Metabolic changes are infamous for sneaking up almost overnight. One day a person feels like her normal self and then suddenly she notices that her body is not as trim as it was once. Along with physical changes, come mood swings, tiredness and a change in appetite and digestion that is not as robust as it used to be.
Some or all of these changes usually happen after a woman turns 40. It is essential not to ignore these changes. Experts suggest women undergoing such changes should take steps to figure out what is going on with their bodies and how to make themselves healthy and strong as they grow older.
While the hormonal changes during menopause are natural and expected, many women are distressed by vasomotor symptoms (hot flashes and night sweats), mood changes and memory issues (mental fog).
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“A woman’s health is the combined result of the interplay between her hormones, gender, sex, genetics, biology and her socio-cultural environment, all of which play a pivotal role,” says Dr Sunita Dsouza Lobo, consultant, obstetrics and gynaecology, Fortis La femme, Bengaluru.
“The changes a woman undergoes as she gets older can be subtle. She may even think it’s all in her head. But the changes are real. Some are due to age and some are due to menopause. But most women aren’t even aware of them in the beginning. That is because hormones, the chemical messengers that control most of a person’s body functions are responsible for all these changes. They control almost everything – from reproduction to hunger – and are instrumental in causing those uncomfortable changes that make it difficult for a woman to function as she used to,” says Dr Lobo.
Metabolic changes: the pause in menopause
Dr Lobo explains that as a woman approaches her menopause, natural levels of oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone fluctuate. “This fluctuation in hormonal levels can cause a barrage of changes, from decreased bone density and lean muscle mass to lower sex drive and mood swings.”
However, there is no need to feel depressed and alone. “If a woman is experiencing any of these metabolic changes, even a casual conversation with friends and family will reveal that most of the women in the 40s to 60s are going through similar changes. Their metabolism is taking a natural downturn,” says Dr Lobo.
“Along with the slowing down of resting metabolic rate (the energy a body needs to function while at rest), lower oestrogen levels contribute to a sluggish metabolism. The woman will start accumulating more fat in her body, especially around her waistline, as hormonal changes caused by perimenopause and menopause contribute to changes in body composition, fat accumulation and fat distribution,” adds Dr Lobo.
How to keep the metabolism humming
“Stay active,” says Brijesh Singh, a personal trainer from Bengaluru. He specialises in increasing the metabolic rate of a person with a combination of strength training and a healthy diet.
“Low impact resistance training can rebuild lean muscle mass, which also helps in burning fat and increasing metabolism. By building strong muscles, women can protect their cartilage and bones. Muscle is a requirement to help support bone structure and joints and ensures an adequate range of motion,” he says.
Bengaluru-based Reethika Kotecha, who has been trained under Singh, agrees. “If a woman is new to strength training, she can consider working with a personal trainer for a while. She can develop a programme that is safe for her but will also have an impact on her fitness. The focus should be on multi-joint exercises that work for the entire body,” says Kotecha.
Dr Lobo cautions against fad diets and drastic weight loss programmes. “About 90 per cent of people who lose significant amounts of weight, through diets, structured programmes or drastic steps such as gastric bypass surgery, ultimately regain just about all of it.”
“When people begin a new diet, their metabolism initially drops because they are suddenly consuming fewer calories; the body responds by burning them at a slower pace – perhaps an evolutionary response to prevent starvation. But what then happens over the following weeks, months and years, is less clear. However, dramatic changes in sex hormones, body composition, lipid profile and bone mass make this a window of opportunity to initiate screening and prevention programmes for healthier ageing,” she signs off.