Can Pilates Help Reduce Menopausal Weight Gain?Apr 17, 2022
You exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet (most of the time!) and have a stable, healthy body weight. If you do put on a couple of kilos you know you can burn them off in no time and get back on track.
All of a sudden for absolutely no reason you start gaining weight around your middle and maybe holding excess fluid too. Nothing you do makes any difference and you feel like you have lost control of your body. Welcome to the joys of menopausal weight gain! This can often begin during perimenopause and can be difficult to shed long after menopause has finished if left unchecked. This increase in belly fat has been a huge source of worry and frustration for so many of my Pilates clients over the years so let's take a look at why this happens and how Pilates can help you at this challenging time.
What is Menopause?
Menopause signals the end of a woman's reproductive years when menstruation ceases and for many women this can be an emotionally and physically challenging time. Occurring, on average, at the age of 51, this natural biological process can bring with it more than 30 different symptoms. One of these is increased belly fat. Not every woman will experience this symptom and the range of symptoms experienced varies from woman to woman. For more in depth information my previous blog post Pilates for Menopause & Beyond includes other menopause symptoms not covered here and details how my Pilates program can help address these too.
What Causes Menopausal Weight Gain?
If you have personally experienced menopausal weight gain you may have found the weight started to increase gradually around your abdomen during perimenopause and continued gradually but steadily during menopause. The main cause is a drop in the hormone oestrogen which can cause a tendency to eat more and move less. It also slows metabolism and causes the body to use starches and blood sugar less efficiently, which leads to fat storage and makes dropping those extra kilos a real challenge. Insomnia is another symptom of menopause that some women have the misfortune of experiencing. Lack of sleep is also associated with an increase in body fat. Sounds like the perfect storm for weight gain that is notoriously hard to shift.
Why is Increased Belly Fat So Bad for Your Health?
Having a dangerously low body weight can be just as much of a health risk as being obese. You can technically be overweight but be strong, fit, happy and healthy with an even distribution of weight around your body and be the correct size for your frame. However, a concentration of fat solely around your abdomen or "belly" can be damaging for your health. Subcutaneous fat is the fat that is underneath the skin. We need a certain amount of this type of fat to perform several functions such as regulating body temperature and as a way of storing energy in the body for example. When this type of fat becomes excessive it can become visceral or "hidden" fat which wraps around organs. This type of fat contributes to systemic inflammation and insulin resistance. This leads to diseases such type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer. So as you can see excess abdominal fat is very detrimental to your health so let's look at the ways you can reduce it.
Can Pilates Help You to Reduce Excess Belly Fat?
Pilates is ideal for helping to reduce menopausal belly fat. It's a low impact form of exercise and it's gentle on the joints which are more susceptible to injury at this time when oestrogen levels drop. Short sessions daily or several times per week of 15 to 20 mins per session can produce results if you are consistent with your training. Pilates works from the inside out by strengthening the core or abdominal muscles which supports the spine and promotes good posture which results in a more toned and firmed midsection. Activating and strengthening the abdominal muscles also helps you to stay pain-free, move with ease and prevent injury. My online Pilates studio, JS Mind Body Pilates, caters to the needs of women at all stages of menopause and beyond. The more movement you can incorporate into your life with Pilates, the greater muscle mass you can build and the more you can help to speed up your slowing metabolism. As Pilates is a mind body connection which requires a conscious breathing pattern, most women find it calming and meditative which makes for better quality sleep. So as you can see if you are committed to regular Pilates practice, the majority of women will see a reduction in their belly fat over time.
What Else Can I Do to Help Reduce Belly Fat?
In order to get the best results from your Pilates practice it's important to ensure you have a well-balanced diet including plenty of vegetables and fruit with a minimum of processed foods. Drinking plenty of water helps you to stay hydrated and keeps your body functioning efficiently. Many women benefit from vitamin and mineral supplements at this time and it's best to consult your medical practitioner or naturopath for a personalised program. Acupuncture with a practitioner who specialises in menopause can be very successful at balancing hormones and reducing symptoms too. Cardio exercise such as walking and cycling are also highly beneficial for reducing abdominal fat. These are all factors to consider that can complement your Pilates practice and assist you in regaining your post menopausal weight. Every woman has a different experience of menopause so it's important to find which methods work best for you personally.