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How Women Can Avoid Midlife Weight Gain

Most women between ages 35 and 55 find it difficult to avoid gaining weight, especially inches that tend to settle around their waistlines.

In fact, on average, women gain about a pound a year during the years leading up to menopause and beyond. But middle-life weight gain doesn't have to be inevitable.

Weight gain during middle age is caused by a combination of factors:

  • Pregnancy. Weight gain during pregnancy is normal and necessary for a healthy baby, but most women don't lose all the added weight after childbirth.

  • Lack of physical activity. Work and family obligations make it difficult to find time and energy for regular exercise.

  • Hormonal shifts. Levels of estrogen decline with the approach of menopause. In response, the female body turns to secondary production sites, including body fat, to boost estrogen.

  • Loss of muscle mass because of age. Because muscle burns more calories than fat, the less muscle you have, the fewer calories you’ll burn.

  • Slower metabolism. As you age, your metabolism -- the number of calories you need to maintain basic body functions -- slows down by about 2 percent every year.

Make some changes

Whether you’ve already gained a few extra pounds or have yet to reach perimenopause, the following strategies can help you maintain a healthy weight in midlife and beyond.

  • Exercise regularly. Aerobic exercise boosts your metabolism and burns fat. Strength training increases muscle mass and raises metabolism so you burn more calories when not exercising. (Strength training is also essential for women older than 40 because the more muscle you have, the better able you are to prevent injuries from daily tasks and falls. Stretching exercises such as yoga help increase flexibility and prevent injury to joints.)

  • Follow a healthy diet. Focus on fruits, vegetables, nonfat dairy products, whole grains and lean protein. Most women need as much as 25 percent fewer calories in their 50s compared to their 20s. Cutting back on sweets, fat and alcohol, and adding regular exercise, can usually cut the calories that are packing on the pounds.

  • Cut back food portions. When it comes to food, even too much of healthy food can lead to weight gain.

  • Eat breakfast. Skipping breakfast, or any meal, in order to cut calories backfires because it slows down your metabolism and makes it more likely you’ll overeat later in the day.

Maintaining a healthy weight before and after menopause requires effort, but it can be done. Highly motivated women who stay goal-oriented are the ones who succeed.