Managing Middle-Aged Spread


I recently received Miriam Nelson’s monthly e-letter that cites results from the SHE study (Strong, Healthy Empowered). It was done to determine whether regular strength training would prevent increases in total body fat and intra-abdominal (belly) fat in women. It grabbed my interest because after going through menopause, let’s just say I’ve noticed a slight (?) increase in my waist size. As I look around me, I notice I’m not alone. Women I’ve known who have been at healthy weights all their lives suddenly develop a belly at this time of life.

I’m all for self and size-acceptance and accepting this marker of aging. There is some thought that a little extra fat around the middle might be protective for aging women. One theory is that belly fat produces estrogen that’s more available to the body, and a little bit of estrogen throughout life might help us live better, if not longer. There’s also the notion that a little extra fat is good for us in case we get ill and can’t eat. It’s like we’ve got a little store on hand that will nourish us for a short while at least.

Still, we’re only talking about a slight increase in waist size. And for many of us, that middle-age spread goes beyond slight. Plus, there’s real evidence that too much belly fat increases our risk for things like heart disease, diabetes, etc.

The good news is that the SHE study produced some encouraging results. It found that already overweight and obese women who regularly attended strength training classes decreased their total body fat percentage by 3.7 percent, and their belly fat only increased by 7 percent. That may sound discouraging, but when you compare it to the control group, which was advised to get at least 30 minutes of activity on most days of the week but didn’t have any counseling about strength training, it’s not at all discouraging. Belly fat among the control group increased by 21 percent!

This really isn’t news to me, and I suspect to many of you either. When I get serious about strength training, I notice a difference in my body right away. It’s not only stronger, but it just feels like it’s working better. And it’s obviously not working at its best when it’s laying down unhealthy fat.

It’s hard, though, for me to stay on track with weight training all the time. I find it simple to walk regularly, but I can get sidetracked easily when it comes to weights. That’s why I’m a fan of personal training. I take breaks occasionally, but when I find myself skipping self-directed sessions too often, I call the trainer back up for a series of sessions to get myself going again.

I gotta go now…the weights are calling.

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About the Author

Marsha Hudnall, MS, RDN, CD

If you’re looking for an embodiment of dedication disguised as obsession, look no further. Marsha is a registered dietitian who has spent the last four decades working to help women give up dieting rules and understand how to truly take care of themselves. Her mission in life is to help women learn to enjoy eating and living well, without worries about their weight. She encourages women to embrace their love of food, which you might call being a foodie. If so, it’s appropriate because being a foodie means you pay attention when you eat. That’s a recipe made in heaven for eating well. Marsha is the President and Co-Owner of Green Mountain at Fox Run.

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