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How to Ward Off Menopausal Weight Gain

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2013-02-24-MenopauseMondaysLOGO.jpgIt's springtime! Are you still waiting for that winter weight to melt? For many of us, winter means seeing a shifting scale.

Most people gain about one pound over the winter months, according to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine. And while one pound seems relatively harmless, that extra poundage is the result of both fat gain and muscle loss, which can put your waistline -- and your health -- at risk. Gaining as little as 4.4 pounds after age 50 could increase your risk of breast cancer by 30 percent, according to Mayo Clinic.

Regardless of what number you see on the scale, women's weight through menopause and perimenopause is largely determined by five factors: hormones, diet, exercise, stress and genetics. Though we may not be able to control all of these factors on our own, a healthy weight is certainly within reach and should be an achievable goal.

Here are my five steps to help you shed those extra menopausal pounds:

1. Don't let your hormones get the best of you. Research shows that estrogen receptors located in the hypothalamus of the brain control food intake, energy expenditure, and body fat distribution. When estrogen levels in the brain dip during menopause, this control panel increases hunger, slows metabolism, and encourages fat gain around the waist. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) could potentially be improved upon to keep the brain's estrogen receptors from promoting hunger, a sluggish metabolism, and a growing waistline during menopause. Currently, HRT may prevent abdominal fat gain, according to research from Gunma University School of Medicine in Japan.

2. Quit dieting. Deprivation diets cause weight gain, not loss. Since they don't provide your body the energy (aka calories) it needs, they can cause your body to slow its metabolism to conserve resources, according to Mayo Clinic. On the flip side, in one study of 465 overweight and obese postmenopausal women by the University of Pittsburgh, women who simply ate more fruits and vegetables while reducing their consumption of desserts, meat, and cheese not only dropped pounds, but maintained that weight loss for four years. If you are looking for an actual program to help you eat healthier, Weight Watchers is frequently recommended by physicians and recently topped US and World News Report's "Best Diets" list for weight loss. My husband and I tried it with great success! At first I was reticent, as I would rather have a Pap smear than have to add up points. But if you use the Weight Watchers app, all the adding is done for you. No math needed! WW taught us a new way of eating that was size shrinking and life changing!

3. Exercise. Physical activity not only wards off weight gain, but keeps the body young. Exercising during and after menopause can help maintain the muscle and bone mass that we tend to lose rapidly after menopause, according to the American Council on Exercise. If you're unsure of where to start, try taking a walk! While all exercise raises your fitness and feel-good endorphin levels, breaking a sweat outside has been shown to increase energy and positive thinking while slashing tension, anger, and depression even better than indoor exercising, according to a review published in the Environmental Science and Technology. Wearing a pedometer--though it may seem geeky--could give you serious incentive to move more. So clip one on and start counting!

4. Slash stress. It's hard to relax, especially when you're going through the trials of menopause, but it's important for your mind and body to decompress. Stress not only tends to add weight around your belly but can also boost your appetite, creating a vicious cycle. High stress is a predictor of weight gain and can break your will to stick with a diet, according to research from King's College London. Here's my prescription: Find some form of exercise that makes you smile. Grab your lover or friend and take a walk, ride your bike or go to the gym. Take the time to read a book, watch a favorite TV show or simply enjoy your family and friends. Whatever helps you decompress.

5. Control your genes. No, not the "skinny jeans" you bought last September and can no longer squeeze your bod into, but your actual genetics. They play a huge role in weight at any age. If your female relatives developed curves in their later years, you probably will too -- unless you do something about it! Yes, you can change your genes. Walking briskly for an hour a day can cut the genetic influence toward obesity in half, according to a study from the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health. However, a sedentary lifestyle (aka watching TV for four hours a day) increases the influence of your genes on weight gain by 50 percent, according to the study.

Reaching out is IN! Suffering in silence is OUT! Remember: It's totally normal to suddenly find that you are a member of the sisterhood of the shrinking pants, especially if you're going through perimenopause and menopause. But it's never too late to start living a healthier life. Your brain and body will thank you and so will those clothes collecting dust in your closet. Take the first step! Go ahead -- you can do it!

For more by Ellen Dolgen, click here.

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Ellen Dolgen is a Health and Wellness Advocate, Menopause Awareness Expert, Author, Speaker, and Health Blogger. Ellen is the author of Shmirshky: The Pursuit of Hormone Happiness -- a cut-to-the-chase book on perimenopause and menopause that's filled with crucial information, helpful guides, and hilarious and heartfelt stories. Known for her humor, compassion, and sassy personality, Ellen has appeared on numerous television and radio broadcasts, including: The Rachael Ray Show, The Doctors, Oprah Radio, Playboy Radio, "Tell Me More" on NPR, Doctor Radio, and dozens of other regional and national media outlets. Ellen is a frequent guest on the popular radio show, "Broadminded," on Sirius XM Radio (Stars XM 107) and is a regular contributor on Huff/Post 50 along with blogging for many leading women's health sites. Ellen has dedicated herself to women's wellness through a wide breadth of activities ranging from working with pharmaceutical companies in helping them to effectively address women's health needs to serving on hospital advisory boards and advocating for cardiovascular health.

Ellen's motto is: Reaching out is in! Suffering in silence is out!

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