As women age, many begin a slow but steady weight gain. We’re not sure exactly why, but it’s likely due to aging, stress, fatigue from interrupted sleep, the desire for “comfort” food — among others. As women age into their 40s and 50s, their metabolic rate slows, so they need fewer calories to maintain their normal weight. If you're less physically active as you age, but consume the same number of calories (or more), the result is weight gain.
Menopause is often associated with an increase in total body fat as well as redistribution of fat to the abdominal area. As a result, many women feel and look like they’re gaining weight. This can happen with natural menopause, surgical menopause, and medical menopause caused by chemotherapy. (Chemotherapy can cause weight gain for other reasons unrelated to menopause, though. Steroid medications, often given along with chemotherapy, can cause people to gain weight. Some people also find it hard to stay physically active during chemotherapy and stick to a healthy diet.)
Whatever your age, we do know that the declining hormone levels of menopause decrease your body’s muscle mass. Muscle burns more calories than fat, so you can expect your metabolic rate to fall and your need for calories to decrease. If you keep taking in more calories than your body can use up, weight gain is the result.
Managing Weight Gain
Maintaining a healthy weight after breast cancer is important for so many reasons, such as:
- Reducing your risk of breast cancer recurrence, which is higher if you’re overweight
- Reducing your risk of lymphedema, a condition in which the arm, hand, and/or upper body become swollen with fluid. Significant weight gain is a risk factor for lymphedema. (See our section on Lymphedema for more information.)
- Keeping your bones, heart, and blood vessels healthy — all areas of concern for women after menopause, as you’ll see in the Long-Term Health Concerns After Menopause section.
- Improving your sense of health and well-being, which can be helpful for just about every symptom associated with menopause.
As you’ve likely heard dozens of times, keeping your weight down means reducing calorie intake, eating healthy foods, and getting more exercise. We all know this isn’t as easy as it sounds! For practical advice and more information, visit Breastcancer.org’s sections on Nutrition and Exercise, as well as the Being Overweight risk factor page in Lower Your Risk.