Midlife does present unique challenges for women. Our hormones go a little wacky, estrogen levels begin to drop as we go through perimenopause, leading up to the cessation of menstruation. During this time, weight gain becomes an issue, we have a compromised ability to burn fat efficiently, we face a depletion of bone density, and greater risk of osteoporosis. These changes are natural, but they don’t have to have dire consequences. We do not have to resign ourselves to accepting the weight gain that accompanies our perimenopause hormonal changes . We may need to work harder and give up a few habits we enjoyed in our twenties like that extra glass wine, but we can live healthy lives into our golden years. The first step in combating the weight gain during perimenopause is to be active. Studies have shown that active women entering menopause are leaner than those who have been inactive most of their adult lives. Women who have decreased their activity levels packed on the weight faster than those who maintained their levels of activity. Women who averaged sixty minutes a day throughout the study saw very little weight gain.
In our 30’s and 40’s we begin to lose lean muscle mass, which is metabolically more active than fat. We can help combat that with diet and exercise. Cardio and weight training both help to strengthen the heart and lungs, improve blood sugar levels, insulin response and build lean muscle mass.
One key part of our diet and nutritional needs during perimenopause is getting adequate protein. It’s suggested women eat 25-30g of protein with each meal. Protein evenly distributed throughout the day stimulates muscle protein synthesis and improves the anabolic response. This may be linked to the amino acid leucine, which fuels the protein synthesis machinery as we age. Rather than have a small breakfast, a salad at lunch and a huge chicken dinner, have a larger breakfast with 30g of protein, followed by a protein packed lunch and a smaller dinner with a lager emphasis on protein. Pay particular attention to the protein in your post workout meal. It’s a great opportunity to rebuild muscle mass.
As we reach menopause, our bone density declines leaving us at risk for hip fractures, and other broken bones. Making sure we get adequate amounts of Vitamin D will help to maintain our bone health. Some of the best ways to get more vitamin D are to eat foods rich in vitamin D like fatty fish, orange juice, cheese and eggs. The sun is also a great source of vitamin D, aim to spend 20-25 minutes outside enjoying the sun.
Unlike in our twenties when it was vital to get enough folic acid and iron, these are not as important in our forties into our fifties. The iron RDA decreases from 18g to 8g a day, with folic acid no longer an issue. Too much folic acid has actually shown to increase the risk of certain cancers.
Overall, our diets need to be nutrient rich but not calorie dense. Focus on eating healthful fats, low fat dairy, lots of fruits and vegetables and lean sources of protein. Cut back on your intake of refined carbohydrates, and eat more carbs with a lower glycemic index. Eat potassium rich foods, get plenty of fiber, calcium, and fatty acids.
It’s not difficult to ward off the negative effects of the hormonal changes we face as we enter perimenopause and then menopause. Being active, eating the right foods and getting plenty of protein is the key to staying healthy and maintaining lean body mass, healthy muscle tone and decreasing the risk of brittle bones.