluggish.
  • Joint pain: Estrogen is responsible for bone health, among other things. As estrogen decreases during menopause, it can lead to symptoms such as limb and joint pain.
  • Mood swings: Restlessness, nervousness, depressed moods, and irritability are commonplace for some.
  • Memory problems: Hormonal changes affect the processing of information in the brain. Many people report forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating.

What is menopause?

Menopause refers to a person’s last menstrual period. The terms menopause and climacteric are often used synonymously. They describe a specific phase of a person’s life, usually between the ages of 40 and 50.

What happens during this time? The ovaries gradually produce fewer sex hormones, and ovulation occurs less frequently until the supply of fertilizable eggs is no longer available. If someone is able to have children before menopause, they will not be able to conceive after menopause, as the ovaries no longer produce the hormones needed for pregnancy.

Menopause generally begins from around age 40, with an average onset around 51. The exact onset and how long it lasts varies from person to person. By the same token, its signs and symptoms can differ considerably.

How does menopause first present itself?

A first indication of the onset of menopause is irregular menstruation. Some people with a uterus experience accompanying signs such as hot flashes, sweating, sleep problems, and mood swings.

This is due to the hormonal changes that the body undergoes when the ovaries slow down their estrogen production. As a result, the brain secretes more sex hormones to stimulate the ovaries. At the same time, the ratio between estrogen levels and those of the male sex hormone testosterone shifts, and this hormone imbalance can result in various symptoms.

What helps relieve perimenopause discomfort?

Every person who gets a period will be confronted with menopause, and while some suffer more from various complaints during this period, others hardly notice it at all. Basically, it’s important to realize that there is nothing wrong with menopause. It’s a completely natural process – just like puberty.

What helps during this time is to maintain a positive mindset. No one going through menopause is alone! There are many ways to share with and support each other. Meditation, certain types of yoga (such as hormone yoga), lifestyle changes, and self-care routines can also alleviate discomfort.

If you’re concerned about any associated weight gain, be mindful of your habits and your lifestyle, both before and during menopause. Lack of exercise and unchanging eating habits lead to higher body weight in particular.

Movement is key. 15 to 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day – walking, light jogging, or cycling – significantly boosts your physical fitness. Ideally, this should be supplemented by two to three weight training units per week to help compensate for natural muscle loss and increase your basal metabolic rate. (2)

Our tip: Balance training has been proven to strengthen your deep muscles, especially in the core and around the spine. In the long run, this can save you from back pain, which can develop frequently during menopause.

When it comes to food, eat a balanced diet, especially lots of vegetables and whole grains or cereals, supplemented with fruit, lean meats, fish, and unsaturated fats. Be sure to provide your body with all the macronutrients it needs. This includes carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Vitamins and trace elements should round out your diet. For peace of mind, you can use high-quality supplements, like our Daily Vitamins.

Summary

  • Perimenopause describes the phase in the life of someone who menstruates at which point their ovaries stop releasing eggs. This usually begins around the age of 40.
  • Menopause is a person’s very last menstrual period. It usually begins around the age of 51.
  • The ovaries stop producing estrogen. As a result, there is a hormonal change during menopause.
  • Until the body has adjusted hormonally, a number of menopausal symptoms may occur during this transition.
  • Before and after menopause, gaining weight, especially around the abdomen, is not uncommon. This is due in part to changes in hormonal balance, but also to the natural aging process. Exercise and a balanced diet can regulate body weight.
Sources for this article
We at foodspring use only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • (1) https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-019-0565-5

  • (2) https://www.foodspring.de/magazine/konzentrationsuebungen