Reasons for Abdominal Weight Gain in Older Women

A spreading waistline isn't uncommon in older women, and the accumulation of abdominal fat is more than a cosmetic issue. It increases the risk or indicates an increased risk for many serious health conditions, including hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer. Identifying the reasons for abdominal weight gain can help you and your health care professional treat and reverse the problem.

Many of the causes of abdominal weight gain can be countered with proper diet and exercise.

Lifestyle Factors

The most obvious factors, diet and exercise, are often responsible for abdominal weight gain in older women. Consider ways that your eating habits and activity levels have changed over time. Have you slowed down the pace of your life recently? Less physical activity means more calories are stored as fat. Similarly, turning to comfort food in times of distress or out of boredom will impact the rate at which you gain weight. Abdominal weight gain due to lifestyle factors can be reversed by identifying and correcting the causes.

Slower Metabolism

Even if your diet and exercise habits have remained constant, your metabolism slows down as you age and can result in weight gain in older women. Daily exercise at moderate intensity, combined with strength training several times per week, can help to speed your metabolism. All exercise increases metabolism for at least several hours after your workout. Building lean muscle intensifies this effect, so that you burn more calories even at rest.

Hormonal Changes

Increased abdominal fat can be one of the indications that menopause is approaching. Fluctuating levels of estrogen and progesterone are responsible. While treatment is available when menopausal symptoms are extreme, many women control abdominal weight gain and other symptoms through diet and exercise. Consult your doctor to determine the best course of action.

Stress

Len Kravitz, Ph.D., a researcher at the University of New Mexico, explains that chronic stress has been correlated with abdominal weight gain. When you perceive a situation as stressful, he says, your body produces more of the hormone cortisol, which prepares the body for the "fight or flight" response. This hormone also controls fat storage in the body. If you experience a great deal of stress in your daily life, incorporate stress management techniques such as meditation or deep breathing to counter the effects of cortisol.

Depressive Disorder

Depression affects more than 20 million Americans each year, according to the National Institutes of Health, and is more common in women than men. Weight gain may be a sign of a depressive disorder if other symptoms are present, including depressed mood, change in appetite, trouble concentrating, ongoing fatigue or lack of energy, lack of interest in previously pleasurable activities, sleep disturbances, feelings of guilt or hopelessness, or suicidal thoughts. Depression is sometimes relieved through regular exercise. Effective medications are available if your physician feels they are warranted.

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