Experts to middle-aged women: Start making healthy lifestyle choices today

As we age, we get all kinds of little aches and pains. That’s when it becomes very tempting to just stay at home, put on that telly, find a tub of ice cream and make yourself comfortable on the couch. What’s the harm in that? A lot, Mayo Clinic researchers warn.

A review of the weight gain risks and challenges faced by women in midlife has led Mayo Clinic researchers to a series of recommendations for this patient population.

Harmful midsection weight gain

The average weight gain for women in their 50s and 60s is 1.5 pounds (that’s about 680 grams) per year. For this group of women, much of that weight gain resides in the midsection. This type of fat is linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, which is also the No. 1 cause of death for postmenopausal women.

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A healthy lifestyle disrupted by menopausal symptoms

In addition to cardiovascular disease, central weight distribution puts this population at risk for abnormal glucose and lipid levels and high blood pressure.

“This population of women faces multiple challenges for maintaining a healthy weight,” says Ekta Kapoor, M.B.B.S., a Mayo Clinic endocrinologist and the study’s lead author.

“Mood changes, sleep disturbances, hot flashes and the many other changes of menopause can disrupt what may have previously been a healthy lifestyle.”

Interventions needed in primary care

Mayo Clinic Women’s Health researchers recommend primary care providers screen this population of women for being overweight and establish behavioural interventions, including psychological support, regular physical activity and changes in eating habits.

For those who are early into menopause, hormone therapy may be a consideration to manage menopausal symptoms. Decreasing menopausal symptoms enables women to focus on healthy lifestyle changes.

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Obesity increases cancer risk, hot flashes and sexual dysfunction

With hormones and metabolism against them, postmenopausal women face some of the highest rates of obesity in the country (the United States).

“In addition to the usual adverse consequences of obesity, postmenopausal women face some unique challenges posed by obesity, including worse hot flashes, sexual dysfunction and increased cancer risk,” says Dr. Kapoor.

“Targeting lifestyle habits during midlife and beyond will help prevent further health consequences down the road. It’s never too late to start making healthy lifestyle choices.”

The findings were published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.