ONCE again, as we start another year with renewed enthusiasm, we make promises to rectify last year’s mistakes and firmly resolve to do better - ...“you can fight age-related weight gain,” says the January 2015 issue of Johns Hopkins HealthAfter 50.

Around midlife, women (and men, too) lose lean muscle tissue and gain body fat - and weight, adds the health letter.

Both declining activity levels and the hormonal changes women experience at midlife are likely contributors.

Due to declining levels of estrogen, the male hormone testosterone is allowed to predominate, prompting body fat to migrate away from the hips and outer sections of the body and spread toward the abdomen and around the internal organs - even curvy women’s bodies tend to lose their waists after menopause and many women develop “menopots” because of the accumulation of fat in the abdomen.

Unfortunately, this accumulation of fat in the abdomen, heralded by an expanding waist, is more than just a cosmetic concern - abdominal (visceral) fat, more so than lower-body fat, increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Nevertheless, while weight gain with age is common, you can still beat the odds and keep your weight (and waist) within healthy limits - the key is changing your lifestyle - it’s never too early or too late to start.

The following guidelines are based on results of scientific studies:

• Premenopause: A good time to get a head start - A study by the Women’s Healthy Lifestyle Project (WHLP), published more than a decade ago in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine, followed 535 healthy premenopausal women (ages 44-50) for five years.

At the start, the participants’ baseline weights were obtained, and the women were randomly assigned to:

1) a control group - who received no special instructions and

2) a lifestyle intervention group - were charged with making behavioral, dietary and physical-activity changes to their daily routines.

Their goal: To lose 5 to 15 pounds and prevent subsequent gain above their baseline weight before the end of the study.

At the end of the five-year study:

a) 55 percent of the women in the lifestyle intervention group were at or below their baseline weight compared with 26 percent of the control group;

b) waist circumference also decreased significantly more; and

c) blood glucose levels increased less in the lifestyle group than in the control group - even among women who had no significant change in weight.

Brisk walking, recommended by the WHLP for the women in the lifestyle intervention group as a good form of exercise, is an excellent weight management strategy: it’s heart-healthy and, for most individuals, is easy to incorporate into one’s daily routine.

According to a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, bicycle riding is another good exercise option - investigators who followed 18,000 premenopausal female nurses for 16 years found that women gained about 20 pounds over that time - but women who rode their bikes more frequently (especially those who were overweight or obese) gained less weight than their more sedentary counterparts.

• Menopause: It’s not too late to change - In a year-long study in 2012 in the journal Obesity, investigators recruited 439 overweight or obese sedentary postmenopausal women (ages 50-75) and assigned them to four groups:

• Group 1 focused only on diet - participants were instructed to consume 1,200 to 2,000 calories a day.

• Group 2 concentrated on exercise only - 45 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise five days a week.

• Group 3 adopted both the diet and exercise regimen.

• Group 4, the control group, made no lifestyle changes.

After one year, the diet-and-exercise group lost an average of 20 pounds, diet-only group dropped 16 pounds and the exercise-only group, 4 pounds.

By contrast, the control group lost a pound.

Body mass index (BMI), waist circumference and percentage of body fat also declined significantly in the intervention groups.

Findings from two recent studies show the health benefits of exercise, particularly for postmenopausal women.

Danish researchers who enrolled 13 premenopausal and 10 recently postmenopausal (defined as having had their last menstrual period within three years) women in a 12-week exercise program of playing floorball (a game similar to hockey but is played indoors with plastic sticks) twice a week for 30 minutes, along with warmup and cooldown exercise.  

Investigators found that adverse changes in biomarkers associated with the development of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries - a major cause of heart attacks and strokes - in both groups of women were accelerated in the postmenopausal group.

However, exercise appeared to have a positive impact - similar findings were reported in 2014 in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society 77 overweight or obese sedentary postmenopausal women were recruited to participate in an aerobic exercise program three times a week for six months - at the end of the study, the indicators of cardiovascular disease and diabetes risk (markers of systemic and vascular inflammation and insulin sensitivity) - had improved.

Most individuals - regardless of age - need expert help to help them stick with a weight-loss plan.

Thus, rather than going it alone, you may want to enroll in a commercial weight-loss plan such as Weight Watchers, TOPS, Jenny Craig or a program offered at a community or university hospital.

Or else, don’t overlook your primary care provider as a source of help - A two-year study reported in 2013 in the International Journal of Obesity which followed 390 obese adults who were trying to lose weight showed that those who received intensive weight-loss and exercise counseling at their primary care provider’s office lost more weight than the participants who did not receive counseling (10 pounds versus 4 pounds).

Finally, the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) - which was created to learn more about the habits and behaviors of successful dieters - currently includes more than 10,000 individuals who lost at least 30 pounds and kept the weight off for at least one year.

Interviews with registry members reveal a number of practices most of them follow:

• Counting calories

• Consuming a low-fat, “good” - carbohydrate diet

• Eating breakfast almost everyday

• Weighing themselves at least once a week

• Keeping track of what they eat and their physical activity

• Exercising at least once a week (and usually more often - with walking their favorite activity)

• Watching less than one hour of TV daily

For more information on the NWCR, go to

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