Combatting middle age spread

Published: Thursday, February 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 31, 2007 at 3:19 p.m.
You can't imagine the validation that I felt when a friend of mine suggested the topic for this week's column. I have to tell you that a real request was made, otherwise you will accuse me of being on my soap box again.
With that said, I bet you know that I will be covering my favorite topic of unwanted pounds, which just seem to find their way to our body parts all by themselves.
The request was for me to cover the topic of ''old-age spread.'' If you have not reached the age that I am referring to, chances are there will be something in this column that you can make use of. Try to find something and let me know when I see you the next time, or use the information at the end of this column to reach me.
It is not unusual for women to gain weight as they age. This, of course, is not a sentence to obesity, but a real occurrence with a solution. Chances are, as women enter their 40s and 50s, they enter menopause, and hormonal changes play a major part in their lives on more than one level.
One significant effect of this stage of our lives is the tendency to gain weight around the middle, rather than on the hips and thighs. If you are diligent about controlling your weight, you may find that maintaining your usual weight has become much more difficult.
But you can't just say it's inevitable and give up. You have to pay attention to a few lifestyle changes that will help you maintain or shed those unwanted pounds.
Diet and a change in activity (exercise) will probably take care of your problem. Begin with bringing this problem to the attention of your doctor if your doctor has not already indicated that you should be doing something about this.
The years leading up to menopause generally are referred to as the peri-menopausal years. During this period, you may gain about a pound a year if you aren't careful. Although hormone levels change, we can't give them all of the blame. Aging and lifestyle factors play a big role in our changing body composition.
Our genes are not blameless during this period of change. Having family members, parents and other close relatives who carry extra weight around the middle may predispose you to be in the same condition. Consider this to be a warning, a call to action, because predictions do not have to be your reality. They must be recognized and used to ward off what might become the inevitable.
Weight gain also can have serious implications to your health. You will probably increase your risk of Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. All of these factors may increase the possibility of an increased risk for heart disease and stroke.
There's also evidence that weight gain during the menopausal years increases the risk of breast cancer. The best-case scenario in relation to breast cancer is that weight loss will decrease the risk of contracting breast cancer.
Some women have done very well with weight gain during menopause or the pre-menopause segment of their lives, but most of us have not. For those who have not changed, you have to watch what you eat and get an appropriate amount of exercise. Whether you are having to lose the weight or are trying to prevent the weight gain, consider some of these options.
Increase your physical activity. Aerobic exercise boosts your metabolism and helps you burn fat. Strength training exercises increase muscle mass, boost your metabolism and strengthen your bones. Don't know the difference between the two? Go online, join a fitness center, start a program at your church, sign up at the fitness center at the Martin Luther King Jr. Multi-purpose Center. (The center offers reduced rates that are very affordable).
If you can't join groups, try doing something that you love to do anyway. Just spend more time doing it. Such things as dancing, gardening, walking, riding your bike, just make sure that you spend about 30 minutes a day being active. Be sure to make this time special and separate from your regular activities.
You can't say I have been working around the house all day and that should count. Don't get me wrong, it is good to be working around the house all day, but if this is what you do everyday and you are gaining weight, it is not the answer. Along with working around the house all day, you must add a concentrated time of activity.
Can't get your 30 minutes in all at once? How about two 15-minute sessions? The good part of this is that you are claiming a time that is just for you. This is not one of those activities that you can send someone else to do for you. You are the one who must eat and digest the calories, and you are the one who must work to get the weight off or try to keep from putting it on.
Increased physical activity, including strength training, may be the single most important factor for maintaining a healthy body composition - more lean muscle mass and less body fat - as you get older.
Reduce calories by paying attention to the foods you're eating, and slightly reduce the amount of calories you consume each day. You must choose a variety of foods that cover the food groups. Sticking with a varied diet that includes a large amount of fruits and vegetables is safe and best for your total well-being.
Cutting back on calories too drastically sends a message to your body that you are trying to starve it, so it starts to save calories by slowing down your metabolism, therefore making it harder to lose weight.
Remember that your metabolism slows normally as you get older. You need about 200 fewer calories a day to maintain your weight as you get into your mid- to late-40s. This shouldn't be a problem if you eat only when hungry and only enough to satisfy your hunger.
Decrease dietary fat and try staying away from large amounts of high-fat foods that add excess calories, which can lead to weight gain and obesity. Limit fat to 20 percent to 35 percent of your daily calories. Emphasize fats from healthier sources, such as nuts and olive, canola and peanut oils.
Instead of high-fat seasoning in every dish, save those dishes as a treat and have the greens laden with fat once a week. Use the other meals during the week to have a great salad with low-fat dressing.
The thing that I have to emphasize here is that it does no good to fool ourselves. A salad that has a half cup of high-fat high-calorie dressing is not the answer. Pay attention to what you are doing to that salad that takes it from the healthy part of your meal to the high-fat high-calorie contributor that you are trying to avoid.
Some things are inevitable. Our body shape changes as we get older, and the shrinking, sagging and expanding in places where we least want to see it will come. Don't let the changes be an excuse to not get into your favorite pair of jeans.
Practice good nutrition, exercise and remember that any drastic change in your lifestyle should be discussed with your physician.
Vivian Filer is a retired professor of nursing, Santa Fe Community College. Write to her in care of the Gainesville Guardian, "Health Files," 2700 SW 13th St., Gainesville, Fla. 32608. You can also e-mail your questions, with "Health Files" in the subject line, to

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