Some ideas on weight control as women age
Puberty isn’t an easy time. Surging hormones causing bodies to change shape, a tendency to moodiness, and fatigue are all part of the adolescent’s ramping up to adulthood.Of course, menopause is no picnic, either. Among the numerous effects of a drop in estrogen is a reshaping of the body yet again, except that this time around, as weight tends to accumulate around the middle, the transformation is more suggestive of an apple than an hourglass. Putting on 10 to 20 pounds is common in midlife.All is not lost, though it may be harder to drop those extra pounds than it was at 30 or 40, thanks in part to a 5 percent per decade decrease in metabolic rate. Muscle mass naturally decreases as we age, and as the body composition shifts from muscle to fat, the rate at which our bodies burn calories slows down.The stress of major life changes, such as children leaving home — or returning — and the deaths of loved ones, can contribute to weight gain, and genetics also have a part to play. Isn’t it lucky that you have the resilience that comes with the years to cope with it all?Good habits“Exercise is key to keeping weight in check in mid-life,” said Carol Dohanyos, a registered physical therapist with VNA Northwest. “Healthy eating habits and regular exercise can help reverse course.“It’s important to keep weight in line in middle age for reasons beyond vanity,” she continued. “Excess weight increases the risk of breast and colorectal cancer, not to mention high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes, which can lead to stroke and heart disease.”There’s no miracle diet and this is not the time for radical fad diets. The idea is to develop good habits that you can happily maintain for the rest of your life. Concentrate on vegetables and fruit — eat a bright rainbow of colors. Don’t skip meals; if your body isn’t fed it will hold onto its fat with a vengeance. Try three small meals and two snacks, spaced throughout your waking hours to keep your metabolism rate and blood sugar stable.Drink lots of water. It’s amazing how good drinking a tall glass of water can make you feel. Hot water with a slice of citrus or a bit of mint is a comforting drink now that winter is upon us. If you’re already staying active through aerobic activities such as swimming, walking or jogging, keep it up. If you’re just starting — and it’s never too late to start — begin with just 10 minutes of light activity and gradually build up. Try to include aerobic exercise, stretching, stability exercises such as standing on one leg and strength training, either using a weight machine or hand weights. Start with a weight that causes your muscles to tire after 12 repetitions and work up from there.“It’s not necessary to join a gym, unless that especially appeals to you,” Dohanyos said. “The important thing is to choose a form of exercise that you enjoy so that you’re more likely to keep it up.” Exercise not only helps re-build calorie-burning muscle mass and maintain a healthy weight, but can have a positive effect on osteoporosis, one of the major causes of disability among older women. “Many women with osteoporosis are afraid that exercise will cause their bones to fracture, when, in fact, using your muscles actually helps protect bones,” Dohanyos said.“If you have osteoporosis it would be wise to talk to your doctor for a fitness assessment and possibly have a bone density test before starting an exercise program,” she said. “But regular exercise can be really helpful in improving muscle strength and balance, easing pain and boosting your sense of well-being.”And that sense of well-being is what it’s all about, whatever your age. Headquartered in Bantam, VNA Northwest (www.vnanw.org) provides home health care and hospice services to residents of 19 communities in northwestern Connecticut. Writer Cyd Emmons is a communications consultant to not-for-profit organizations.