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Menopausal Weight Gain NOT Inevitable

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

It may seem like weight gain is an inevitable effect of menopause. It is indeed common, and there are several reasons why, including:

  • Levels of estrogen, which appears to have a weight-regulating effect, drop significantly during menopause.
  • Older women are less likely to get enough exercise than younger women.
  • Muscle mass declines, and this has a slowing effect on your metabolism. This means that you may need fewer calories, but if you adjust your food intake accordingly, creeping weight gain will likely be the result.
  • Older women are more likely to have jobs that demand very little in the way of physical labor; they may also eat out more with the kids out of the house.

And weight gain isn’t just a cosmetic issue – it also increases your risk of many health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and several types of cancer.

However, you still have plenty of control over your weight during and after menopause, so don’t fall for the notion that weight gain is natural or that there’s nothing you can do about it. Even though weight control may be more of a challenge because of physiological and lifestyle changes that take place during menopause, it still boils down to taking in no more energy than you expend.

If you find the pounds adding up, your first line of defense is to eat less. In your fifties, you probably need a couple hundred calories a day less than you did when you were younger. Make your food choices more carefully. No one needs empty calories, but menopausal women should be especially careful to choose mostly vegetables, fruits, lean meats, whole grains, and low-fat or non-fat dairy products.

Exercise is another key step to beating menopause weight gain. Exercise gives you more energy and burns fat, while building muscle. And maintain or increasing your muscle mass is important because the more muscle you have, the faster you burn calories all day long. Adults up to 65 years old need at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days a week, such as brisk walking, and at least two muscle-strengthening workouts a week. You may need to add even more if your goal is to lose weight.

A good support system is also important. Enlist the support of your family and friends, or better yet, find a partner to work out with who can help encourage you and keep you motivated – and do the same for him or her.

The answer to menopause weight gain isn’t glamorous or easy, and there is no secret formula. But with concentrated effort to control your diet and exercise habits, you can absolutely maintain or even improve your weight at any stage of life. For more information on menopause, see my book, Inside Information for Women.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H

Among Women, Sexual Satisfaction Only Increases With Age

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Let’s talk about sex! While sexual activity, and sexual desire for that matter, is usually thought of to be a younger woman’s game, an increasing amount of attention is being given to older women and their sexuality. It has been commonly thought for years that a woman peaks sexually around the age of 30 to 40, and after that experiences a steady decline in her sexual performance and desire until she hits menopause. However, according to some new studies, that might not necessarily be the case. In fact, some studies are showing that as opposed to the more commonly held opinion that older women simply aren’t interested in sex, sexual desire actually increases with age.

But how is that possible? Isn’t sex all just a “hormone” thing? If that were the case, then it would certainly be true that sexual desire may drop among women who are experiencing menopause, or among women who were post-menopausal. However, the study cites a few different reasons as the main cause of rising sexual desire in older women. Older women do not have the same concerns as their younger counterparts. They do not have to worry about birth control or potential pregnancies, and more often than not older women are having sex with life-long partners, a fact that greatly reduces the potential risk of STDs. It should also be taken into consideration that women with life partners are more likely to have an emotional connection with the object of their sexual desire. That emotional connection leads to greater sexual satisfaction when they do engage with their partners.

It is true that as women get older, they tend to have less sex. It is also true that they may experience a lack of lubrication. These are not necessarily factors for decreased sexual satisfaction. In the study, it was found that the act of intercourse was not necessarily the most important way for older women to achieve satisfaction, and other forms of gratification were just as, if not more, important to them than intercourse.

So what does that mean for women? Well, for one thing, it is further proof that growing older does not mean that women have to “throw in the towel” on their sex lives. Women that are not sexually satisfied, that are experiencing pain or discomfort during sex, or who are having any other sex related issues should not just assume it is a natural byproduct of aging. Always speak with your doctor to determine whether or not there is anything that can be done to help you enjoy a happy, healthy sex life, whether you are twenty or eighty.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.

Risk Factors For Urinary Incontinence

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

There can be a lot of embarrassment associated with urinary stress incontinence, and a lot of women may feel like they can’t talk about it with anybody—even their doctor. However, those women should know that there is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s a fact of life that many women will have to deal with throughout their lives, whether it is after pregnancy, the result of aging, or due to any other number of causes.  In fact, with this study you can see just how many risk factors there are for UI. Moreover, UI (urinary incontinence) is not something to be ashamed of because it is the particular structure of women’s bodies that causes it to be so prevalent in the female gender.  It is also not related to the mode of delivery, i.e., cesarean vs. vaginal delivery.  Nuns have the same prevalence of urinary incontinence as mothers.

UI doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t hold it in at all—it simply means that there may be times or situations where women experience a little leakage, or there may be times when they are unable to “hold it” completely until they reach a restroom. Women may experience UI when they laugh or sneeze, or they might simply find the need to wear a panty liner throughout the day. It is a myth that there is nothing that can be done for UI.

The first and most important step in dealing with this issue is to speak with your doctor and specifically a urogynecologist. This is absolutely necessary, as there may be medical causes for sudden UI. If there are no medical causes, there might be other causes for UI, such as smoking.  If the cause is something like obesity, simply losing some excess weight can help. Your doctor can also recommend exercises that can help strengthen the pelvic wall and reduce UI. In extreme cases, your doctor may even recommend surgery to treat urinary incontinence. However, nothing can be done if patients are unwilling to speak to their doctor about the problem. Communication is always the first step in treating any issue.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.