On average, American women experience menopause between the ages of 48 to 51-years old, recognized as the time when they haven’t had a period for an entire year. The ovaries no longer release eggs, shutting down the reproductive system, and the body starts to experience a myriad of changes. Women can experience everything from hot flashes to dry skin and sometimes most noticeably, weight gain.
This is a new phase of life that is often difficult for many women, struggling to manage hormones, weight gain, and a new list of health challenges.
Before the true onset of menopause, though, women actually experience what’s known as perimenopause. Periods still occur during this time but hormones start to fluctuate, sometimes wildly, beginning as early as the late-30s. So while menopause is thought to be naturally occurring in the late-40s to early-50s, the truth is that it starts to impact a woman’s body as long as 15 years before that. During perimenopause, less estrogen is produced as well as less progesterone and testosterone. At this same time, more reproductive hormones are produced like FSH and LH. This new shift is when women start to experience symptoms like weight gain. In fact, by the time women have reached actual menopause, most of the symptoms have started to fade as a result of those hormones settling into a steady decline or stabilization.
Weight gain, in particular, is actually a healthy result of these changes in the body. As your ovaries start down-regulating estrogen, fat tissue up-regulates it to protect you. When the weight change is extreme you may just be experiencing an extreme new imbalance in hormones like estrogen in relation to progesterone. A normal level of one in correlation to an extremely high or extremely low level of another can start to cause a list of issues and symptoms.
Exercise is an effective way in fighting this. Not just in that exercise is the most clear and common way to shed weight, but because regular activity/exercise helps to balance your hormones and will help reduce stress by lowering your cortisol levels. Exercising is essentially your most direct action step toward managing these hormonal changes. Along with the proper diet, you can do certain things to manage those hormones as well. Your body naturally needs fats and aminos to operate at its best — using them for the energy needed to exercise just as well as for balancing those hormones. When you over exercise in this time, your body allocates those things toward exercise rather than managing the new changes in hormone levels. This means finding the proper range of exercise without creating extra stress on your body is important. Managing that stress with things like massages, natural treatments like CBD oils or tablets, getting more sleep, meditation, floating therapy, or just finding low-impact forms of exercise like yoga are all useful. While every body is different, every body will certainly change differently from the onset of perimenopause to the full arrival of menopause.