To the dismay of many middle-aged women, gaining weight is common during menopause. Besides aesthetic aspects they may struggle with, weight gain puts them at risk for heart disease, diabetes, and other health issues.1
Alongside hormonal shifts and genetic factors, scientists point to lifestyle as one of the main culprits. For this reason, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh set up The Women's Healthy Lifestyle Project (WHLP) to take a closer look at the effects of daily habit changes on weight control in postmenopausal women.
This randomized clinical trial was set up to last for five years. Researchers recruited 535 healthy, premenopausal women between the ages 44 and 50. Their body mass index (BMI) ranged between 20 to 34 kg/m2.
Women were divided into two groups, the control and the experimental. Those in the experimental group were given a moderate weight loss goal for the upcoming five years, which included:
- 5 lb. (2.3 kg) for women with normal weight (BMI below 24 kg/m2)
- 10 lb. (4.5 kg) for overweight women (BMI 25-26 kg/m2)
- 15 lb. (6.8 kg) for obese women (BMI 27-34 kg/m2)
They were given specific instructions on diet and exercise to prevent weight gain during the trial, including following a low-fat, reduced-calorie meal plan and increasing their physical activity expenditure. Researchers also held numerous educational and motivational meetings on behavioral, dietary, and exercise topics.
Besides weight gain, researchers also wanted to study the effects of lifestyle changes on low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, blood pressure, other menopausal symptoms, and bone loss. As such, follow-up assessments were scheduled at the 6th, 18th, 30th, 42nd, and 54th month.
Short-term results showed that women in the experimental group lost most weight on average than the controls (-10.8 lb. and -6.7 lb. in comparison to -0.8 lb. and +0.6 lb. in the control group at the 6- and 18-week follow-ups, respectively).
Average weight change in the experimental group was slightly under baseline weight, whereas the control group gained on average of 6 lb. in 45 months.
There was also a significant reduction in LDL cholesterol, systolic blood pressure, and blood glucose levels among women undergoing the intervention.
At the 54-week follow-up, 55% of women in the experimental group were at or below their weight from the beginning of the study, in contrast to 26% in the controls. Waist circumference and percentage of body fat were also more significantly reduced in the experimental group.
What Does It Mean?
The results of this trial show that twice as many women in the experimental group maintained their weight throughout the 5-year period than those who did not implement any changes. They also experienced significant reductions in body fat and waist circumference.
Interestingly, beneficial effects in terms of reduced waist circumference and lowered glucose levels were observed even among women in the experimental group who did not experience substantial weight loss.
These findings suggest that although common, weight gain and changes in body composition during menopause can be influenced by lifestyle changes. Simple improvements maintained over time can drastically reduce postmenopausal risks, including heart disease and diabetes, enabling women to enjoy that life phase more healthily and happily.
- Annals of Behavioral Medicine. (2003). Lifestyle intervention can prevent weight gain during menopause: Results from a 5-year randomized clinical trial. Retrieved September 22, 2020 from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1207/S15324796ABM2603_06
- Mayo Clinic. (2019). Menopause weight gain: Stop the middle age spread. Retrieved September 22, 2020 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/womens-health/in-depth/menopause-weight-gain/art-20046058