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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Chow Line: Menopause weight gain not inevitable (for 4/17/11)

April 11, 2011

My mother is in her mid-60s and is about 70 pounds too heavy. She says she has been unable to lose weight since menopause. How can I encourage her?

A combination of factors, including hormonal and metabolic changes, often make it easy for women to put on pounds as they age. But weight gain is not inevitable, and it’s not irreversible.

In fact, a study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine offers hope. The study tracked 93 obese people 65 and older and found that by combining exercise and dieting, participants lost 9 percent of their body weight but also retained lean body mass -- a concern for older people who lose weight. They also increased their oxygen consumption and improved their strength and balance.

Participants who simply dieted (reducing calorie intake by 500 to 700 calories a day) lost a similar amount of weight, but didn’t see the other health benefits.

Other participants who didn’t diet but did the exercise -- 90 minutes of weight machines and aerobics, three times a week -- lost no weight.

Depending on her current activity level and eating habits, your mom might be able to make some modest changes to see positive effects.

For example, if she isn't very active, encourage her to take a brisk walk several times a week while at the same time increasing vegetables and cutting back on sweets and fatty foods. By doing so, she might find that she feels more energetic and decide to do even more. A goal of losing 10 percent of body weight over six months would be beneficial, and may not seem overwhelming for her.

Before she makes any substantial changes in diet or activity, though, she should see her doctor just so she knows any health or medical issues she needs to be aware of.

In the meantime, there are several resources that offer guidelines for older adults. Here are some:

  • The National Institute on Aging (NIA) offers some great tips for "Healthy Eating After 50," including amounts of fruits, vegetables, grains, meat or beans, and milk older adults should consume each day, including how many calories and how much fiber. See it at
  • The Mayo Clinic offers tips on "Menopause weight gain: Stop the middle age spread" at
  • The NIA also offers guidance for older adults on setting exercise goals, including safety tips, at

Maintaining a healthy weight helps reduce the risk of chronic disease, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and hypertension. Check out the resources and share them with your mother. They just might help.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1044, or

Editor: This column was reviewed by Jennifer Even, educator for Ohio State University Extension in family and consumer sciences.

Martha Filipic
Jennifer Even