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The Happy Truth about Menopause and Weight Gain

Arrangement of cut fruit.

Your metabolism is chugging along just as efficiently now as when you were 20, according to the latest science. Read up on the menopause weight gain facts you should know, then go celebrate!

The best news: A 60-year-old has the same metabolism as a 20-year-old.

Turning 40—or even 50—does not tank your metabolism, despite everything you’ve heard. In fact, your inner flame is just as strong as you are, and it stays that way, steadily burning, into your 60s.

We know this because of a recent groundbreaking study that’s making experts rethink not just metabolism, but also the aging process. The new research measured metabolism more precisely than had ever been done before by using a highly accurate gold-standard method of testing, the study authors explain. And it was wide in scope: The study was conducted on nearly 6,500 women and men around the world ranging from infants to 95-year-olds. Once all the data was collected, the scientists controlled for variables that affect energy expenditure, like body size. Then they were able to map out what metabolism looks like throughout our lifetime. The results astonished them.

Hands in prayer behind the back.

Here’s what researchers found about metabolism and age:

Your metabolism stays steady for years. It has long been believed that metabolism is highest when we’re teenagers and slows dramatically as we approach middle age. But the researchers discovered that metabolism peaks far earlier and declines much later than that, and that it has four distinct phases.

From infancy to age 1, metabolism is at its high point, and a baby’s metabolic rate is 50 percent higher than an adult’s. From ages 1 to 20, metabolism drops about 3 percent a year. Then from ages 20 to 60, metabolism holds steady. After age 60 it slowly starts to decline (0.7 percent a year). That means for 40 years, we’re burning calories at a steady rate, about 2,500 a day on average, according to the researchers. The best news: A 60-year-old has the same metabolism as a 20-year-old.

Menopause does not affect metabolism. It’s a major metabolic milestone, just like pregnancy, yet menopause doesn’t slow your metabolism at all. The researchers aren’t sure why—they admit that this finding surprised them—and they hope to do further studies to figure out the reason. But the bottom line is that we are not destined to put on pounds at midlife, as long we eat healthfully and exercise regularly.

Women and men have the same metabolic rate. There’s nothing magical about men. Yes, they can lose weight faster than we can. But that’s only because the male body tends to be bigger and naturally has more lean muscle. Muscles use more energy (aka calories) than fat. But once the scientists controlled for that fact, they found zero difference in metabolic rate between men and women.

Now, learn to maximize your metabolism even more

While there is no proven way to boost metabolism (sadly, that’s a myth, the study authors say), what you do (and don’t do) in terms of lifestyle helps keep your body healthy. It is common to gain 5-8% of your body weight during menopause, generally around the abdomen. But has not been shown to be directly caused by menopause. If you experience weight gain during menopause, fret not;  it can go away.

Combat menopause weight gain with these 3 simple steps

1. Eat right. Studies show that muscle mass decreases with age, which means that as you enter your 40s and 50s, you don’t need as many calories. If you don’t adjust our calorie intake as you age, your diet can account for some weight gain associated with menopause. Many experts recommend eating 200 calories less per day in our 50s than in earlier years because of reduced muscle mass. 

With a reduced calorie intake, the quality of what you eat becomes much more important than the quantity. Load up on fruits and vegetables, choose whole grains instead of refined ones, and cut back on processed sugars. In addition, “make sure every meal contains some lean protein like fish, chicken, or plant-based protein,” advises Amy Lee, M.D., a medical nutritionist in California. “That helps slow the loss of lean muscle mass that happens as we get older.”

"Our nutritional needs change as we age, and our diet can influence what symptoms we may experience during perimenopause. For example, hot flashes can be exponentially worse for women with unhealthy BMIs," says Kourtney Sims, M.D., a board-certified integrative gynecologist based in Houston, TX, certified member of the North American Menopause Society, and Phenology’s Chief Medical Advisor. "Our hormonal health benefits greatly from a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, essential fatty acids, fiber, and fermented foods."

That’s why talking to a Registered Dietitian can be so impactful, especially ones with experience in menopause-related topics. You can connect via text-based chat with an RD in the Phenology app to ask questions and get answers on nutrition, as well as other topics like sleep, stress, movement and hydration.

2. Move more. During menopause, exercising to avoid weight can can be more of a challenge due to symptoms you may experience. The good news is that there are still ways to get your body moving regularly.

“Your body is not meant to be sedentary,” says Dr. Lee. “Evaluate your activity level throughout the day and work on increasing it.” Stand up from your desk regularly, do some light stretching, take a quick walk. And make exercise a habit. Be sure to include strength training in your routine—it helps build muscle. That’s important because the more lean muscle mass you have, the more efficiently you burn calories, which in turn can help you avoid that dreaded menopause weight gain.

3. Manage stress. Hormone changes during menopause have been shown to increase anxiety and depression, which are both highly correlated with stress. Chronic stress causes inflammation and our bodies respond by storing fat and breaking down muscle mass, says Dr. Lee. With less muscle mass available, the calories you eat contribute to menopause weight gain more quickly.

Related: Dial Down The Hormonal Stress of Perimenopause

Get tension under control by doing things that calm and relax you. Spend time with friends, read a good book, or meditate. Another great option: Head outside. Studies show that spending time in nature boosts our mental health by making us feel happier and more positive, and it improves our physical health by reducing the production of stress hormones. Stress management can do wonders for your worries about menopause weight gain.

Besides chatting one-on-one with a Phenology Coach in the Phenology App, talk to your healthcare provider about the benefits of naturally-powerful ingredients in supplements. For example, saffron and genistein is a combo that, consumed as part of a daily regimen as in this daily supplement routine, can reduce stress and anxiety, support positive mood and better sleep, and reduce frequency and duration of hot flashes.

Yes, studies have shown that your metabolism stays steady up through your 60s. Other factors in life can contribute to weight gain as you make your way through menopause. But the happy truth is that even in menopause there are simple things you can do to change that. Check out Phenology’s App to get more tips on how to deal with your menopause symptoms.

Pam O'Brien
Pam O’Brien is a writer and editor who has written for O Quarterly, Shape, Fitness, and Sweet July magazines, among others. Most recently she served as deputy editor of Shape, where she headed up the health, nutrition, food, travel, and celebrity coverage. She is an expert on health, nutrition and wellness topics, and has appeared on many national TV programs, including the TODAY show, Good Morning America, CNN Headline News, and Access Hollywood.

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