Metabolism and menopause

Metabolism and menopause
As the pounds on the scale creep up, we blame metabolism for our weight and health problems. After all, how can we deal with something that is beyond our control? Like many health issues, metabolism is surrounded by myths; myths we hope will give us a convenient excuse to save us from the hard work of looking after our bodies. We look for the quick fix, but when it comes to metabolism there are no magic pills – or excuses. What role does metabolism play in menopause weight gain?

What is metabolism?
Metabolism is an internal biochemical process which helps to sustain life. Most people think of metabolism in terms of burning calories. But there are actually two separate components to metabolism.

This refers to the body’s ability to build new cells which are then transformed into tissue or other physical matter. Everything in the body is made up of smaller cells, and anabolism generates growth and development of cells. The cells that contribute to muscle or bone development are processed by way of anabolism.

Testosterone and estrogen play roles in anabolism. Testosterone gives male characteristics and is part of building muscle mass and bone. Estrogen also strengthens bone mass, as well as giving the body female characteristics. During menopause when the hormones are thrown off-balance, women notice that their bodies will produce less muscle and bone mass in addition to the changes to the menstrual cycle.

Catabolism is the second part of metabolism, which deals with breaking down cells to create energy. The body takes in food and breaks it down, storing it within the cells. Through physical activity, oxygen is forced into the cells which convert the nutrient matter into energy. Fat cells are less active than muscle cells; fat cells need more activity to burn off their energy. This is why you will often hear that a pound of muscle burns more energy and calories than a pound of fat.

If the body is producing more energy than it can burn off, that energy is stored in the body. The problem is that the body stores this extra energy as fat. Despite our evolvement, fat storage dates back to our earliest ancestors. They were not able to eat on a regular basis as we do and consequently their bodies stored fat to tide them over until the next chance to eat. Our bodies still work in that ‘feast or famine’ mode.

Metabolism and weight gain
Medical News today explains body weight as a simple formula: catabolism minus anabolism or whether the body is converting and storing (catabolism) more than it is burning off (anabolism). Another way to think of it is comparing the calories consumed versus the calories burned.

As a result, a common belief is that some people are blessed or cursed with either a ‘fast’ metabolism or a ‘slow’ metabolism. This makes it seem more probable that the entire matter of weight gain is out of our hands, and that weight gain is something we cannot even hope to control. It is true that we have little control over the basal or resting metabolic rate. But we are able to work on our active metabolic rate. No, it is not always easy and some may find exercise about as enjoyable as a root canal but a large part of our body’s ability to burn energy is in our hands.

Menopause and metabolism
Yes your metabolism will slow down during menopause as the amount of hormones that use up energy decreases. No you do not have to resign yourself to enormous amounts of weight gain, nor can you blame everything on metabolism alone. Menopause occurs at a time in life when aging is accompanied by decreased physical activity and by eating more calories than the body can burn off. When we shrug our shoulders, sigh about our metabolism, then reach for another donut, we are giving up some of the control we can and should have over our bodies.

Metabolism is just part of the weight gain story. Weight gain can and does happen but it does not have to be an inevitable part of growing older. We can make changes, even just subtle ones, to help our bodies cope with the aging process. We can learn to improve our health through diet and exercise (oh, those two most dreaded words!) but not in harsh terms. Adjusting our eating habits and pursuing physical activities we like are the only real solutions. There is no quick fix to deal with metabolism or magic pill to change it. All changes must come from our desire to be fit and healthy for the long haul.

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Menopause, Your Doctor, and You

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